I managed to commit to Women in Translation Month for the whole of August, meaning my wrap ups for both have dovetailed nicely into one post.
I finished 11 books by women in translation throughout August, representing authors from 9 countries, writing across 8 languages. I’m pretty happy with that overall. But of course, reading broadly is something we all could and should strive to do year-round, and there are definitely gaps in my intake of translated lit that need addressing. Here are some very brief thoughts on each of my picks, with links to my full reviews if you’d like to know more.
Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang (China | Translated from the Chinese by Julia Lovell et al.)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Quiet slice of life stories that capture a period of societal transition in post war China, this collection was hampered by its use of numerous translators, which led to an uneven narrative voice. Still, I enjoyed Chang’s look at the role of women and the dramas of every day domesticity.
The Good Lover by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir (Iceland | Translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This offbeat, contemplative novel is a rumination on various kinds of unrequited love, and the pain of yearning for the unattainable. Being driven by its themes more than its plot, characters speak and act in somewhat inexplicable ways, but it was an interesting, singular read nonetheless.
Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Israel | Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Very nearly a five-star read, I loved this stress-inducing and atmospheric look at the dangerous ripple effect of lies, and our moral obligation to honour the truth. The prose is stunning, and for all its page-turning readability, it poses a lot of big, thought-provoking questions via its complex, flawed, and very believable characters.
Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh (France | Translated from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I’m glad I decided to revisit this graphic novel. Though it doesn’t offer the most original narrative arc when it comes to queer coming of age lit, it’s told with a lot of heart and visual flair.
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Sweden | Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] There’s an unexpected gentleness to this speculative dystopian tale. I loved its subtle critique of class snobbery and the role of women, as well as the flawed way that we as a society define success and value in life.
The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza (Mexico | Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] Themes at play here include toxic masculinity, the way we use language to divide the sexes, and the concept of borders – both real and imagined. Fascinating though they are, the plot and characters are held at such a distance that I felt no emotional connection.
Alseep by Banana Yoshimoto (Japan | Translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Three melancholic and quietly mystical novellas that look at grief and forbidden love, this is the kind of collection that is more successful in creating a certain mood than it is in crafting standout narrative moments.
Horizontal Collaboration by Navie & Carole Maurel (France | Translated from the French by Margaret Morrison)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This excellent graphic novel shows the everyday struggles that persisted in France during Occupation, with a particular focus on the forbidden love between French women and occupying German forces. Navie’s characters are believably flawed and complex, with Maurel’s striking art bringing their emotional struggles to life with real flair.
The White Book by Han Kang (South Korea | Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Part novel, part memoir, part poetry collection, this book is presented as a series of vignettes that muse on life and death. In stunning prose, it explores the role that language plays in navigating grief and pain, and the burden of living a life intended for another.
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (Finland | Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a deceptively simple tale that ruminates on the likes of art, community, love, and change, whilst asking us to consider which is worse: lying to others, or lying to ourselves. I felt engaged at the time of reading, but the promise of tension and atmosphere never quite reached a fever pitch.
Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir (Iceland | Translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Page-turning tension meets emotional complexity in this fantastic example of Nordic noir. We follow a tangled web of brilliantly well-realised characters, each as complex and morally ambiguous as the next, as they struggle with their own forms of obsession or addiction in this solidly written, well-paced, and seamlessly translated romp.
There we have it! I had a lot of fun committing so fully to Women in Translation Month this year, and I discovered some great books along the way – the real standouts being Liar, The White Book, Snare, and Horizontal Collaboration. I also added lots of great sounding reads to my TBR based on other people’s posts, so it’s been a big success on that front too!
August took my total number of reads this year up to 84, and I look forward to seeing what books September will bring my way.
What was your favourite read in August? What’s your favourite book by a woman in translation?