After submitting her translation to her publisher and the author for approval, Hanne suffers a strange accident. She falls and hits her head. While she never loses consciousness, exactly, Hanne imagines the many languages she knows tangling together and losing their meaning. Within 24 hours, all that's left is Japanese--the most recently language she learned. Not being able to speak English leaves Hanne feeling like an outsider in San Francisco, so she accepts an invitation to speak at a conference in Tokyo. But after giving her keynote address, Hanne finds herself lambasted by the author she translated. He accuses her of rewriting his book, of turning his main character into an "asshole." The confrontation wounds her deeply and she is racked with doubt, worried she misunderstood everything. To try and prove herself right, Hanne tracks down the man the author used as a model for his protagonist--the Noh actor, Moto.
Moto sees life and emotion so differently from the way Hanne does that he baffles her. But spending time with him teaches her about how very wrong she has been. By spending time with Moto, Hanne realizes that she has to confront her greatest regret and make amends. After Hanne's husband, Hiro, died (years before the opening of the novel), Hanne's daughter Brigitte was wracked with grief. She turned sullen and rebellious. The only way Hanne could think to deal with her was to send her to boarding school. The last part of the book is about Hanne's efforts to make amends, but I want to leave it up to future readers to decide whether she succeeds or not.
I had my doubts about whether I would enjoy this book or not. It started a little slowly. But as Schuyler let me peer deeper into Hanne's thoughts, I started to feel a kinship with her. Hanne thinks that translation is more than just trading one word in one language for another in a second language. I agree, especially after reading this profile of the translation team of Pevear and Volokhonsky. Translators are authors, too, in a sense. And I adored Hanne's love of words and using them to find more than just meaning, but using them to find Meaning. This book makes no bones about being cerebral.