My Women in Translation Month

For the seventh year running – thanks to the wonderful founder Meytal Radzinski – this August saw another ‘Women in Translation Month’, a whole month dedicated to promoting and celebrating female writers in translation. Like many, I devoted my entire month to reading only translated works from women, and like many, I attempted to reach out to many corners of the world. Although I read many women in translation all year round, I always seem to unintentionally have a very euro-centric focus to my reading. Perhaps this is partly thanks to what is available to me in popular book stores, or what mainstream publishers draw my attention to. Whilst five out of the eight of the books on this list do hail from outside of Europe, what I did read unfortunately did not stray too far from European languages – with four of these five being written in the colonial languages of French and Spanish. So, despite enjoying every book on this list, what this ‘Women in Translation Month’ has taught me is that I need to stretch my reading even further, venturing outside of languages that saturate the market for translated literature such as French and Spanish. By the time August has crept back up on us in 2021, I want to have expanded my reading experiences even further, and hope to have read many women in translation from lesser represented languages outside of Europe.

Wild Woman

The first book I had the pleasure of reading this month was Wild Woman, by Marina Šur Puhlovski, translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zorić and published by Istros Books. Wild Woman is an ‘anti-love story’ written from the perspective of a young woman in 1970s Croatia. The narrative follows the evolution of the narrator’s relationship with a misogynistic and toxic man – a relationship that is built on lies, false hope, and fairytale fantasies. Marina’s writing is certainly brimming with countless intricate details, something that although at times was hard to keep up with, offers an insight into the narrator’s mind – a mind overwhelmed with fairytale love stories, literature and questionable notions of what love and life should be. This strong, yet very naive voice really drew me in to this very insular and personal story.

Translation as Transhumance

The next book I read was Translation as Transhumance, by Mirielle Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz and published by Les Fugitives. This short memoir/essay collection offers an absolutely wonderful and personal exposition on translation and the translator’s experiences. Gansel shares her relationship with languages that have spanned lives and generations, and moved across nations. This exploration of her relationship with languages then evolves into an insight on her journey as a translator. As a translator myself, I devoured this book, finding Gansel’s musings on translation absolutely brilliant.

“Translating [is] about opening up a mysterious dictionary from which to extract something bold, it [is] about reaching the limits of understanding, risking going beyond the literal meanings of the words in order to access their deep meanings.”

mirielle gansel, trans. Ros Schwartz

The Remainder

The next book had been on my list for a long time: The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated by Sophie Hughes and published by And Other Stories. Set in Chile, this novel brings together three characters, all linked by their parents’ elusive militant past during Chile’s former dictatorship. The shadowy and simplistic prose burns slowly, not giving too much away, and acting as a reflection of the trio’s parents mysterious past. Whilst the narrative appears to not say a lot at all, there are layers and layers of meaning behind every sentence. Hidden behind descriptions of persistent heat and overbearing dust lie ideas of collective memory, trauma and forgotten bodies. A striking and unnerving read.

The Wind That Lays Waste

The next book on my list was another from South America – this time Argentina. The Wind That Lays Waste, by Selva Almada, translated by Chris Andrews and published by Charco Press was one of my favourite reads from this month. The novella takes place all in the space of one day, and brings together four unlikely characters: a priest and his daughter, and a mechanic and his apprentice. I absolutely flew through this novella that offers a beautiful reflection on parent-child relationships, belief, and what could have been. The “storm” and its aftermath acts as an allegory for much larger issues in the novel, issues that Almada handles with a precise, yet descriptive writing style.

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori and published by Granta Books has to be my favourite book from this month. Convenience Store Woman is a brilliantly hilarious criticism of the expectations that are placed on women in modern Japan. A number of times I laughed (and sometimes grimaced) out loud at this wonderful book that offers a striking and humourous commentary on common societal views of women in Japan. Punchy and to the point, it certainly doesn’t skirt around certain issues.

Eve out of Her Ruins

My next read was Eve Out of Her Ruins, by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman and published by Les Fugitives. This very short novella brought me straight back down to earth after the joy that was Convenience Store Woman. Whilst I absolutely loved the beautifully poetic language in Eve Out of Her Ruins, the forceful and extremely hard-hitting story was at times hard to read. It was heart-wrenching, and despite being at times difficult to digest, its juxtaposition with beautifully eloquent – almost poetic – prose, makes the tough narrative somewhat easier to face. An extremely difficult and jarring subject matter handled beautifully with wonderful prose.

Fish Soup

My next read was Fish Soup, written by Margarita García Robayo, translated by Charlotte Coombe and published by Charco Press. This wonderful collection of short stories explores the lives of those people in the ‘middle’, those for whom life is not terrible, yet not so great either. In each story, we meet a character or characters from a part of society that is often overlooked – purely because it has nothing ‘interesting’ to offer. Robayo subverts this, proving to us that sometimes the mundane, the ‘average’ can also be interesting. Realistic and eye-opening, Fish Soup contains a myriad of bizarre stories about ‘normal’ people.

Winter in Sokcho

My final read for Women in Translation Month was Winter in Sokcho, by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins and published by Daunt Books. This subtle and slow-paced narrative crept up on me, and its well-thought-out prose left me feeling somewhat uneasy. Throughout the novel, Dusapin sets the scene in such a way that the reader thinks something dramatic or disastrous is always just about to happen. This is due to the fact that Winter in Sokcho is filled with a number of underlying narratives such as the whereabouts of the narrator’s father, and the fragility of living so close to the border that separates North and South Korea.

What a wonderful reading month ‘Women in Translation Month’ was! The novels that stood out most to me out of this collection have to be Convenience Store Woman and Eve Out of Her Ruins – albeit for very different reasons! As I discussed in the introduction to this post, my aim now is to continue reading more women in translation with a focus on finding great books written from outside of Europe, and in typically overlooked, or lesser-represented languages.

2 thoughts on “My Women in Translation Month

  1. I’ve read most of these – it’s only the two Les Fugitives titles I haven’t read and I’m intrigued by both – and it looks to me like you had a month of great reading. The Remainder was the only one I didn’t really get on with though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. The Wind that Lays Waste was probably my book of the year – I hope you get a chance to read Dead Girls.

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    1. Yes! Would definitely recommend both, – they were brilliant! I can see why you didn’t get on with The Remainder, I loved the opening chapters, read the mid-section of the book very slowly, then really got into it again in the last half! Think I might have to put in an order for Dead Girls soon!

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