Love in any language, straight from the heart, pulls us all together, never apart, and once we learn to speak it, all the world can hear that love in any language is fluently spoken here.
Those are lyrics to a song that came to mind when I started thinking of this topic. August, I recently learned, is being celebrated as Women In Translation month, meaning that women from other parts of the world who write in their native tongue and whose books have been translated to English, those writers and the books they have produced are being cast into the spotlight this month. Kudos to whoever came up with this idea.
Already this year, I’ve read, and enjoyed several books that were translated to English and I’ll share a few of them here, in case you would like to celebrate foreign female authors with me.
Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enriquez is a short story collection focusing on female characters’ reactions to varying degrees of oppression. The title story is about women who turned to self mutilation as a means of empowerment, the ultimate rejection of the idea that a woman’s worth is in her appearance. The premise of the story has haunted me in the months since I’ve read it. Enriquez is from Argentina, so the collection was originally published in Spanish as Las Cosas Que Perdimos En El Fuego but I think whatever language you read these stories in, they will have a profound effect on you.
Han Kang’s book The Vegetarian was much talked about last year when it won the Man Booker International Prize and several other, prestigious awards. It is a strange book and it might be difficult to get into – that was certainly my experience reading it – but it is well worth the effort. The story is of a woman in a patriarchal Korean society, who becomes plagued by dreams and decides to not just stop eating meat, but further to purge it from all aspects of her life, including refusing to cook it for her husband, and the backlash that ensues. The book is told in 3 parts from 3 different perspectives, none of which is the main character’s, so it is an examination of a personal choice as viewed through subjective lens. The original title is, in Korean characters, 채식주의자 and I would be very interested to hear a native reader’s take on the story and how a decision like this would be viewed in real life.
Another of Han Kang’s books, Human Acts (Original title: 소년이 온다) was translated and published earlier this year and this time, it is a historical fiction about the Gwanju uprising that occurred in 1980 in South Korea, where the government killed a, still inconclusive, number of civilians, after a student protest. Since I read this book, I have recommended it to everyone I think would even entertain the notion of reading this type of story. It’s that good. The author was only 10 years old when the real events happened but her take on them capture the emotions that must have been associated with such a significant event. Again, this is a book that is told from multiple perspectives, each of whom is a witness to the tragedies, but as each narrative records a different time period, the reader gets to also see not just the horrific event as it unfolds, but also the effects on the families even decades later.
Eve Out Of Her Ruins is about 4 teenagers living in despair in the African coastal country of Mauritius, which is where the author, Ananda Devi comes from. The novel was originally published in French as Eve De Ses Décombres which literally translates to Eve of the Ruins (not out of it), which I think is more fitting because the book is about being in the ruins, not escaping from it. This is another book told from multiple perspectives, where each of the teenagers as well as another character who impacts their lives greatly, narrates their thoughts about Eve and their relationship to her. This becomes important because we often project onto others the things we don’t like about ourselves, so these perspectives, while they might apply to the protagonist, are also symbolic for what is wrong with the society these teens live in – a young girl with the potential to be great but who prostitutes herself because she cannot acknowledge her own value. Isn’t that what has happened to so many of us as individuals but also as corporations.
A couple other translated books by female authors that have come highly recommended but that I haven’t read yet.
The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa, originally published in Japanese in 2003 as 博士の愛した数式 I haven’t read this one yet but I’ve heard several Booktubers rave about it. It is about a professor with a memory problem and the housekeeper who helps him, and the relationship that develops between two people who have such different backgrounds but who are joined by the immediacy of need, even when one can’t remember much else.
My Brilliant Friend is the first in a series published by an Italian author who writes under the pseudonym of Elena Ferrante. The novel was originally published as L’amica geniale and is followed by several other novels, in a series called The Neapolitan Novels. While I have no doubt that this is a well written book (everyone who’s read it, says so), it is uncertain whether the novel belongs on this list since the author’s true identity has never been proven. Many theories have been tossed about tracking the references and influences that come through in the books and linking them to notable writers who bear these characteristics. One such study even concluded that the author was actually a man. Regardless, this is a translated book that comes highly recommended.
For a book to be translated in another language means that a publisher believes this work will appeal to people in different circumstances, that the subject and themes are universal and thus, that it is worth soliciting the attention of a wider audience. I think these books all meet that criteria.
Have you read any of these? What translated books have you read recently?
Shared with Broke and Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday