Founded in 2014 by book blogger Meytal Radzinski, Women In Translation Month (#WITMonth or #WomenInTranslation) aims to encourage readers to explore literature in translation by women writers. Although mostly geared towards English-language readers (as English tends to dominate the translation market), it also includes other languages. As Meytal Radzinski states on her blog, translations make up a small percentage of new books published each year and roughly only 30% of these new translations are of books by women. Therefore, putting the focus on women is an attempt to redress the balance and make finding books in translation by women easier for people to find. There is a really brilliant article on Lit Hub from last year about Meytal’s initiative, which you can read here.
Although free to read any and every book by women in translation for the month of August (and beyond), Meytal has specific goals this year to read and highlight women from countries, continents, subcontinents, and cultures that are too often underrepresented. It’s true that when I think of women in translation I automatically think of European writers, such as Elena Ferrante, Olga Tokarczuk, Tove Jansson, Svetlana Alexievich, and others. The same biases that have been exposed in publishing more broadly over the past couple of months seem to be particularly concentrated when it comes to translated literature; the question of which voices get publicised more and which ones don’t, who gets to translate the work and who doesn’t, are vital. Meytal explains it much better in her recent post here, please give it a read.
So in my own planning for Women In Translation Month I also want to include books by women who are underrepresented in translated literature. These include African women, Indigenous women, queer women, South Asian women and Southwest Asian (Middle Eastern) women. I’ll be reading off my TBR and Scribd but I’m sure I’ll be adding many reads to my wishlist as the month progresses.
I have quite a big pile of books that fall under the category of women in translation (pictured above) but I find making up TBRs quite stress-inducing. Instead here are the few books that are firmly on my ‘to read’ list for this month, any extras will be an added bonus.
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana, tr. from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul and published by Tilted Axis Press, 2020 (gifted by the publishers).
‘In thirteen stories that investigate ordinary and working-class Thailand, characters aspire for more but remain suspended in routine.
A politician’s wife imagines her life had her husband’s accident been fatal; an elevator attendant feels himself wasting away while trapped, immobile, at his station all day.
Witty, insightful and disturbing, this collection explores class, gender, and disenchantment in a changing country.’
Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, tr. from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha and published by Tilted Axis Press, 2017.
‘A powerful novel about a woman who runs away from home, seeking to free herself from the shackles of society and familial attachments, and instead devote her attentions to writing a novel. When she realises that her five year old son Roo has followed her, Ishwari struggles with her identity as a mother and the responsibilities that brings, versus the guilty knowledge that she cannot want her own child when his existence requires her to suppress her own dreams.
Ishwari and Roo wander the streets at night, looking for a place to stay, until an elderly caretaker takes pity on them and offers them an empty room on the terrace of a guest house. Ishwari gets work as a caregiver to the handsome gentleman who lives next door, while Roo, who is lame, spends all day locked up in the room on the roof. Pulsating with raw energy, Abandon gives voice to the perpetual conflict between life and art.’
Adua by Igiaba Scego, tr. from the Italian by Jamie Richards and published by Jacaranda Books, 2019.
‘Once a young girl in Somalia who wanted to be in films and escape the domineering grasp of her father, Adua is now an “Old Lira,” a woman who immigrated to Italy during the first wave in the 1970s. With the end of the Somalian civil war, Adua begins to seriously consider returning to the country of her birth. Sitting at the foot of the elephant statue that holds up the obelisk in Santa Maria square in Rome, she recounts her story, attempting to make sense of the past forty years and what the future might hold. When she first arrived in Rome and her film dreams ended in failure and shame, she knew she could not return to totalitarian Somalia and the vice-like purview of her father. Once a translator for the Italian colonial regime, her father’s past in Italy and the rest of his life in Somalia were characterised by attempts to live fully under the punishing hand of regimes, while Adua was left to reckon with the after-effects of his choices.
Adua is the unforgettable story of a father and daughter grappling with the implications of colonialism, immigration and racism that have bisected both of their lives.’
Sex and Lies by Leïla Slimani, tr. from the French by Sophie Lewis and published by Faber & Faber, 2020
‘In morocco, the only acceptable sexual activity is between a man and his wife. Where all forms of extra-marital sex, homosexuality and prostitution are not only morally frowned upon but also punishable by law, women appear to have two options: be a virgin, or be a wife.
In these essays, Leïla Slimani meets and talks to young women navigating this oppressive system, and explores its cultural and philosophical impact on Morocco. The conversations produce intimate portraits of vibrant and complex lives and, in telling their intense, resonant stories, these women step out of the isolation of repression to impose their presence on a culture that at once condemns and commodifies sex.’
- @readwit – Meytal’s Instagram page is currently doing a fifty day countdown to Women In Translation Month by spotlighting women authors who haven’t had international acclaim, some of them haven’t even been translated into English (yet).
- Meytal’s blog Biblibio.
- @readingwithkt – Katie has saved lots of underrepresented translated lit in her highlights, recommended by fellow bookstagrammers as well as her own research.
- Ten Translated Books You Can Read In A Day at Northern Bibliophile.
- The 10 Best Translated Novels of the Decade at Lit Hub.
- Tilted Axis Press – founded in 2015, this independent press aims to publish books that may not make it into English otherwise. They have a really exciting catalogue of original and radical books.
- And Other Stories – publishes a large range of translated literature and is maybe one of the few publishers that are based outside of London/Oxford etc (they also run the Northern Book Prize).