The End of Summer

Well, August is over and summer is coming to a close. This August was the most exciting Women in Translation Month yet and I wanted to share one of my favorite reads of the month: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal. In The Summer Book, celebrated artist and author Tove Jansson “distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes.” The vignettes follow six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother and their adventures on a remote island in the gulf of Finland. This is my first time reading what many consider a modern classic and I couldn’t agree more—The Summer Book is utterly perfect. It’s quiet and subtle, warm and wise, but with one single striking and devastating sentence Jansson changes your reading and understanding of the whole book.  I read it on my vacation on Cape Cod and it was such a special reading experience.

But you should read Women in Translation all year long! I wrote up this list of 50 Must-Read Books by Women in Translation on Book Riot—give it a look! 

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Recommended Reads for Women in Translation Month!

August is Women in Translation Month! Roughly 30% of books published in English translation are written by women, according to numbers pulled from the translation database begun by Three Percent and Open Letter and now hosted by Publishers Weekly. Founded by literary blogger Meytal Radzinski, Women in Translation Month was started to promote women writers from around the world and combat this dreadfully low statistic. Looking for books to start your #WITMonth reading? Here are some amazing books I’m reading this August.

August by Romina Paula, translated by Jennifer Croft

A raw, heartrending novel of grief, loss, and returning home. A young woman, Emilia, returns to her rural hometown in Patagonia to scatter the ashes of her best friend who died by suicide five years earlier. Written as if to her best friend, August is a nostalgic, complicated, and poignant confessional. Emilia is baring her soul—but for any reader who has also left home, she feels dangerously close to baring ours too. Kirkus Reviews describes it: “Paula’s English-language debut is almost impossible to put down: moody, atmospheric, at times cinematic, her novel is indicative of a fresh and fiery talent with, hopefully, more to come.”

 

Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva, translated by Carol Apollonio

From an exciting new voice in modern Russian literature, Bride and Groom is a complex and layered love story about two young people living in Dagestan. Alisa Ganieva’s English debut The Mountain and the Wall was met with stunning praise and excitement and Bride and Groom continues the trend. While exploring themes of love and fate, familial and cultural expectations, and the sway of tradition, Bride and Groom also deals directly with Dagestan’s “internal conflicts with Islamic radicalization in the aftermath of its Soviet past.” That all might sound a little heavy for a love story, but Ganieva’s writing is always surprising—witty, folkloric, thoughtful, compelling—and I can’t recommend Bride and Groom enough.

 

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins

Winner of the Prix du libraires du Québec, Suzanne is a fictionalized account of the life of the author’s maternal grandmother. Author and director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette never knew her mother’s mother, a painter and poet who abandoned her husband and young family and was associated with Les Automatistes, a movement of dissident artists. She hired a private detective to piece together Suzanne’s life—and what a life it was! “From Montreal to New York to Brussels, from lover to lover, through an abortion, alcoholism, Buddhism, and an asylum. It takes readers through the Great Depression, Québec’s Quiet Revolution, women’s liberation, and the American civil rights movement, offering a portrait of a volatile, fascinating woman on the margins of history.” I’m just starting Suzanne and it’s a beautifully written and striking examination of artistry, motherhood, and family.

 

The Great Passage by Shion Mura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Delightfully charming and thoughtful, this novel from award-winning Japanese author Shion Miura is the perfect feel-good read for lovers of language. Kohei Araki believes that “a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words” and he has been lovingly crafting dictionaries for thirty-seven years. But it’s time to retire and find his replacement—enter Mitsuya Majime, a young and eccentric book lover. Majime sets off on his new task and along the way he learns about words like lovefriendship, and passion. With shifts in narrative and asides that focus on the meaning of particular words, The Great Passage is a stylistically interesting and endlessly sweet novel.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

Summer travel: Nashville

My boyfriend and I visited Nashville earlier in the summer (How is it August already?) and we had the most amazing time. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (see Elvis’s gold Cadillac), RCA Studio B for a studio tour, the Ryman Auditorium, and Belle Meade Plantation. And for me, we of course stopped off at the Nashville Public Library (see the great book statue in front of the library) and Parnassus Books, an indie bookstore co-founded by author Ann Patchett. We also had some truly amazing meals. We visited Husk, Nashville from Chef Sean Brock and had this interesting and mouthwatering Southern meal and Chauhan Ale and Masala House from Chef Maneet Chauhan, an Indian restaurant with some influence from Nashville and southern cooking. It was our favorite meal of the trip!

