Women in Translation Month is just around the corner! Having shared my own TBR for this year, I thought I would also share some recommendations, highlighting a few of my favourites from the past few years. If any catch your eye, simply click on the title and it will take you over to Book Depository, where you can find out more or pick up a copy in time for #WITmonth!
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder)
This book is comprised of three quietly unsettling novellas that creep beneath your skin in an uncanny way. They explore the sordid, sinister side of human nature that lurks beneath the surface of normal life, caused by suppressed emotion that manifests in a sense of detachment from society and casual everyday cruelty.
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde (translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley)
Set in the past, present, and future, this ambitious novel follows three seemingly disparate narratives that increasingly weave together. Lunde highlights how intimately our fate is tied to that of bees and why it’s so important we protect them. Drawing beautiful parallels between them and us, she asks us what kind of legacy we want to leave behind.
The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada (translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani)
A strange, understated little book that focusses on mood and message more than plot, this is carried by a singular narrative voice, and a tone that balances pathos and whimsy. Set in a society where older generations are living ever longer, whilst children are dying young, it touches on many prescient themes, including the rise of nationalism, gender fluidity, the use of language and law-making to incite fear of the Other, and how our pursuit of self-gain is harming the planet.
The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti (translated from the Italian by Denise Muir)
This bittersweet novel follows a young girl as she attempts to come to terms with her failing eyesight, before she is left completely blind. Exploring difference, self-acceptance, and friendship, it’s also a great example of own-voice literature, with Peretti having the same degenerative eye condition as her protagonist.
Out by Natsuo Kirino (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder)
When a young woman murders her deadbeat husband, she enlists the help of her female co-workers to help her dispose of the body and cover up the crime. The book then follows the way this act impacts the various people involved, whilst exploring the role of women within Japanese society at large.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)
Hypnotic and at times disorientating, The Vegetarian explores the fear and misunderstanding levied at those who are bold enough to be open about their differences, particularly where mental health is concerned. Its allegorical approach won’t be for everyone, but it offers a boldly original look at our inability to understand what’s going on inside someone else’s head, and men’s stifling desire to control women.
Irmina by Barbara Yelin (translated from the German by Michael Waaler)
Inspired by the life of the author’s grandmother, this graphic novel is a look at how easy it was for those on the periphery of war to abandon their former beliefs and slip into a life of quiet complicity. It offers unique insight into a generation that looked the other way during Nazi rule, through choice, necessity, or wilful obliviousness. Though its somewhat abrupt ending lacked a sense of development or revelation, in many ways this was reflective of the book’s main theme: the impact and meaning of what is left unsaid.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel)
This is a touching and surprisingly nuanced story about a young man reconnecting with old friends, to try and find a new home for the beloved cat he can no longer house. Throughout their journey, we learn about the man’s past, and the ways each of the people he meets with helped to shape his life. This had a lot of potential to become overly sentimental, but I found it genuinely affecting.
I’ll leave it there for now, but I’d love to know what some of your favourite books are by women in translation!