Katie Kitamura’s A Separation (isn’t that cover great?!) is the second book I’ve read this year in which a translator of books goes searching for someone who is missing. The first was Idra Novey’s elegantly written book Ways to Disappear which I read and reviewed back in January.
In A Separation, we follow Kitamura’s narrator as she travels to Greece, to a conflagration-charred landscape, to track down her unresponsive, unfaithful husband at the behest of her mother-in-law. We learn that she and the husband are separated, have been for months, but have kept the dissolve of their marriage a secret. The smoking Greek landscape, an apt setting, offers a visual representation of a marriage gone up in flames.
Kitamura’s translator, like Novey’s, searches for answers and understanding while “translating” her experience, communicating amidst an unfamiliar language, intuiting emotions of grief and longing, and reading into foreign interactions and expressions to glean meaning.
Here, the narrator straddles an awkward divide, she seemingly cares for her estranged husband because of the past they share, but is emotionally vague, neither saddened nor relieved, angry nor scared. “She,” never given a name or a description in the book, is a passive character whose cool remove heightens the sense of foreboding, feeds the estrangement, and structures the tension at the center of the plot.