Revelle Lee is a polyglot, a person who knows and can use several different languages. In Revelle’s case, the total is 11, but because of something that happened in her past, she no longer lists German and refuses to speak the language. Revelle picked up languages when she was young. Her mother’s career as a professor found the two hop-scotching from one country to another. With her mother often absent, Revelle occupied herself by learning other languages.
Revelle never knew her father and her mother has died. She keeps in touch with Richard, her mother’s partner, who encourages Revelle to claim her mother’s estate. Revelle, still angry at her mother, refuses that offer even though she is struggling financially.
Hoping she can be a better mother, Revelle is fostering six-year old Elliot, whose father is in prison and mother is an addict. Revelle connects with Elliot since like her he has bounced around. She hopes to provide him with a stable home and to become the loving mother she herself never had.
As an interpreter, Revelle can make her own hours. But she soon finds that balancing work and motherhood is a challenge. She’s sometimes called upon in emergency situations, a missing child, for example, where the parents don’t speak English. On one occasion, she is forced to bring Elliot to the courthouse, another time leaves him with a neighbor she barely knows. She’s constantly berating herself for not giving Elliot the stability he needs. When he mistreats a pet at school, she suffers a serious reprimand from the teacher and hostile stares from the other parents. And she begins to wonder if Elliot’s past abuse will make it difficult for her to change his behavior.
Under the rules, interpreters function as a conduit between two entities, in some cases between a witness and the police. Changing one word, whether that happens as a mistake or intentionally, can alter the course of events. Aside from the one error Revelle once made, she has always been accurate and impartial until a young woman she knew was murdered and she believes the man being charged with the crime is guilty. Called to translate for a witness who speaks Hungarian, she changes words that doom the accused. Later, when she is convinced the man is innocent, she must find a way to undo what she’s done.
Someone, however, knows that she has altered her translation not once, but twice. Notes begin to arrive pressuring her to intervene in other cases. With the blackmailer threatening Elliot she has no choice but to comply, thus digging herself into an even bigger hole that could destroy her career and send Elliot back into care.
Brooke Robinson has presented an intriguing premise, that interpreters wield more power than we might have thought. Staying neutral, as Revelle finds, can be a challenge, but gets to the heart of what it means to be a trusted part of the system.
Revelle makes decisions that strike at the heart of her honesty and integrity. Fortunately, she learns that lesson and is able to turn her life around. Even a small cog in the system, a translator like Revelle, can subvert the cause of justice. A lesson none of us can forget.
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