August is Women in Translation Month. As the name suggests, it’s a time when we’re all encouraged to reach for and discuss books written by women in translation, to combat the gender imbalance that continues to persist within international literature. Last year, I recommended 8 titles for those looking to get involved, and while I stand by those picks, I wanted to highlight some more in case anyone is particularly keen to boost their TBR before the month kicks off!
I’ve linked to each book in case you’d like to know more or pick up a copy, but without further ado, here are 10 excellent books by women in translation.
Loyalties by Delphine de Vigan | France | Translated from the French by George Miller
As the title suggests, this is primarily a look at the concept of loyalty in its various forms. With each of the 4 main characters keeping a secret on behalf of someone else, de Vigan explores the moral complexities inherent to balancing trust with honesty. The undercurrent of tension and claustrophobia that builds throughout had me enthralled, and I loved its subtle commentary on sexism and the nuance of what constitutes abuse.
Tender Is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica | Argentina | Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses
Deliberately repellent and utterly compelling in equal measure, this all-too-plausible dystopian looks at what might happen if animal meat was toxic to humans, and cannibalism became the norm. Bazterrica is unflinching in her portrayal of society’s degradation, but there’s so much depth to revel in, with commentary on the role of language, genetic modification, hunting for sport, human trafficking, and class disparity all woven in seamlessly.
Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen | Israel | Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverstone
At once a searing social commentary and a gripping page-turner, Liar looks at the ease with which our words can take on a life of their own, when a 17-year-old girl falsely accuses a minor celebrity of assault. The novel’s real strengths are its fantastically well-realised characters, who are painfully flawed, complex and believable, and Gundar-Goshen’s stunning prose, which can make even the smallest moments shine.
The White Book by Han Kang | South Korea | Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith
Loosely tied around our narrator’s struggle to come to terms with the death of her baby sister, this experimental little gem is part novel, part memoir, part prose poetry collection. Beautifully written, I found it as linguistically stimulating as I did emotionally impactful, and loved witnessing its constant push and pull between fact and fiction.
Waves by Ingrid Chabbert & Carol Maurel | France | Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin
Inspired by the author’s real life, this graphic novel explores the difficulty of navigating grief, and the importance of finding hope, when two women’s journey to have a child culminates in tragedy. Accompanied by Maurel’s dreamlike artwork, it’s a moving story handled with due sensitivity, and the normalised queer representation was a very welcome touch.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata | Japan | Translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori
The concept and prose may seem straightforward in this exploration of society versus the individual, but it’s shrewdly observant and quietly impactful. Ultimately, Murata asks us to consider the extent to which we should sacrifice the things that make us happy, if simply for the sake of fitting in and avoiding scrutiny. With moments of poignancy and understated humour, she also touches on ingrained misogyny and class divides, all carried by her heroine’s charmingly unique world view.
Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir | Iceland | Translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates
The gripping pace of a thriller can often come at the expense of character depth. Not so in Snare. This excellent example of noir fiction takes us into Iceland’s underbelly, as a woman turns to drug smuggling to fund a custody battle over her young son. Page-turning tension, a tangled web of morally ambiguous characters, engaging subplots, and emotional complexity elevated what could have been a nondescript crime flick into something decidedly more memorable.
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist | Sweden | Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
There’s an unexpected tenderness to this speculative dystopian tale, in which those who remain unmarried and childless over the age of 50 must enter a Unit. Here, they live a life of luxury but must participate in clinical trials and forced organ donation. Though easy to fly through, the book has interesting things to say about how society defines value in life, as well as class snobbery and the role of women. Chiefly, it ruminates on why certain types of love are given credence over others.
Horizontal Collaboration by Navie & Carole Maurel | France | Translated from the French by Margaret Morrison
An elderly grandmother finally divulges the details of a tragic love affair that played out during Occupation in this heartbreaking yet hopeful graphic novel. Set largely in one apartment block in 1942, we glimpse a microcosm of society at the time, with the author brilliantly capturing the moral dilemmas people were forced to navigate day-to-day under Nazi rule; the divide between those who acted in aid of the greater good and those who served only themselves.
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri | Japan/South Korea | Translated from the Japanese by Morgan Giles
Employing a touch of the supernatural, Tokyo Ueno Station explores the very real problem of poverty, highlighting wilful ignorance towards widespread homelessness in modern-day Japan. The tone throughout is one of nostalgia and melancholy, as our deceased narrator looks back on a life of crippling poverty, missed opportunities, and lost love. The book offers heartfelt insight into the cost endured by those pushed to the fringes of society as a direct result of their socioeconomic standing.
I’ll leave it there for now, but I’d love for you to recommend some of your favourite books by women in translation in return. Happy reading!