Translating LA

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Peter Theroux is a well-respected translator of Arab novels. He is also the author of SANDSTORMS: DAYS AND NIGHTS IN ARABIA (1990). Theroux has lived in the Los Angeles area since 1985, having spent the previous ten years living in the Middle East. Because Los Angeles is such a crazy quilt of fragmented communities connected and divided by criss-crossing freeways, the city has been the recipient of many snide remarks and cruel jokes from individuals who grew up in the cities of the East. Although born in Boston, Theroux makes it evident in TRANSLATING LA that he does not have some ax to grind or some need to make Los Angeles look like a place where only crazy people would live. The region, though, has had more than its share of disasters, including riots, fires, flooding, and earthquakes. Theroux takes the time to fill in some historical perspective and give a detailed physical description of the Los Angeles area.

One of the most startling facts about the area is how ethnically diverse it is. Theroux makes the point that less than half of the students enrolled in Los Angeles public schools speak English fluently. Immigrants are the lifeblood of the region, but each group seems to be fighting to enact its own political agenda and not joining forces toward the common good. In addition to the ethnic diversity, there is discussion of the film community and the fantasy image of Los Angeles that it helped to create. TRANSLATING LA is full of weighty issues that are in need of more in-depth discussion. Theroux possesses a wry wit which he uses to his advantage in a number of the essays. This may not be the definitive word on Los Angeles, but it adds greatly to the growing body of work that presents a more balanced view of Los Angeles as being more than a failed paradise.