A few years ago, I realised that my natural interest in books written in England in the 1920s and 30s was leading me towards owning shelves and shelves of books mostly by dead white Englishmen. That’s not such a big problem, some of my all-time favourites would be included in that category, but it felt like a good time to spread my wings and discover a wider range of eras and countries, hear from different perspectives, all via books. Women in Translation Month, started by Meytal Radzinski at the Bibliobio blog, and grown and established by many other book sharers on social media, helped with recommendations of women writing in languages other than English.
I have found some new favourite writers, learned a lot and – most importantly! – read some fabulous books. If you are looking to join in this year with Women in Translation Month – via the hashtag #WITMonth – and haven’t yet decided what to read, here are some I have already reviewed on ten million hardbacks.
- Breasts and Eggs: Mieko Kawakami – Writer Natsuko, her sister Makiko and niece Midoriko navigate life, work and womanhood, speaking candidly and without filters.
- Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: Olga Tokarczuk – Could animals be taking revenge on the hunters of a small village in rural Poland? Local eccentric Mrs Duszejko is on the case…
- Ms Ice Sandwich: Mieko Kawakami – A charming coming of age tale that perfectly captures the voice, obsessions and frustrations of being 10 years old and obsessed by the sandwich lady at the local supermarket.
- The Island: Ana María Matute – The Island is set on Mallorca during the early part of the Spanish Civil War. Told in the words of Matia, an adolescent girl staying with her grandmother, aunt Emilia and cousin Borja, the story unfolds over one summer…
- Child of Fortune: Yuko Tsushima – Koko is not really doing what anyone wants her to. Having raised her daughter alone following a divorce, she has conflicting feelings on discovering she is pregnant by her latest boyfriend.
- The Seventh Cross: Anna Seghers – In autumn in 1930s Germany, the apples are about to be harvested, in town shifts are starting. But at Westhofen concentration camp, a group of seven prisoners have escaped. In the camp, Fahrenberg the commandant orders seven trees to be turned into crosses, ready to receive the escapees when they are recaptured – which he promises will happen within seven days.
- Chernobyl Prayer: Svetlana Alexievich – Alexievich records diverse experiences from the aftermath of the disaster, talking to a psychologist, teachers, hunters, returnees, soldiers and clean-up workers, medics, a cameraman, a physicist, children. But before this, she sets out the outsize effect Chernobyl had on her own country of Belarus.
- The Unwomanly Face of War: Svetlana Alexievich – Alexievich notes in her introduction that for her as a child in Belarus, the war was all around: in stories, as children played at Germans and Russians, through parades and remembrances – and often those stories would be told by women.
- The Great Passage: Shion Miura – Dedication to a task, fanatical attention to detail, sacrifice towards an at times seemingly unachievable goal, all while being beset by the human tides of love, life and death, as well as finding time for eating and drinking, this isn’t so much the story of how to create the ultimate Japanese dictionary as it is one of how to build a life of creative endeavour that can be looked back on with pride at having been well-utilised.
- Transit: Anna Seghers – It is the early part of the War. Seghers’ narrator has drifted as far as he can and now clings to the edge of the continent, the seaport of Marseille, surrounded by similarly adrift refugees of a variety of nations, some still in existence, some not. They spend their days trailing from consulate to travel agent to embassy, in search of the right combination of travel documents, exit and transit visas.
- The Blood of Others: Simone de Beauvoir – Witness reluctant hero Jean Blomart’s night of remorse and reflection as he only realises how deeply he cares for on-off girlfriend Helene after she has taken a bullet helping her ex escape from the Nazis.
In addition to these reviews, ten million hardbacks is also hosting two short stories by Rakuko Rubin, translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin:
- Reunited – When Hisako’s husband Takao moves to the ‘Elder Spa’ facility, neither of them are prepared for who he will meet there.
- Last Respects – An email from her mother takes Mayu back to the early days of her first marriage.
I hope to be adding to my list of reviews as Women in Translation Month goes on, with books by Olga Tokarczuk and Mieko Kawakami on my to read list. What are you planning to read this August? Are there any books by women in translation that have caught your eye? Let me know in the comments…