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. This year’s dozen represents 7 languages (one up from last year): Arabic, Danish, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish, with almost half the books being translated from the French. The books come from 8 different publishers: Europa editions, Granta books, Heinemann, Maclehose Press, Peirene Press, Quercus, V&Q Books, Zed Books.
The Bureau of Past Management by Iris Hanika, translated from the German by Abigail Wender and published by V&Q Books, explores the challenge of reconciliation to a horrific history, specifically the legacy of the Nazi’s atrocities for contemporary Germans
The Sky Above The Roof by Nathacha Appanah, translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan and published by Maclehose Press, is a beautifully tragic story of how a woman’s determination to raise her children differently to her own upbringing backfires.
A Sister’s Story by Donatella di Pietrantonio, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa editions, is about two sisters’ tragic failure to make more loving marriages than their parents managed.
The Lobster’s Shell by Caroline Albertine Minor, translated from the Danish by Caroline Waight and published by Granta books, set in London, San Francisco and Copenhagen, is about two families casually connected through a young woman’s attempt to make contact with her deceased mother and the clairvoyant’s daughter’s desire to find the father she never knew.
Reeling by Lola Lafon, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle and published by Europa editions, is about how a dancer’s ambition was used to groom her as a young teenager and her silence guaranteed by making her complicit in the system.
Marzahn, Mon Amour by Katja Oskamp, translated from the German by Jo Heinrich and published by Peirene press, is an engaging memoir about a writer who retrains as a chiropodist to work in a Berlin suburb that was once East Germany’s largest prefabricated housing estate.
The Forests by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson and published by Europa editions, is a cli-fi novel about a young man’s attempt to continue living after civilisation, and plant and animal life, have been destroyed by fire.
Witches by Brenda Lozano, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary and published by Quercus, is narrated by two women from different Mexican cultures: a journalist from the Spanish-speaking capital and an indigenous healer who never went to school. It’s a story of sisterhood, family, gender and belief.
So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, translated from the French by by Modupé Bodé-Thomas and published by Heinemann, is about a professional Senegalese woman’s powerlessness when her husband takes a second wife.
Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall, translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm and published by Peirene Press, is based on a true story of a remarkable woman on a mission to avoid perishing in the Holocaust. The straightforward economical style of the narrative somehow serves to underline the horror.
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal el Saadawi, translated from the Arabic by Sherif Hetata and published by Zed Books, is about an Egyptian woman awaiting execution for the murder of a pimp.
I always think a convertible should mean more than a car with a collapsible roof. I expect a greater conversion, James Bond style, to a boat or plane. That would have been fun for this week’s 99-word story challenge, if I could weave in a translated woman. But I’ve gone farther beyond the prompt red convertible with a more commendable conversion of a long-ago trip to Spain.
It wasn’t her kind of holiday, but a beach resort with familiar food made sense for the kids. She tried speaking Spanish to the servers, but they returned the volley in scripted English and poured more wine. On an evening stroll they stumbled upon a bookstall and she couldn’t resist a classic Garcia Marquez, although he said they had come to relax. By the pool the next day, she wished she’d heeded his warning: she understood one word in ten. It wasn’t much clearer with Google translate. But she persisted and finished the novel as they arrived at Heathrow.