In my post for women in translation month last August, I flagged seven qualifying books I’d read over the previous twelve months. The stories took me around the world to Europe (Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland) and beyond (Iran, Oman and Japan). But I thought I could beat that between September 2018 and August this year. It’s looking like I have!
Read on for bite-sized summaries of these 24 books, roughly in the order I read them, with links to my longer reviews if any take your fancy.
Nothing to report for October, but November’s reads brought another female translation from Europa editions: Farewell, My Orange by Iwaki Kei, translated from the Japanese by Meredith McKinney, is about friendship across the language and cultural barrier, focusing on two women who meet at an English-language class in a small town in Australia.
Although not strictly eligible as I’m only counting books, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with the Hungarian translator who translated one of my short stories at the Facebook book launch of my short story collection, Becoming Someone. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if she were to translate one of my novels?
My first four reviews of the new year were translations, only one of which was of a novel written by a woman. Loyalties by Delphine de Vigan, translated from the French by George Miller and published by Bloomsbury, is about preteen boys out of their depth and the adults who struggle to help them.
February brought another memoir, this time translated by Tanya Leslie from French, Annie Ernaux’s account of her illegal abortion in 1963, Happening, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. Another Peirene Press publication, Children of the Cave by Vivre Sammalkorpi, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah explores the impact on young research assistant of the discovery of a group of children with animal-like features living in a cave in North West Russia forty years before Darwin published The Origin of Species. The novella raises questions about nineteenth century exploration, the loss of innocence, responses to difference and the animal that lives in us all.
Straddling fiction and memoir, Luce d’Eramo’s autobiographical novel, Deviation, translated from Italian by Anne Milano Appel, and published by Pushkin Press, is a dispassionate account of living with disability and of the fight for survival within various types of Nazi camps.
Another survival story, Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina, translated from the Russian by Lisa C Hayden, published by Oneworld is about a young mother from a Tatar village who finds a certain kind of freedom when she’s transported to the Soviet Gulag.
Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal el Saadawi, translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham and published by Saqi Books, is a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story set in Egypt over half a century ago.
Anne Serre’s The Governesses, translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson and published by LesFugitives, is described as a sensualist, surrealist romp but for me was as tedious as trying to make sense of someone else’s dream.
The Saturday Morning Murder by Batya Gur, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu and published by HarperPerennial, is a police procedural novel set in a psychoanalytic institute in Jerusalem.
The Braid by Laetitia Colombani, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and published by Picador, is a morally dubious account of three women’s interconnected stories that might be intended as uplifting but reinforces the pattern of the wealthy surviving by treading on the toes of the poor.
I had more fun with The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann, translated from the German by Jen Calleja and published by Serpent’s Tail, a Japanese student and would-be suicide accompanies a European expert on beards on a journey in the footsteps of the seventeenth century haiku poet Basho.
The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel, published by Seven Stories Press and translated from the Spanish by JT Lichtenstein, is about a childhood marred by parental muddling of deceit and openness, discipline and laxity, narrated with humour and verve.
You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch and published by Peirene Press, is a pitch-perfect account of what it’s like to be a child with no-one to help her translate her experience into words, because those whose primary purpose is to do so have a vested interest in concealing the truth. This is set to be one of my overall favourite reads of 2019.
The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner and published by Maclehose Press, is a literary fantasy derived from the life and work of Valerie Solanas, radical feminist and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol.
The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik, translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin and published by Peirene Press in 2014, is a coming-of-age story about a young woman’s sexual awakening conflicting with her desire to please and protect her mother.
The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews and published by Charco Press, is about the unexpected intimacy forced upon four lonely people – two motherless teenagers, an evangelical preacher and a cynical mechanic – when a car breaks down in the pause before a storm in rural Argentina.
Things That Fall from the Sky by Selja Ahava, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah and published by Oneworld, is about the fragility of life and chance events, narrated primarily by a little girl whose mother has just died.
These twenty-four books were translated from thirteen different languages, with French the most common, comprising almost one third of the total: Arabic x 3, Finnish x 2 (both translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah), French x 7 (2 translated by Alison Anderson), German x 2, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Spanish x 2, and Swedish.
Fifteen publishers are represented, primarily small independents, with Peirene, which publishes sole translations contributing the biggest chunk (one sixth of the total): Peirene Press x 4, Fitzcarraldo Editions x 2, Europa editions x 3, Bloomsbury, Pushkin Press, Oneworld x 2, Faber, Saqi Books x 3, LesFugitives, HarperPerennial, Picador, Serpent’s Tail, Seven Stories Press, Maclehose Press, Charco Press.