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Fifty Sounds


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About the Author

Polly Barton is a Japanese literary translator. Her translations include Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda, There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura, and Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki. She won the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize for Fifty Sounds. She lives in Bristol.


'Witty, exuberant, also melancholy, and crowded with intelligence - Fifty Sounds is so much fun to read. Barton has written an essay that is also an argument that is also a prose poem. Let's call it a slant adventure story, whose hero is equipped only with high spirits, and a ragtag band of phonemes.'- Rivka Galchen, author of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

'This book: a portrait of a young woman as language-learner, as becoming-translator, as becoming-writer, in restless search of her life. It is about non-understanding, not-knowing, vulnerability, harming and hurt; it is also about reaching for others, transformative encounters, unexpected intimacies, and testing forms of love. It is a whole education. It is extraordinary. I was completely bowled over by it.' - Kate Briggs, author of This Little Art

'It seems fitting, somehow, that this marvelous study of the expansiveness and precarity of human communication is so woefully ill-served by a literal description of its contents. As in all great works of genreless nonfiction, all of the subjects Fifty Sounds is putatively "about" - Japan, translation, the philosophy of language - are inspired pretexts for the broad-spectrum exercise of an associatively vital and thrillingly companionable mind. This is a gracious, surprising, and very funny debut from a writer of alarming talent.' - Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction

'Fifty Sounds explodes the redundancy of the phrase "I'm learning a language," showing us that the experience is more akin to relearning reality and who we are in it. Barton writes of being "souped" in the sounds of speech and a new place, but also in what is not said or written. She beautifully recreates the monumental intuition and exposure required to immerse oneself in a new mode of living, and the quantum levels of attention required to translate literature. It chimes and charms, a resounding wonder about identity, communication and love.' - Jen Calleja, author of That's All We Have Time For

'Polly Barton is a brilliant, learned and daring writer and Fifty Sounds is a magnificent book. Through her eddying philosophical vignettes, Barton creates a unified work of extraordinary wisdom and vitality.' - Joanna Kavenna, author of Zed

'I loved this book and learned a lot from it, especially about subjects I thought I knew about - place, displacement, language-doubles and the double-selves we have when we move between our languages. It's not just just that it's winningly-written, insightful and formally exciting, though that would be enough. It's that it's genuinely gripping: forthright, inventive, personal, and fizzing with ideas.' - Patrick McGuinness, author of Other People's Countries

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