The Russian Interpreter by Michael Frayn

I like almost anything to do with interpreting and interpreters. It is such a fascinating process and the interpreter is both essential and essentially invisible. That otherwise slightly weak novel by Mario Vargas Lhosa, ‘The Bad Girl’, is narrated by a character who is an interpreter and the parts that deal with his life and profession were the most interesting to me.

This is a good novel, though one very much of its time. It concerns a postgraduate student of Russian, living in Moscow, who gets involved with some vague and mysterious activities, somehow connected to the Cold War (everything was connected to the Cold War in Communist countries, as far as western residents were concerned, during that era, as I know from personal experience). The book is funny but at the same time chilling and it nicely captures the non sequiturs and general weirdness of life in a police state. I won’t dig up the old quote from Winston Churchill about Russia being an enigma wrapped in a whatever; but the book does convey something of the opacity of Russia to the average Westerner, and I speak as one such.

It is well-paced and well-written. I have enjoyed a good number of Frayn’s novels – Spies and A Landing on the Sun are especially good.


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