BWC Recommends – Sabine Sur

BWC Recommends is a segment asking our members to talk about their favourite literary meals. Those paragraphs that are so rich they take a while to digest, that packet of word crisps you put in the cupboard but keep going back for until the whole thing is empty, that comforting poetry soup you heat up when you’re not feeling well. What is it about these novels, plays or poems that makes them so delicious?

This time we’re talking with BWC member Sabine Sur, a knitter, translator and writer based in Belgium. She knits narratives, writes from one culture into another and translates patterns into garments. She is also French and writes in French and English, just because it’s fun.

Writer, translator and knitter, Sabine Sur

What are your five favourite books (or poems or plays)?

Just five? Oh, ok.

  • Colette, The Tendrils of the Vine
  • T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
  • Terry Pratchett, The Discworld Series, especially Monstrous Regiment
  • Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Avalon Series, especially Ancestors of Avalon

Choosing one book (or poem or play) from the list above, tell us what you found tastiest about it. 

The Waste Land was required reading in college, and although for many classmates it was an acquired taste, or something they could never get their head around, I instantly loved it. What I found tastiest about it was how one world blurred into another, how much he could evoke – images, sounds, feelings – in those snippets of verse. The resolution, with its reference to Hinduism, stayed with me: “What have we given?/My friend, blood shaking my heart/The awful daring of a moment’s surrender/Which an age of prudence can never retract/By this, and this only, we have existed”

Who is your favourite writer? Why do you like him/her? 

Colette is my favourite writer, and has always been since I stole my cousin’s copy of Claudine at School at age eleven. Her sense of rhythm and her choice of words is impeccable. She also has this mixture of lyricism and humour that’s quite compelling, and even when she deals with serious subjects (like the two World Wars) it never feels heavy-handed. She was at her best in short texts and those are the ones I read over and over again.

Eddie Murphy once said, “Anything you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.” Have you ever forced yourself to read something because you were told it was ‘good for you’? If yes, what did you learn from this experience? If no, tell us about a book that you hated. 

There was this book that purported to be a testimony from a Chinese eunuch who had lived in the 19th century and served at the imperial palace. It had been written by a journalist who supposedly acted as a ghostwriter for a eunuch (based on the backcover blurb). I bought it, thinking it would be a good way to discover a bit more about Chinese culture. The novel was naff and featured obvious made-up, sensationalist scenes (the eunuch spying on his master at a bordello, and so on), including an unbelievable love story where the eunuch is reunited his girlfriend, whom she thought had died, in a lost village thirty years after their last encounter, by total coincidence. The translator and the publisher had written a preface, which I read afterwards, explaining that they had cut whole pages of sentimental monologues that “were visibly added by the journalist” and that it was a “somehow embellished account of a eunuch’s life” from “several real-life accounts”.

I just gave the thing away to charity. What a waste of paper. It taught me two things: 1) don’t lie, 2) have high stakes in your stories, by all means, but don’t go for gratuitous, implausible sensationalism. It’s cheap and boring.

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