Masters and Servants
Words, words, words. That was Hamlet’s response when Polonius asked what he was reading, and it’s the only thing that comes to mind when I consider how to respond to this book. Once again, I allowed myself to be led astray by an exciting concept. At first glance, it should be right up my alley—stories describing the collision of master artists and the real world they lived in. The first story especially appealed, featuring Joseph Roulin, a postman who, along with his family, modeled for several of Van Gogh’s paintings.
Unfortunately, I was so excited about the concept of the stories, I forgot an important lesson learned as an English major: I really dislike writing that’s intended to be literary. Without plot or even much character development, all that remains is words—fancy words in odd constructions designed to show off how intelligent, polished, and literary the author (or in this case, translator) is. If you enjoy wading through classic works of words, you may well love this book, but I have no patience for it. The introduction contains a snippet of advice given to translator Wyatt Mason, “’Simplicity offends no one, clarity delights all.’” I just wish he’d listened.
|Yale University Press
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