August is Women in Translation Month, something that’s very near and dear to my heart. Why do we need a specific month dedicated to reading women in translation? The numbers alone are pretty bleak. The publishing industry as a whole publishes very few works of translation to begin with—the number that’s often cited is three percent, although it’s probably lower than that. But let’s stick with three percent—so only three percent of titles published in English are international titles written originally in a language other than English. Of that small percentage of books, 28.7% of translations published in 2008–2018 were written by women. I’ll post more specifics later but those numbers* are dismal, especially when considering some of the exciting and award-winning translations currently beloved by English reading audiences (think Elena Ferrante, Man Booker International Prize winner Han Kang, and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexeievich.)
Recitation by Bae Suah
Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, Bae Suah’s Recitation is a wandering and lyrical meditation on memory and language reminiscent of Sebald. Suah is one of the most fascinating writers in South Korea right now and her books are coming out at a rapid pace.
Her other titles currently available in English include A Greater Music and Nowhere To Be Found and North Station comes out from Open Letter Books in October!
“A very real vision of life after the Arab Spring written with dark, subtle intelligence, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it.” (back cover)
Translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette. The Queue is this terrifying dystopian novel set in a non-specific Middle Eastern city under authoritarian rule. It’s powerful and startling. The author, Basma Abdel Aziz, is also an important activist and figure in Egypt right now and this is her first book translated into English.
Umami by Laia Jufresa
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes. I haven’t read this yet but Umami is at the top of my list! The novel is set in Mexico City in a neighborhood with a cluster of five house named after tastes: Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Sour, and Umami. It sounds like an inventive and poignant novel about grief.
“A thoughtful, eccentric, and heart-wrenching interwoven story told from the Umami tells the stories of characters who are dealing with mortality, abandonment, and loss.” —World Literature Today
Looking for more? Check these authors out!
Clarice Lispector (Lispector’s been called Brazil’s greatest modern writer and the most important Jewish writer since Kafka.)
Josefine Klougart (Klougart has been hailed as one of Denmark’s greatest contemporary writers.)
Can Xue (A Chinese avant-garde fiction writer and literary critic. I’d recommend Frontier and The Last Lover.)
Dubravka Ugresic (Ugresic, a Croatian native now living in Amsterdam, was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 2016.)