Women in Translation Month: 100 Best WIT

It’s the first of August and that means it’s Women in Translation month. To find out more about it, head to founder Meytal’s blog and follow the #WITMonth and #womenintranslation hashtags on social media. Throughout the month I’ll be sharing reviews of the books I’ve been reading by women that have been translated into English. To start the month though, I’m posting my contribution to #100BestWIT. The rules are on the photo above so if you haven’t already, add yours to the list. Mine are in alphabetical order because creating a top ten in order of favourites was too difficult. If you click on the title, it will take you to my review of the book.

Vernon Subutex 1 – Virginie Despentes (tr. Frank Wynne)

Vernon Subutex once ran a legendary record shop in Paris. When his benefactor and musician friend, Alex Bleach, dies, Vernon is left homeless. Subutex moves between the houses and apartments of friends and acquaintances before ending up on the streets. Despentes gives a searing commentary on Western society’s views of a range of hot topics: social media, hijabs, the rich, sex workers and a whole lot more. Despentes is a fierce and unflinching writer.
[No link for this one as I’ve reposted the short review I wrote when this was a book of the year in 2017.]

Waking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (tr. Sondra Silverston)

Doctor Etian Green, driving his SUV along a difficult track at the end of a nineteen-hour shift, hits and kills a man. Etian thinks no one’s seen him and leaves, but the following morning the dead man’s wife, Sirkit, arrives at Etian’s front door holding Eitan’s wallet. Sirkit makes a deal with him. Then Eitan’s wife, senior detective in the Israeli police force, is assigned to the murder case. A moral dilemma. Flawed humans who are neither wholly good nor bad. A gripping read.

Human Acts – Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith)

The story of the aftermath of the student uprising and massacre in Gwangju, South Korea in 1980. Told by seven narrators, including the soul of Jeong-dae, each reveals the events of the uprising, its brutal suppression and the violence of the state. A disturbing and powerful novel.

The Impossible Fairytale – Han Yujoo (tr. Janet Hong)

A story in two halves. In the first half, is the tale of two twelve-year-old children: Mia, the child with two fathers, and The Child. Mia is privileged and spoiled. The Child lives in poverty and is abused and neglected. In the second half of the book the narrator is revealed to be the Child who is now both the writer writing the novel and a character in the novel. Han explores what fiction is and, in doing so, questions how we fictionalise our own lives.

Die, My Love – Ariana Harwicz (tr. Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff)

The unnamed narrator of Die, My Love is an immigrant, a wife, a mother of a sixth-month-old son. She is also a woman full of rage and lust and love and hate. The book chronicles her increasingly desperate and often violent attempts to reconcile herself with the version of womanhood patriarchal society expects of her. An angry, passionate and powerful exploration of a woman on the edge.

Strange Weather in Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami (tr. Allison Markin Powell)

Tsukiko Omachi and the man she calls Sensei meet regularly – without arrangement – at a bar near the train station. She’s 37 and jaded; he’s in his late 60s, a retired widower. He considers her to be unladylike; she thinks he’s old-fashioned. But they drink together; they go on walks together; he recites to her fragments of the poetry he swears he taught her at school. A beautiful, mostly gentle book about a slow-burning relationship.

The Notebook – Agota Kristof (tr. Alan Sheridan)

Twin brothers are taken by their mother to live with their grandmother while the war rages. Grandmother makes them do chores to earn their food and shelter; there’s nothing to wash with, and she hits, pulls and grabs them. The boys begin to do exercises to toughen their bodies and their minds. They also set each other composition exercises which they write in the notebook and which have to be true. Brutal, highly stylised and gripping.

The House in Smyrna – Tatiana Salem Levy (tr. Alison Entrekin)

A novel told in four strands. The first, the narrator’s journey to Turkey to her grandfather’s house. The second, the grandfather’s journey to Portugal. The third, the narrator’s relationship with her, now deceased, mother. The fourth, a passionate love affair between the narrator and an unnamed man. A story about exile in various forms and the impact that can have.

Faces in the Crowd – Valeria Luiselli (tr. Christina MacSweeney)

An unnamed female narrator writes a book about the lesser known Mexican poet Gilberto Owen. She frames this with comments about her current family life and the life she had before she married. Her family think there is a ghost in their house and the narrator spends time ‘with Gilberto Owen’s ghost’ who eventually tries to take over the narration. Clever and engaging.

