August is women in translation month, a time when readers prioritise books by women in translation - yes, it does what it says on the tin! - and I share the qualifying books I’ve read over the last twelve months. My twelve are down on recent years - two years ago I read twenty-four! - but, with six languages represented (French, Georgian, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish) and six publishers (Atlantic, Bloomsbury, Europa Editions, Granta, Peirene Press and Portobello Books), I’m doing okay in terms of reading diverse.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa editions, is about a girl from the upper part of Naples who toys with the lower part as she navigates the challenges of adolescence.
The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from the Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway and published by Peirene Press, is set in a dilapidated Residential School for Intellectually Disabled Children in Tbilisi. Although at times I wasn’t sure where the story was leading, there’s a fabulous twist in the tail.
Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori and published by Granta books, about the damage wrought by societal pressures to conform, is a rushed and disappointing follow-up to the author’s endearing and original debut, Convenience Store Woman.
My Grandmother’s Braid by Alina Bronsky, translated from the German by Tim Mohr and published by Europa editions, is a humorous coming-of-age story about family secrets, deluded matriarchs and refugees.
A Beast in Paradise by Cécile Coulon, translated from the French by Tina Kover and published by Europa editions, is a simple story of a triangular relationship set around a family farm. I most enjoyed the violent ending with brilliant echoes of the opening chapter when two teenagers first have sex.
Touring the Land of the Dead by Maki Kashimada, translated from the Japanese by Haydn Trowell and published by Europa Editions, consists of two novellas. In one, a woman who has been bullied by her mother and brother takes her disabled husband to a hotel she knew as a child. There, through his example, she learns acceptance. In the other, the youngest of four sisters who live with their mother observes how they compete for a man’s attention.
Suiza by Bénédicte Belpois, translated from the French by Alison Anderson and published by Europa editions, is an unusual, poignant and surprisingly plausible story of the redemptive power of love.
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky and published by Portobello Books, with Schroeder’s cat, people made stateless, an ageing man holding unprocessed trauma from infancy, a body unretrieved from a lake, this is a novel about being simultaneously dead and alive.
Tonight Is Already Tomorrow by Lia Levi, translated from the Italian by Clarissa Botsford and published by Europa editions, is the story of a Jewish family in Mussolini’s Italy, mostly focusing on the experience of their precocious son.
Onwards to this week's 99-word story, inspired by the word cacophony. As you'll see, I've drawn on women translating in my response to the prompt:
Beyond the wire, the night was silent. Within the camp, moaning built a tower of noise. Women called, but to little purpose. Words are worthless if those who hear can’t comprehend. Detainees complained in ninety different mother tongues.
A translator fished among the discord for languages she recognised. Echoed pleas in Pashto, Dari, Belarusian and Tajik. Others dredged for schoolgirl Urdu or dialects they’d heard their neighbours speak. Each language a stepping-stone to another, phrase by phrase community took hold.
That’s how they learnt that some were journalists, others lawyers. That’s how their fight for justice boomed and bloomed.