"John Crowley's The Translator is a novel with a time bomb ticking over its head. It takes place during the dark days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as an American coed develops a complicated relationship with an exiled Russian poet who is her college professor, poetic collaborator, and perhaps lover. Innokenti Falin is a man of many secrets--but then, so is Christa Malone. Growing up, her father spoke only vaguely about his work with the government and computers; her Green Beret brother died under mysterious circumstances in Southeast Asia; and Christa herself has a few things in her past that she'd rather not contemplate.
In their power to evoke the physical pleasures of poetry, the scenes in which Falin and Malone work together evoke A.S. Byatt's Possession, another gripping novel about language and the life of the mind. Improbably, Crowley even makes the act of translation sexy:
She thought, long after, that she had not then ever explored a lover's body, learned its folds and articulations, muscle under skin, bone under muscle, but that this was really most like that: this slow probing and working in his language, taking it in or taking hold of it; his words, his life, in her heart, in her mouth too. The novel's principal shortcoming is that it can't quite make up its mind whether it's a cloak-and-dagger cold war novel or a less realistic fable about love, loss, and the power of art. Nonetheless, as the depiction of an era, a passion, and one woman's helplessness in the face of history, The Translator succeeds. Much can be forgiven of a book that makes us feel that words are important--that they can in fact change the world." --Mary Park