Did you know that August is Women in Translation Month? If you’re wondering what that means, let me explain. Women in Translation Month is a month to highlight translated works by female writers. In the world of literary translation, women are seriously underrepresented.
How underrepresented? You’re probably familiar with the statistic that only about 3% of published works in the US and the UK are translated from other languages. Well, of that 3%, only about 30% of new translations into English are books by women writers. Books by female authors are translated at a lower rate around the world, even in Europe.
With that in mind, here are 9 books to read for women in translation month. Read the ones that pique your interest and you’ll soon start to wonder what else you’re missing out on!
Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was
Author: Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula LeGuin
In a 2016 interview, Meytal Radzinski, the scholar behind Women in Translation Month, called this book her “go-to first choice for just about any type of favourite book these days! It’s such a special book, gorgeously written and so utterly magical.”
Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was is the history of an imaginary nameless empire, as told by multiple storytellers. Translator Ursula Le Guin is an acclaimed fantasy author in her own right. So it’s not surprising that publisher Small Beer Press boasts that “Rarely have author and translator been such an effortless pairing.”
The Vegetarian: A Novel
Author: Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
This haunting novella by South Korean author Han Kang won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. It describes a Korean housewife’s descent into madness after nightmarish dreams prompt her to become a vegetarian. (I should note that there is some controversy regarding the accuracy of the translation), but it’s the only one we’ve got. )
The End of Days
Author: Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky
This book from German author Jenny Erpenbeck takes you through several possible lives (and deaths)of a baby born in the Hapsburg of the early 20th century. The Guardian calls it “shot through with an insight that almost blinds.”
Author: Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
The Guardian calls this first novel by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin “short, terrifying and brilliant.” Also, it was on the long list for the Man Booker International Prize. Reviews on Amazon, however, are mixed. So apparently, this is one of those books you either love or hate.
Author: Wioletta Greg, translated by Eliza Marciniak
This is another debut novel. It’s the first by Polish poet Wioletta Greg. This coming-of-age tale set in a small, rural village in communist Poland was also on the long list for the Man Booker International Prize. Meanwhile, the Guardian calls it “a richly textured portrait of a culture now lost: rural life under one of the milder communist regimes.”
My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante translated by Ann Goldstein
This novel follows two friends growing up in 1950’s Naples. Studious Elena and fiercely intelligent wild child Lila struggle for education and a better life. This is the first novel in a four-part set. Goodreads calls it “a modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors” and a “rich, intense and generous-hearted story.” Meanwhile, an HBO series based on the novels is currently in the works.
Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffery Zuckerman
From the outside, the islands of Mauritius look like paradise. But instead, Eve Out of Her Ruins takes the reader to a paradise lost, as seen through the eyes of four young friends. Writing for The Guardian, publisher Deborah Smith said she was “blown away by the sensual prose and startling images.”
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal
Author: Dorthe Nors, translated by Misha Hoekstra
Next, let’s look at Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Danish author Dorthe Nors. This novel follows the struggles of Sonja, a middle-aged translator living in Copenhagen. In the novel, she attempts to finally learn how to drive . . . and how to cope with life in general. Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, the Economist calls Mirror, Shoulder, Signal “a magnificent exploration of anxiety.”
by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump
What was it like to grow up as a refugee of the Rwandan genocide? Cockroaches is a memoir that describes growing up Tutsi in Rwanda and then living as a refugee in Burundi. One Amazon reviewer calls it “a gut-punch of a book. It’s a blunt, human, and wonderfully written account of the author’s childhood, growing up as a “cockroach” in racist/genocidal Rwanda.”
Not beach reading, but worth your time anyway.
Got any more recommendations? Let us know in the comments!