Review of The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt

Sorrow is a bottomless well. Why then, must so much art engage with it on only the most superficial level, returning time and again to that most shallow and ubiquitous form, immature heartbreak (see: country music)? It’s not that it’s a poorly realized story, it’s that Heuvelt chose the most banal and maudlin topic possible. But then I think that is very much Heuvelt’s point, which leaves me conflicted.

Lightspeed Magazine Cover

The Day the World Turned Upside Down is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. One day, without explanation, the world turns upside down. As is down is now up and up now down. Dogs, cars, even buildings fall into the sky. Woe be to those outside at the time. And most other people. As the narrator says, most of the world’s population died that day; they either “died on the spot or protruded convulsing from holes in plasterboard ceilings.”

Our protagonist, though, doesn’t have most of the world on his mind. He can only think of one person—his very recent ex-girlfriend. No, that’s not quite right. He can only think of one person—himself. And that leads him on a quixotic quest to take his ex her goldfish. He isn’t concerned with the billions who died that day. He isn’t concerned when the first person he sees slips and plummets up to her death. He isn’t concerned about the bloodstains under the cast-iron tub removed to the ceiling of his girlfriend’s apartment. Or rather, he is, but only about what it meant. That his ex had spread her legs for another man the same night she broke his heart.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down was originally written in Dutch. It’s beautifully written and translated. The prose is often lyrical and the symbolism powerful. Frequently too powerful, driving home the banality of the subject matter. I get it, but I can only take so much of it.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction). https://everydayshouldbetuesday.wordpress.com/ https://hillbillyhighways.wordpress.com/
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3 Responses to Review of The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated by Lia Belt

  1. Pingback: 2015 Hugo Best Novelette Ballot | Every Day Should Be Tuesday

  2. Derek van Dassen says:

    I’ve read this story in both Dutch and English, and there’s no comparison between the two. As often happens in Dutch to English translation, the original sounds like an accomplished author wrote it, and the translated version sounds like a high schooler wrote it.

    In some cases, the translator just gets things wrong, things that are essential to the nuances of the story. The rest of the time, the text just sounds stilted, awkward and full of incomprehensible Dutch idioms. We get the gist of the story, but in English it’s not literature, that’s for sure.

    What’s the process? Is there a second translator involved to pick up errors from the Dutch? Does the English-language publisher provide an editor to smooth out the bits that we would otherwise trip over? Or is all that just too expensive measured against potential sales?

    In any event, Thomas Olde Heuvelt deserves better.

    Liked by 1 person

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