10 Women’s Books in Translation You Should Be Reading

On Tuesday 14th April 2015, Litro Magazine will continue the launch of its Mexico issue in translation, hosting a seminar at the 2015 London Book Fair. Chairing the seminar will be Jennifer Clement, guest editor of the Mexico issue. Joining her will be Aline Davidoff, President of PEN Mexico, and poet Natalia Toledo. They will speak on the health of Mexican literature, writing away from home, the state of women’s books in translation, and much more in between. Ahead of this we asked Polish novelist A.M Bakalar to pick her list of 10 Women’s Books in Translation You Should Be Reading. From the tragic recollections of student life during the 1980s political revolt in South Korea to the hypnotic stories of people’s resilience by Marie NDiaye – if you’d like to know more about women’s books in translation, this is where to start.

1. 51d+F7bITxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin (2014). Translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell. Since I read the highly acclaimed Please Look After Mother, I couldn’t wait to read Kyung-Sook Shin’s next novel. I’ll Be Right There is a beautifully written tragic story which follows Jung Yoon as she recalls her student life during the 1980s political revolt in South Korea. A spellbinding read.


2. 51d+F7bITxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom (2013). Translated from Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. Castel-Bloom is a thrilling voice of contemporary Hebrew literature. Textile is a humorous look at a rich Israeli family with a cast of selfish and colourful characters: the mother devotes her body to extensive plastic surgeries; the son is a sniper who likes to read classic novels to relax. There’s also a spoilt twenty two year old daughter and a father, a gifted scientist, albeit going insane. Castel-Bloom’s latest novel is a world of brilliant alienations of the modern society.


3. 51d+F7bITxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (2014). Translated by Ann Goldstein. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third instalment of Ferrante’s much-loved Neapolitan novels, the final will be published later this year for which I cannot wait. Ferrante is a compelling author, and here she excels at the captivating portrayal of a female friendship and the Italian family.


4. vertical_highres_large Vertical Motion. Stories by Can Xue (2011). Translated from Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. This is the first book by Chinese author Can Xue I have discovered and it was love at first page. Surreal and at times bizarre, this collection of Xue’s stories is a captivating vision of various realities, which reminded me of Kafka’s work. Vertical Motion. Stories is a kind of book you will find yourself reading over and over again, each time discovering all the wonderful layers hidden in the text.


5. getImageThree Strong Women by Marie NDiaye (2013). Translated from French by John Fletcher. Winner of France’s most prestigious literary prize in 2009, the Prix Goncourt, Marie NDiaye was also the first black woman to win the award. Telling the story of lives caught in between France and Senegal, Three Strong Women reveals the power of the human spirit. Don’t get discouraged by the intensity of these overlapping novellas: NDiaye rewards the reader with sublime beauty of the multilayered prose and the hypnotic stories of people’s resilience.


6. 51d+F7bITxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt (2014). Translated from Danish by Denise Newman Naja. Marie Aidt’s first book translated into English, Baboon is a collection of wonderfully unexpected stories. What is hiding beneath the surface of our seemingly calm existence? In a precise prose Aidt lights up the dark corners of human obsessions. Baboon dazzles with rage and passion. Unforgettable collection.


7. 51d+F7bITxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (2014). Translated from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. In a world where everybody is obsessed with Haruki Murakami, Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel is Japan’s best kept secret. Set in the 1960s, Mizumura cleverly retells the story of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights in post-war Japan – but the novel goes beyond Brontë’s masterpiece. The sheer brilliance of Mizumura’s storytelling is truly remarkable. A True Novel is not only a timeless story of doomed lovers but, with its large scale, a meditation of the changes in the Japanese society under the influence of the Western world from the ’50s to the ’90s. This is also one of the most beautifully produced books I have encountered in a long time (included in the text are black and white photos. A book that delights with its content and design.


8. 9781846558009-largeHappy Are the Happy by Yasmina Reza (2014). Translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone. Yasmina Reza, the French author, is widely known for her formidable plays Art and God of Carnage (recently adapted to the silver screen by the director Roman Polanski). I had the pleasure of watching Reza speak during a book event in London where she read Happy Are the Happy in the original French version. This cleverly structured novel is a look on marriages and families, happiness and loneliness. Reza captures the essence of life through a wonderful array of details and comical situations – but always with great tenderness towards the people she’s describing.


9. Europe_in_Sepia_largeEurope in Sepia by Dubravka Ugrešić (2014). Translated from Croatian by David Williams In this passionate collection of essays Ugrešić, with ferocious precision, dissects our modern lives. The subjects, among others, include materialism, nationalism, global patriarchy and mass marketed culture. Europe in Sepia is an honest, unapologetic and often funny critique of the global age.


10. What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou (2013). Translated from Greek by Yiannis Panas. Winner of the 2008 Athens Prize for Literature, What Lot’s Wife Saw is an intriguing crime/thriller novel set in the post-apocalyptic world where large parts of Southern Europe are flooded. The governor of the Colony, which controls highly addictive violet salt from the Dead Sea Rift, is found dead. In comes Phileas Book, a crossword compiler for a newspaper, asked to read six confessions and find out the truth. An incredibly imaginative and entertaining read.


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A. M. Bakalar

About A. M. Bakalar

A. M. Bakalar was born and raised in Poland. She lived in Germany, France, Sicily and Canada before she moved to the UK in 2004. Her first novel, Madame Mephisto, was among readers’ recommendations for the Guardian First Book Award. She is the first Polish woman to publish a novel in English since Poland joined the EU in 2004. A. M. Bakalar lives with her partner—a drum and bass musician—in London. She is currently at work on her second novel.

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