Looking to read more poetry in translation? It was one of my reading goals this year, and I knew that I specifically wanted to read more poetry by women in translation. It was some of the most rewarding reading of my life and I’m thrilled to share these recommendations. From Vietnam to Denmark, these collections are from all over the world and are full of the power and brilliance I’ve come to associate with the stellar poetry being published in English translation right now, often by small independent publishers. So much gratitude to them and all those involved in the publication of these incredible collections!
The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
I’ve been eyeing Dunya Mikhail’s poetry collections for a while now and was finally spurred on to pick them up after seeing her new and fourth collection, In Her Feminine Sign, in bookstores. Her third collection, The Iraqi Nights, is a beautiful and poignant examination of violence and war but also a story of hope and endurance. Mikhail references The One Thousand and One Nights in her title and takes the book and the figure of Scheherazade as a focal point—her poems similarly spinning stories to help those affected endure the long night that is war. In addition to being an acclaimed poet, Mikhail’s also a journalist and the author of The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, translated by Mikhail and Max Weiss.
Winner of the 2018 National Translation Award, Third-Millennium Heart is a radical and compelling exploration of desire, power, and creation from one of Denmark’s most important contemporary poets. The poems are sparse and aggressive, often building on each other, but in turn also dismantling previous ideas, an aptly described series of “declarations and retractions” in which Olsen takes on the patriarchal and capitalist structures of the Western world. I found myself racing through these poems, driven on by Katrine Øgaard Jensen’s masterful translation and the pulsing thrill of the collection. On finishing the book I felt lightheaded—totally overwhelmed and enthralled by its power, I hadn’t even realized I had been holding my breath.
Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hô Xuân Huong, translated by John Balaban
This collection and its author—an 18th century concubine who went on to become one of the most important and well-known poets in Vietnam—are endlessly fascinating. Hidden within demure and often picturesque descriptions of everyday life and nature are racy and suggestive poems “which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary”—a feat that held personal risk for the poet. The poems are immensely clever and I’m in awe of her skill, layering meaning and defying conventions in each and every piece. This collection is also unique in that it presents the English translation alongside the calligraphic Nôm writing system in which the poems were written and their modern Vietnamese equivalent.
“While I was writing these poems, I was probably possessed by a ghost, listening to death, then I held death in my hand and entered the house of death.” In 49 poems—one for each day that the spirit roams after death before it enters the cycle of reincarnation—Kim Hyesoon writes of death, tragedy, and trauma. Powerful and haunting, this collection translated by Don Mee Choi “gives voice to those unjustly killed during Korea’s violent contemporary history” and grapples with the “structure of death” that we’re all living in, individually and collectively. Complete with striking drawings by Fi Jae Lee and a fascinating interview and translator’s note that captures the fierce intelligence of both author and translator, Autobiography of Death feels like one of the most important books I’ve ever read.
Caravan Lullabies by Ilzė Butkutė, translated by Rimas Uzgiris
I was recently introduced to Periscope, an imprint from A Midsummer Night’s Press entirely devoted to poetry by women in translation, and read through all of their excellent work by women poets around the globe in a joyous mad dash. I’m particularly fond of Caravan Lullabies by the Lithuanian poet Ilzė Butkutė for its striking imagery—magicians, acrobats, circuses, and more traverse through these poems—set against beautiful scenes of home—quiet nights, lullabies, and the odd mischievous cat. One of my favorites in this collection might be the last poem, where the poet asks, “Is it easy to be a poet, / sharing a home with a cat?” and answers with a resounding no.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
While looking back at my reading over the last few years, I noticed that many of my favorite books have been short story collections by women in translation. This came as a surprise to me initially—I hadn’t realized I had even read that many short story collections—but once I began to look these books over again I was struck anew by their brilliance. And so I sought out others to round out a list from around the world that will hopefully bring as much joy to you as the reading and compiling did for me. Because boy was compiling this list of 20 must-read short story collections by women in translation a pleasure! I dipped in and out of these stories with utter amazement, finding something for every mood, whim, and desire.