The Mussel Feast – Birgit Vanderbeke (tr. Jamie Bulloch)

A mother and her teenage children wait for their husband and father to return from a business trip. The mother has prepared a feast of mussels, but it soon becomes clear that something isn’t right. A tale of an abusive father, narrated by his daughter, this has a tense atmosphere throughout.
[Review by Jacqui who guest-posted some IFFP reviews on my blog before she began her own excellent blog.]

Book List for All Humans #4


Publishers Weekly asked Mexican writer, Daniel Saldaña Paris for his ‘10 Essential Spanish Language Books‘. On reading the list, I discovered only three women writing in Spanish wrote ‘essential’ books: Josefina Vicens, Rosario Ferré and Carmen Laforet. To be fair to Paris, he does comment that the number of translations from Spanish to English is heavily in favour of male writers. However, I thought, there must be loads. And then I struggled to get to 10 even after trawling the blogs of friends who focus on translated fiction. Here’s what I’ve got. I would love more recommendations, I can add them to the pile for Women in Translation Month in August.

Faces in the Crowd – Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina McSweeney)
A translator with a small family writes about ghosts and sees the ghost of Gilberto Owen, eventually he attempts to take over the narration. One of my favourite books. (Link to my review on Bookmunch.)

The Rest Is Silence – Carla Guelfenbein (translated by Katherine Silver)
At a wedding, 12-year-old Tommy overhears a conversation in which it’s revealed his mother killed himself. He begins his own investigation as his father and stepmother deal with their own problems.

No One Will See Me Cry – Cristina Rivera Garza (translated by Andrew Hurley)
Joaquin Buitrago, a photographer in the Castaneda Insane Asylum, believes a patient, Matilde, is a prostitute he knew years earlier. Her life was disturbed when a young revolutionary hid in her adopted father’s home.

Leonora – Elena Poniatowska (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)
A fictionalised version of the life of Leonora Carrington.

This Too Shall Pass – Milena Busquets (translated by Valerie Miles)
‘Blanca is forty years old and motherless. Shocked at the unexpected loss of the most important person in her life, she suddenly realises that she has no idea what her future will look like.’

The Winterlings – Cristina Sánchez-Andrade (translated by Samuel Rutter) (forthcoming August 2016)
‘Two sisters return to the small parish of Tierra de Cha in Galicia after a long absence, to the former home of their grandfather, from which they fled when they were just children. At Tierra de Cha, nothing and everything has changed: the people, the distant little house in the rain, the acrid smell of gorse, the flowers, the crops, the customs. Yet the return of the sisters disrupts the placid existence of the villagers, stirring up memories best left alone.’

Stone in a Landslide – Maria Barbel (translated by Laura McGloughkin and Paul Mitchell)
’13-year-old Conxa has to leave her home village in the Pyrenees to work for her childless aunt. After years of hard labour, she finds love with Jaume – a love that will be thwarted by the Spanish Civil War. Approaching her own death, Conxa looks back on a life in which she has lost everything except her own indomitable spirit.’ (Link to review by Stu Allen.)

A Man of His Word – Imma Monsó (translated by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent
A novel of two interweaving strands exploring the narrator’s love, Cometa, and their life together as well as her life following his death. (Review by Tony Malone)

And two ‘big-hitters’:

Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel (translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen)
The history of the all-female De La Garza family and the unrequited love of Tito and Pedro.

The House of the Spirits – Isabelle Allende (translated by Magda Bogin)
A family saga played out against a backdrop of revolution and counterrevolution.

Suggestions from Twitter:

Mildew by Paulette Jonguitud (translated by Paulette Jonguitud) (review by David Hebblethwaite)

The Sleeping Voice by Dulce Chacon (translated by Nick Caister)

Underground River and Other Stories – Ines Arredondo (translated by Cynthia Steele)

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Maman Sanchez (translated by Lucy Greaves)

Desire for Chocolate by Care Santos (translated by Julie Wark)

Elvira Navarro

Ana Maria Matute

Diamela Eltit

Ana Maria Shua

Guadalupe Nettel

Lina Meruane

Alicia Borinsky

Thanks to Mary Boardman, Bella Bosworth, Jeff Lyn, Caro Clarke, Lee Randall, David Hebblethwaite