Nine Books By Women in Translation, for Every Reader
August is nearly upon us, which means it's almost my favourite time of year. And no, it's not just because it's my birthday next week. August is 'Women In Translation Month' - when book lovers everywhere come together to celebrate one of the most forgotten voices in modern literature; translated women. Translated books make up just 3% of novels you might find on your local bookshop shelf, and just 26% of those are written by women.
Okay, so it's clear that women in translation are seriously underrepresented in the publishing world, but what can you do about it?
Here are some top ideas from people who run #WITmonth every year; This August, read a book by a woman in translation, read books exclusively by women in translation, buy a book by a woman in translation, or borrow a book by a woman in translation from your local library. Still stuck on which book to pick up? With a pretty small selection out there, it's more difficult than you might think to find a handful of books by women in translation. And that's why I'm here; I've got a book to recommend for every reader out there. So, without further ado...
My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels) by Elena Ferrante
Elena Ferrante is one of the most iconic authors of our time. I recently read one of her others books; Troubling Love, and it's not hard to see why Ferrante is so admired by readers and critics alike. She has an unrivaled skill in creating subtle tension and exploring female relationships that make her one of the most important writers in the world. Of course, her best known novels are the Neapolitan series, which begins with My Brilliant Friend.
"A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship."
Read this if you liked: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
Elif Shafak is one of the most widely-read modern authors in Turkey. Author of The Forty Rules of Love, and The Bastard of Istanbul, Three Daughters of Eve is Shafak's most recent novel, and has been met with almost unanimous praise. At the forefront of this book is a struggle of identities; between religion, and rebellion, between Cambridge, and Istanbul.
"Peri, a wealthy Turkish housewife, is on her way to a dinner party at a seaside mansion in Istanbul when a beggar snatches her handbag. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground - an old polaroid of three young women and their university professor. A relic from a past - and a love - Peri had tried desperately to forget."
Read this if you liked: Reading Lolita in Tehran
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Vegetarian became on of 2016's most popular books after winning the coveted Man Booker prize. It follows the story of a young, married woman who suddenly refuses to eat meat; much to the dismay of her family. It is a tale of fantasy, madness, metamorphosis, oppression and sadness. Kang writes beautifully, and simply. It's an affecting read that is guaranteed to stay on your mind long after you have read it.
"A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another."
Read this if you liked: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
Umami by Laia Jufresa
Umami is the recent winner of the English PEN award. It is a comic, and grief-filled portrait of modern-day Mexico. Jufresa's writing has been hailed as innovative, exciting and full of imagination. Her characters are dazzling, vibrant and distinct; full of colour and authenticity. This is probably why it was recognised by English PEN as one of the best books in translation of the year.
"Deep in the heart of Mexico City, where five houses cluster around a sun-drenched courtyard, lives Ana, a precocious 12-year-old coming to terms with the mysterious death of her little sister years earlier. Over the rainy summer she decides to plant a vegetable garden in the courtyard, and as she digs the ground and plants her seeds, her neighbours in turn delve into their past as questions emerge – who was my wife? Why did my mum leave? Can I turn back the clock? And how could a girl who knew how to swim drown?"
Read this if you liked: The House on Mango Street
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Fever Dream has been shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker prize, and is widely acclaimed around the world. A claustrophobic, tense and creepy read, Fever Dream is a descent into madness. Told exclusively through dialogue, Schweblin's experiments with structure and narration pay off perfectly. Fever Dream is impossible to put down, and still captivates the reader long after the last page has been read.
"A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She's not his mother. He's not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family."
Read this if you liked: The Yellow Wallpaper
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada
Memoirs of a Polar Bear has been praised as one of the best translated books of the year. An experimental piece of fiction that is led by the natural world. It is crammed full of beautiful, poetic language and images. Memoirs of a Polar Bear has been described as surrealistic, and mesmerizing. Two of the main characters - Tosca and Knut, are also modeled from two very real life polar bears, which only adds to the magic of the story.
"Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son―the last of their line―is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away..."
Read this if you liked: Northern Lights
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Banana Yoshimoto is one of Japan's best-loved authors, and Kitchen is one of her most popular books. Yoshimoto is praised for her ability to turn the every-day into the extraordinary and is well-loved for her surrealistic and ethereal writing. Kitchen is a book about healing, and a book about the human heart. It has been described as minimal, but unendingly powerful at the same time.
"An enchantingly original and deeply affecting book about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine of Kitchen, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, she is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who was once his father), Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale that recalls early Marguerite Duras."
Read this if you liked: Ministry of Moral Panic
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is an international best-seller, and has sold almost two million copies, and counting. Described as a "Korean Charlotte's Web", it is a heartwarming fable about an unforgettable character, featuring beautiful and specially-commissioned illustrations. It is a book about following your dreams, discovering your identity, and finding the courage inside of you.
"This is the story of a hen named Sprout. No longer content to lay eggs on command, only to have them carted off to the market, she glimpses her future every morning through the barn doors, where the other animals roam free, and comes up with a plan to escape into the wild—and to hatch an egg of her own."
Read this if you liked: The Year of the Hare
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is one of the most successful graphic novels of all time. Now a major animated film, Satrapi's art is as distinctive as her voice. Persepolis is commanding, and emotionally powerful. It is a moving, and accessible history of modern-day Iran. Satrapi's account is candid, heartbreaking, but also heartwarming. It is, without a doubt, one of the best 'coming of age' novels of all time.
"Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up."
Read this if you liked: One Hundred Nights of Hero
So which books by Women in Translation will you be picking up this month? Tweet me at @kittywenham to let me know what your favourite translated reads are, and which ones I should be adding to my TBR list.