Do you want to laugh? Maybe pick up An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good or The First Prehistoric Serial Killer. Is it October and you want to be utterly terrified and not sleep for days? There are so many options, from Revenge to Flowers of Mold to The Houseguest. Do you want to read a story so achingly perfect that you’ll never try to write again? Well, there are more than a few stories like that in these collections, but I would start by flipping to almost any story in The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. The list could go on. I wish you many hours of happy reading!
The horrors of The Houseguest are rarely described on the page. They lurk in the margins. They haunt the shadows. And it’s this thrilling psychological tension that leaves you gasping for air after each story of desire, paranoia, and isolation. Carmen Maria Machado writes that “Each of these stories is equal parts Hitchcock film and razor blade: austere, immaculately crafted, profoundly unsettling, and capable of cutting you. Amparo Dávila is Kafka by way of Ogawa, Aira by way of Carrington, Cortazár by way of Somers, and I’m so grateful she’s in translation.” And do you really need more than that?
Thirteen Months of Sunrise by Rania Mamoun, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
In this beautiful debut collection, Sudanese author, journalist, and activist Rania Mamoun crafts a complex and moving portrait of contemporary Sudan. It’s a uniquely urban collection as Mamoun reflects on the isolation that can come with urban life, but she also depicts powerful stories of human connection and love. You’ll feel these stories deeply in Elizabeth Jaquette’s thoughtful translation.
The First Prehistoric Serial Killer: And Other Stories by Teresa Solana, translated by Peter Bush
I love this short story collection and don’t think it gets nearly the attention it deserves! It is one of the funniest books, especially if you like dark humor. Very odd things happen in Teresa Solana’s stories. Statues decompose and stink out galleries. Two old grandmothers are vengeful killers. The first prehistoric serial killer is afoot, but so is the first detective. The collection also includes an interesting and fun web of stories that explore the darker side of Barcelona. Clever and effortlessly funny, this collection is a gem.
Mouthful of Birds: Stories by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
Samanta Schweblin, author of the literary sensation Fever Dream, returns with her first short story collection translated into English. Like Fever Dream, I was struck by the elusive, almost unsatisfactory nature of the stories. Some are strikingly short. Others are carefully crafted to confound. All leave you wanting more and thinking about them long after. Strange and fantastic, dark and disturbing, the stories in Mouthful of Birds are sure to please fans of Schweblin’s uniquely unsettling style.
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella
If you’ve ever read Tove Jansson’s classic The Summer Book, a novel that “distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes,” then you won’t be surprised that Jansson’s short stories are also exquisite. Dealing with many of the same themes as her longer works, her stories touch on art, nature, isolation and so much more—the various stages between sunlight and storm, the spectrum of shades between light and dark. In her introduction, Lauren Groff writes, “We read Tove Jansson to remember that to be human is dangerous, but also breathtaking, beautiful.”
Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Anya Migdal
This fascinating collection from one of Russia’s most important contemporary writers transcends ordinary realities into dazzling other worlds of folklore and fantasy, “rendered with the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own.” Rich and clever, these stories explore politics, identity, love, and loss in Tolstaya’s masterful voice. After finishing it, I rushed out to get her collection of essays Pushkin’s Children: Writings on Russia and Russians, translated by Jamey Gambrell.
Gathered from the nine collections published during her lifetime, The Complete Stories captures Clarice Lispector in all of her “darkness and dazzle.” The stories, written during her adolescence all the way up until her death, are inventive and haunting, often about women at various stages of their lives. Some are more traditional than the novels she’s come to be known for, but as a whole the collection is a great way to “get” (or grasp at, at least) a sense of Lispector and her prose. You can dip in and out of these stories—86 in the hardcover and 89 in the paperback with three newly discovered stories—but I would recommend picking them up early in your reading of Lispector. Find your way into the other works of Clarice Lispector with this reading pathways post.
The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout, translated by Perween Richards
Author, journalist, and women’s rights campaigner Nayrouz Qarmout draws from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp as well as her current life in Gaza in this collection of stories that looks at what it means to be a woman in Palestine today. Qarmout thoughtfully weaves together stories of conflict and strife with tales of ordinary life, resulting in a deep and moving collection.
The Lonesome Bodybuilder by Yukiko Motoya, translated by Asa Yoneda
I loved this collection of quirky and wonderful stories. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize and the Kenzaburo Oe Prize, Motoya is a magician—she takes mundane, daily life and just twists it into these amazingly strange and fantastic tales. In these stories, a newlywed notices that her husband’s features are sneakily sliding around his face to match hers, umbrellas are more than they seem, women are challenging their boyfriends to duels, and you might want to reconsider dating the girl next door. I’d recommend this collection to fans of Hiromi Kawakami.
I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Gini Alhadeff
Once you’ve read one book by Fleur Jaeggy—an undeniable master of the short form—you won’t want to read much else until you’ve finished all of her work. In these stories, which are so emblematic of her short, piercing style, Jaeggy writes of madness, obsession, and violence and “contrives to somehow stealthily possess your mind” with her “champagne gothic worlds [that are] seething with quiet violence.” Her prose has been compared to shards of glass and cut gems and while I won’t add to the descriptions, I will warn you now—you won’t come away from these stories unscathed.
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good is dark, funny, and oh so satisfying. Maud is an 88-year-old Swede who has no scruples about solving life’s problems with some lowkey murder. I enjoyed this story collection and have since picked up Helene Tursten’s mystery novels, including the Inspector Irene Huss series and the first installment in her brand new series featuring Detective Inspector Embla Nyström, Hunting Game. An Elderly Lady is also just such a great package—the title is fun and clever, the needlepoint cover is hilarious, and the small trim size finishes it off perfectly.
Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez, translated by Megan McDowell
I was blown away by this collection of dark, macabre short stories set in contemporary Argentina. They are stories of ghosts, disappearances, violence, inequality, and more, and I promise that you will be haunted by them. My favorites were stories of obsession like “The Dirty Kid” in which a young professional woman discovers that a local child has been killed and mutilated, and “The Neighbor’s Courtyard,” a story of an ex–social worker who believes her neighbor has a child chained up in the backyard. The collection is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado.
“If you’re looking for a book that will make you gasp out loud, you’ve found it.” So says Kirkus Reviews and dozens of other publications and reviewers who can’t stop talking about Flowers of Mold, myself included. Unnerving, haunting, captivating, these ten stories follow ordinary characters going about their lives—they have a nightmare, lend their neighbor a spatula, or find out their landlord wants to sell their building. But something disturbing lies just below the surface. One small crack and everything’s unleashed. “The latest in the trend of brilliant female Korean authors to appear in English, Ha cuts like a surgeon, and even the most mundane objects become menacing and unfamiliar under her scalpel.”
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, translated by Kathrine Talbot and Anthony Kerrigan
For the first time, all of surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington’s short stories have been collected in one definitive volume, many of which are translated from French and Spanish. The result is a fiercely intelligent and fantastical collection. The stories themselves are pure flights of imagination, ranging from biting satire to the macabre, and even some outrageously comedic tales. A strange and surreal treat!
Arid Dreams: Stories by Duanwad Pimwana, translated by Mui Poopoksakul
Duanwad Pimwana, an important literary figure in contemporary Thai literature, hit the U.S. literary scene by storm last April with two new books, both translated by Mui Poopoksakul. Bright, published by Two Lines Press, was the first-ever novel by a Thai woman to appear in translation. And Pimwana made her short story English debut with Arid Dreams, published by Feminist Press. In Arid Dreams, Pimwana turns her keen eye and sharp wit on modern Thailand, as she explores issues of class and gender in insightful and subtly subversive stories.
Forgotten Journey by Silvina Ocampo, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan
“Silvina Ocampo is one of our best writers. Her stories have no equal in our literature,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges. Now for the first time in English translation, readers can delight in all of the strange brilliance that is Silvina Ocampo’s first collection of stories, Forgotten Journey. Published alongside her novella The Promise, this collection is primarily concerned with the lives of young women and girls. Often menacing and strange, each story has a thrill to it, a dark joy that keeps you fixed to the collection. In her foreword, Carmen Boullosa writes of the often cited comparison between Ocampo and Julio Cortázar but argues instead that, “While in his fabulous stories Cortázar discovered the unreal in everyday life, Silvina enters real, detailed, intimate spaces, which she observes with an eye that is intimate, real and detailed, and yet an eye from another world.”
