Pattu, the Tamil translation of Alessandro Baricco’s work Seta, a travelogue set in Japan was launched recently

A story of love, lust, and the world of smuggling, Seta (Silk), a 1996 novel by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco, has been translated into Tamil by Sukumaran, a poet. Titled Pattu, this book was launched in the city recently.

Sukumaran came across the book through a friend who went on to translate it in Malayalam. Taken up by the business of the silk industry, Sukumaran decided to translate it as well. “My friend challenged me to do it and told me that it would be like translating a dream into words. And so it has,” he says, “Working on Pattu was a rare moment when the poet and translator in me worked together.”

Pattu is about a French merchant-turned-smuggler Herve Joncour, who goes to Japan in search of silkworms. There, he falls in love. “The story is rather simple. Even the Italian and English versions are only about 120 pages, which means it’s a small book. But the way it tells the story of 19th Century Japan and the smuggling racket that happens there is fascinating,” adds Sukumaran, “Throughout the book, the protagonist makes seven journeys. One to Japan and the rest in search of the girl he found there. And that is its story.”

The book could also be perceived as a travelogue, he feels. Says Sukumaran, “While the book does concentrate on issues in 19th Century Japan, anyone can still relate to them. It’s a lot of things in one little package. I found it difficult to translate this book because of the long sentences and the differences in tenses (I used the English version to translate). But at the end, I’m proud of my command over Tamil and what I’ve achieved.”

Also present at the book launch at Amethyst was Alessandro himself. “Different languages are like different instruments and as you write your story, it’s like different sounds coming together and as an author, you’ve to make sure they stay in the reader’s memory after they’ve read it,” he says, “I wrote this book 15 years ago, not really thinking of the impact it would create. When you write novels, you understand a little bit more about the world you create. It was a story I wrote for myself.”

This story has been corrected for a spelling error.