An American Amnesiac in Japan – Why We’re Rooting for the Translator




NOVEL: The Translator

AUTHOR: Nina Schuyler



The plot of The Translator isn’t too exciting at first, as it tells of Hanne Schubert, working hard, and utterly absorbed in that work, as she finishes translating a new novel from Japanese to English. An accidental fall lands her in the hospital, and the trauma brings on an unusual type of amnesia: a loss of her native language (and all other tongues, save Japanese). Suddenly cut off from her students, the man she’s been dating, her neighbors, and most of the people in San Francisco, she makes an impulsive trip to Japan…where she is surprised and horrified to meet the author of the novel she’d just translated, as he drunkenly and publicly confronts her with an accusation that she’d sabotaged his work.

The plot picks up considerably at this point, as Hanne, shaken, seeks a better understanding of the author’s inspiration (his novel was based on the life of an actor, Moto Okuro, once a master of Noh theater, no longer performing). As she gets to know Moto and develops a complicated relationship with him, she starts to realize how very much she’d gotten wrong with her work, and with her life.


What begins as a philosophical (and somewhat idealistic) look at the process of translation becomes a much more emotional story of Hanne’s origins, her late husband, her distant son, and her estranged daughter.


There’s lots to chew on here. Hanne, though seriously flawed, is a fully developed and psychologically realistic character. She’s willful, and, like many of us, has some serious blind spots, but she’s intellectually honest and she confronts her past and her present forthrightly as she does some necessary reexamination of her life.


Intelligent and insightful on the topics of translation and the human heart, this book has something to teach us all about the limits of communication, whether or not we have a language in common. It also teaches us something about hope and something about mercy.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles




Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at


Lead-In Image (Book Cover) Courtesy of Pegasus Books



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