Toddler Hunting and Other Stories by Taeko Kono, translated by Lucy North
Kenzaburo Oe calls Taeko Kono “the most carnally direct and the most lucidly intelligent woman writing in Japan” and it’s hard to disagree after reading the unsettling and striking stories in Toddler Hunting. Pleasure and pain mix in the lives of the women of Taeko Kono’s stories, as scenes of sadomasochism and obsession veil her sharp attacks at the ideals of motherhood and femininity.
I’m in awe of Yoko Ogawa—she’s published more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction and has won every major Japanese literary award. Her range is incredible, from books like this dark collection to her touching novel The Housekeeper and the Professor and her latest The Memory Police, her take on an Orwellian novel of state surveillance. Revenge is an intricately interwoven collection of stories about grief, death, and yes, revenge, where each story stands alone but also connects in surprising ways to its fellows. This layered effect coupled with the subtle calm of Ogawa’s prose makes the disturbing elements of these stories feel even more chilling.
Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang, translated by Karen S. Kingsbury
Eileen Chang is one of the great writers of twentieth century China, and her first collection in English, Love in a Fallen City, introduced many readers to her incredible short stories. In this collection, written when Chang was still in her 20s, the stories swirl around themes of love, loss, and family, combining “an unsettled, probing, utterly contemporary sensibility, keenly alert to sexual politics and psychological ambiguity, with an intense lyricism that echoes the classics of Chinese literature.”
A Nail, A Rose by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, translated by Faith Evans
Neglected for decades, interest in Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s work has seen a resurgence and I’m so thrilled to have been introduced to her work through this collection. Praised by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex and close friends with Russian revolutionary writer Victor Serge, Bourdouxhe was a fascinating feminist writer. Like her critically acclaimed novels Marie and La Femme de Giles, her short stories tell the inner lives of ordinary, primarily working class, women in elegant and vivid prose. And I so appreciated the wealth of detail in translator Faith Evans’s introduction.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
The days are shorter. The nights are colder. The books are coming at a rate that few can keep up with. It must be fall! And what a season it is, with a new Krasznahorkai novel, the U.S. release of the Man Booker International Prize Winner Celestial Bodies, some exceptional nonfiction, and so much more! Check out these fall 2019 new releases in translation.
Parade: A Folktale by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell
In her afterword, Hiromi Kawakami describes Parade as a “memento of a story that has ended.” The word memento is a lovely and fitting description for this small companion story to Kawakami’s bestselling novel Strange Weather in Tokyo. Set on a lazy summer afternoon, Tsukiko is telling Sensei a story of her childhood, of how one day she awoke to find two tengu—winged creatures of Japanese folklore—by her bed. They became her constant companions and showed her that there’s more to the world than she thought. A moving story of kindness with the subtle and beautiful writing Kawakami’s known for and captivating illustrations by Takako Yoshitomi, Parade will prove to be a precious keepsake for fans of Kawakami and Strange Weather in Tokyo. Find your way into the other works of Hiromi Kawakami with this reading pathways post.
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd
In Hiroko Oyamada’s English language debut The Factory, three characters find work at an industrial factory. They settle into their new jobs and they soon realize that their lives have slowly (or is it quickly? Time doesn’t seem to make sense any more) been taken over by the factory. Reality dissolves, strange creatures begin to appear, and the list of unanswered questions about this unusual factory grows longer. I suspect that this strange and surreal tale might fill part of the Convenience Store Woman–sized hole in many readers’ hearts.
Welcome to America by Linda Boström Knausgård, translated by Martin Aitken
“It’s a long time already since I stopped talking.” And so opens Welcome to America, Linda Boström Knausgård‘s intense and masterful portrait of family and trauma. Twelve-year-old Ellen has stopped talking following the death of her father, causing deeper cracks in an already splintered family. In striking prose, Knausgård examines the power of silence and the complicated reality of family. A singular and thought-provoking story with a child narrator you won’t soon forget. I look forward to Knausgård‘s next book!
