Atom, p/b, Â£6.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
There are two things to say about this book before launching into the review proper, the first of which is that it’s been translated from German, a language which I speak albeit at a basic level. As those of you who speak a second language will know, direct translation can be hard. Translating one word is relatively easy, but when you get to sentences with a cultural meaning it can be nigh on impossible. The German word schadenfreude has no direct comparison in English, which is why we use the original. Whereas English has only one word for love, Greek has three, agape, philia and eros. Subtleties and nuances in meaning can also be lost. The direct translation of the phrase ‘I am hot’ from English to German is ‘ich bin heisse’. However, if you say that to someone in Germany they’ll think you have the hots for them and want to have sex. We have a number of words and phrases we can use to describe rain, which have no bearing on their everyday, normal use: stair rods, cats and dogs, chucking it down and many more. A direct translation of these phrases will cause problems. Itâ€™s why the experience and ability of the translator is vital when transcribing from one language to another.
The second thing to take into account is that this is a young adult novel.
Now thatâ€™s out of the way, hereâ€™s the review: Itâ€™s awful, terrible, frustrating and has sucked several hours out of my life I wish I could have back. Itâ€™s almost as bad as Twilight.
Itâ€™s set in an elite college on the edge of the Canadian Rockies and the main characters are 18-20 years old, the children of rich and powerful parents. There is nothing likeable about any of them and I could happily push the lot of them into a crevasse and leave them to die slow deaths while they argue about whose nail polish has the best colour. The girls are just as bad. They’re the kind of people who think a disaster is turning up to class in the wrong clothes and whose world would fall apart if a designer shoe got scuffed.
The blurb on the back talks of the character Julia and her desire to discover more about the valley, but the book itself focuses on the character of Katie West with brief point of view changes to Julia.
The story itself only really gets going after 200 pages and is not a fantasy. It is, at best, a ghost story, at worst a teenage angst story.
The main plot concerns Katie West and her desire to climb a mountain called The Ghost. Julia is her best friend who’s obsessed with a boy called Chris, who treats her like dirt but she loves him anyway. In short, the group of friends avoid a visit from the Governor-General by going to climb the mountain, have trials and hardships and learn about each other. The subplot is about a group of missing children who got lost 30 years ago, hence the ghost story aspect.
If you really do feel the need to read this, start at page 200 then read through to the end and you might just enjoy it; but for me the biggest problem with this book is not the story, it’s the translation.
Krystyna Kuhn has over 20 novels to her name and has been a freelance writer since 1998, writing in German for a German audience, and this book is the second in a series set around GraceCollege. The German editions of these books are highly regarded by the readers, getting a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads. The English version has only managed two reviews, both of which were 2 star ones. Why the dichotomy?
I believe it’s down to the translation. I find it hard to believe that a writer with 20 novels to her name is that bad, whether you like her work or not, or the Young Adult genre. An interesting point to note is that Kuhn’s book has also been translated into other languages, French and Polish were two others I found, and all use the same word as the title: The Catastrophe. For some reason, the English title has been changed to The Crash when there is no crash anywhere in the book, unless you include an avalanche or think that a clash of personalities amounts to a crash.
The person who’s done this translation does a lot of work in the industry, so isn’t a fly-by-night operator, but I feel she’s totally missed the boat with this book, both with the title and the content. I would be interested in reading it again if it were translated by a different person, but as things stand I can’t recommend this book to anyone.
Krystyna Kuhn is probably a good writer in her genre, but this translation does her no favours at all.