How We Are Translated might simply be a quirky novel about love across linguistic lines, were it not for Kristin’s day job at the (fictional) Museum of Immigration based at Edinburgh Castle. The museum offers an “immersive experience” like no other. Actual immigrants are employed to re-enact the lives of different communities who have made Scotland what it is today. There are real Lithuanians working in a mine. Kristen plays Solveig, a Norse woman with real cows to tend. Once a month Solveig’s father-in-law (a straw mannequin, thankfully) gets burned on a pyre, drawing hordes of tourists. Health and safety concerns have largely been suspended at the museum in the interests of “authenticity”. The management is considering hiring a real baby, and a couple of serfs.
The problem is Kristin associates speaking Swedish with her difficult workplace, the National Museum of Immigration, where she dresses up as an ancient Swedish settler and is banned from speaking English. She’s also nervous about the real reason Ciaran is so keen to learn Swedish: her pregnancy. While How We Are Translated is ostensibly about language, what Gaitán Johannesson (who speaks Spanish, Swedish and English) reaches towards is how and why we communicate with each other.