Legend Silvina Ocampo worked on perfecting this novel over the course of 25 years, right up until her death in 1993, and it’s out this fall in its first ever English translation. It’s being published alongside Forgotten Journey, a collection of short stories by Ocampo translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan. In The Promise, a woman reminisces about her life, and lets her imagination get away with her, after falling overboard into the sea—a reflection of Ocampo’s own struggles with dementia and her interest in memory and identity. It’s said to be Ocampo “at her most feminist, idiosyncratic and subversive” and I just can’t wait to get my hands on it and Forgotten Journey.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, translated by Marilyn Booth
One of the most hotly anticipated books of the fall, Celestial Bodies is the first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize and the first book by an Omani woman to be translated into English. It’s a beautiful and sweeping story of three sisters from a small Omani village. Jokha Alharthi charts the sisters’ individual but deeply interwoven paths in life, against a backdrop of rapid social and economic change in their country. Seamlessly navigating between time and perspective, Celestial Bodies is a striking feat of storytelling. Chair of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize panel of judges Bettany Hughes describes it as, “A book to win over the head and the heart in equal measure.”
A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir, translated by Larissa Kyzer
Up until this year, very little Icelandic literature by women has come across my desk so I’m thrilled to have two fascinating novels out this year—History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdottír, translated by Lytton Smith and A Fist or a Heart. Award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist Kristín Eiríksdóttir has written a clever and many layered story of isolation, art, and memory. A Fist or a Heart follows the lives of two women—connected, but we don’t know by what—Elín, a septuagenarian props-maker and Ellen, a gifted young playwright. A novel of isolation and secrets, the emotional
From the docks of Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Moscow, The Incompletes is a “story of something that happened one night years ago, and the events of the morning and afternoon that followed.” But nothing is straightforward in this latest pairing of Sergio Chejfec and translator Heather Cleary (other titles include The Planets and The Dark) as secrets abound, information is pieced together through postcards and notes on hotel stationary, and the narrator’s imaginings run rampant. It’s a journey like no other and you’ll just want to let go and go along for the ride with this complicated but compelling story, one that Hernan Diaz, author of In The Distance calls, “an extraordinary palimpsest of a novel.”
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet
In an interview in the Paris Review, László Krasznahorkai says of Baron Wenkcheim’s Homecoming, “I’ve said a thousand times that I always wanted to write just one book. Now, with Baron, I can close this story. With this novel I can prove that I really wrote just one book in my life. This is the book—Satantango, Melancholy, War and War, and Baron. This is my one book.” László Krasznahorkai is beloved in many literary circles and while this announcement that Baron will be his last work is surprising and sad to many, this final novel in his four-part masterwork is already being hailed as his best! Set in contemporary times, Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming tells the story of Baron Béla Wenckheim, who returns at the end of his life to his provincial Hungarian hometown.
2019 Nonfiction in Translation
And, as nonfiction in translation is growing, I’d be remiss to not mention some of the amazing nonfiction out this fall:
Me & Other Writing by Marguerite Duras, translated by Olivia Baes and Emma Ramadan—An impressive and wide-ranging collection of nonfiction by Marguerite Duras, who’s probably best known for her internationally bestselling novel The Lover.
The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections by Eliane Brum, translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty—Investigative journalist Eliane Brum gives voice to a wide range of Brazilian people in this important collection of essays.
The Ingenious Language: Nine Epic Reasons to Love Greek by Andrea Marcolongo, translated by Will Schutt—Andrea Marcolongo’s love of Ancient Greek is infectious in this brilliant meditation on language and life.
The Man Who Played with Fire: Stieg Larsson’s Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin by Jan Stocklassa, translated by Tara F. Chace—Fans of the Millennium Trilogy won’t want to miss this fascinating investigation into the unsolved assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, based on Stieg Larsson’s own rediscovered archive.
When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman—Naja Marie Aidt chronicles the first few years after the tragic death of her 25-year-old son Carl in this poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful book.
I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan, translated by Yasemin Congar—In this incredible memoir, written from his prison cell, Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan reflects upon his imprisonment and the solace and strength his art provides him.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.