The Linguist

The Linguist 54,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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12 The Linguist Vol/54 No/4 2015 Samantha Whitaker discovers the linguistic, cultural and social benefits of joining a bilingual book club T oday, it seems that almost everyone is a member of a book club, with an estimated 50,000 in the UK alone. So it may be no surprise that groups for those wishing to discuss books in other languages are growing. Nadia Kerecuk hosts the monthly Brazilian Bilingual Book Club at the Brazilian Embassy in London (see, where she is the official translator and interpreter. The club is still in its infancy, having begun in January, and at the session I attended there were around 10 members – a mixture of people from Brazil, the UK and elsewhere. We had read Backlands: The Canudos Campaign (1902) by Euclides da Cunha – some in Brazilian Portuguese and some in the English translation, although the discussion was in English. Kerecuk has a long history of running book clubs and stresses that the aim is reading for pleasure. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with wine and cupcakes, but it is also very structured. Translations for contemporary Brazilian authors are easier to find, but Kerecuk has chosen to start by acquainting and reacquainting readers with the neglected classics. She posts supporting material online ahead of meetings and leads the session with a series of thought-provoking questions. If no one volunteers, she is not afraid to pick on people. Kerecuk kicked off a lively discussion about the experience of reading Backlands in English, as it was felt that the translation had not captured the beautifully poetic style of Da Cunha's prose. Many agreed that the title, Os Sertões, should have been retained (as other words were, such as jagunço), because the term doesn't exist in English and 'Backlands' adds an unintended negative tone. For member Martin Pinder, it is this high level of discussion and insight that is particularly attractive: 'It opens your mind. Once you've read two or three books covering Brazil at different times, you start to get a picture of how the country evolved.' Indeed, one of the group members, Colonel Carlos Henrique Teche, provided an insight into the military history leading up to the War of Canudos. 'We're not just here to be entertained, but to understand and get a perspective of the country,' Pinder adds. The embassy also runs other literary events and, where possible, the cultural section screens adaptations of the books at its Cineclub. The Japan Society Book Club is run in a similar way by CEO Heidi Potter, and is hosted once a month at Daiwa Foundation Japan House in London (see It has been going for more than six years and has a core group of regulars, who often go for dinner after the session. Members include students, expats, teachers and translators, as well as those who have lived in Japan or have an interest in the country. They can choose which language to read in but the discussion is in English. Perhaps because the club is more established, Potter is able to take a hands-off approach. 'I have some questions ready if it's needed, but I don't ever want to dominate the discussion,' she says. 'I think the danger of a society-run club is that people expect somebody to be in charge and we want it to be a bit more democratic. Besides, there are often people there who know a lot more about the books than I do.' Members suggest the books: at the session I attended, they had read Osamu Dazai's The Setting Sun (1948) but no one seemed to have enjoyed it very much. Interestingly, those who had read it in Join the club

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