 

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Hot Summer 2018 Reads by Women in Translation

Exciting English debuts, newly discovered masterpieces, and award winners—forget the weather, if we’re judging this summer by its new releases by women in translation, it’s a hot one.  Check out these summer 2018 books by women in translation!

In the Distance With You by Carla Guelfenbein, translated by John Cullen

A Chilean literary thriller that tells the story of three lives enmeshed in the life and death of an enigmatic and private author, based on Brazilian writer and legend Clarice Lispector. Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World, writes: “Guelfenbein’s elegantly structured, psychologically astute novel moves with the urgency of a detective novel, but its real mysteries turn on questions of authorship, reading, interpretation, and the strange power of fiction to enter the speechless realm of human erotic desire.” Published for the first time in English, this award-winning novel couldn’t have hit at a better time—it’s big and brilliant and you’ll want to sink into it on a beach somewhere.

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft

Winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, Flights is one of the hottest novels of the summer. Masterfully told in striking short pieces, Flights “explores what it means to be a traveler, a wanderer, a body in motion not only through space but through time.” It’s meticulously and brilliantly translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft. If you need more convincing, Olga Tokarczuk’s writing is being compared to that of W.G. Sebald and Milan Kundera and she’s also on the longlist for the Alternate Nobel!

Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated by Emma Ramadan

Virginie Despentes is an award-winning author, filmmaker, and critic. If the buzz around her recently published books—including Bye Bye BlondieApocalypse Baby, and others—is any indication, Despentes is hot and only going to get hotter with this new release. Pretty Things is a lurid, pulpy story of family, death, and gender. Joanna Walsh, author of Worlds from the Word’s End, calls it “An intoxicating pop-trash plot of stolen identity that reveals the brutal and hilarious rules of gender—the high octane philosophy beach read of the summer.”

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori 

From one of Japan’s most exciting contemporary writers, Convenience Store Woman is a dark, funny, and compelling novel with a heroine that defies convention and description. Keiko Furukura has worked at a convenience store for 18 years, comfortable in the patterns and norms of the store and its customers but aware of her family and society’s general disappointment in her. When a young man enters her life she has the chance to change everything—if she wants to. I love this quote about the book from Jade Chang, author of The Wangs Vs. the World, “Instructions: Open book. Consume contents. Feel charmed, disturbed, and weirdly in love. Do not discard.”

The Geography of Rebels Trilogy by Maria Gabriela Llansol, translated by Audrey Young

The Geography of Rebels Trilogy present three linked novellas by influential *cult status level* Portuguese writer Maria Gabriela Llansol. She’s all but unknown to English-speaking audiences, but with this English debut that’s all about to change. “With echoes of Clarice Lispector, Llansol’s novellas evoke her vision of writing as life, conjuring historical figures and weaving together history, poetry, and philosophy in a transcendent journey through one of Portugal’s greatest creative minds.”

Ma Bo’le’s Second Life by Xiao Hong, translated by Howard Goldblatt

Xiao Hong has been called “the best female Chinese novelist you haven’t heard of” and “one of the major Chinese literary figures of the century.” Edited and finished by the translator, Howard Golblatt, based on Xiao Hong’s notes, Ma Bo’le’s Second Life is an interesting, undiscovered gem of a novel set in China in the period building up to the second Sino-Japanese War. It’s a bleak but surprisingly funny “depiction of the despair of ordinary Chinese people confronted with the sudden onslaught of war and Westernization.”

People in the Room by Norah Lange, translated by Charlotte Whittle

Long viewed as Borges’s muse, Norah Lange has been widely overlooked as a writer in her own right. Translated for the first time into English, People in the Room is an intense, haunting, and canon-breaking novel that completely overwhelmed me. Borges who? A young woman is looking out her window in the midst of a thunderstorm when she catches sight of three women in the house across the street from her. She begins to watch, obsess over, and imagine the secrets and lies of the women in the window. “Lange’s imaginative excesses and almost hallucinatory images make this uncanny exploration of desire, domestic space, voyeurism, and female isolation a twentieth century masterpiece.”

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

Summer travel: Kansas City, MO

I visited Kansas City, MO for work earlier this summer and absolutely loved the city! It’s a really beautiful, architecturally interesting city with the nicest people! Although I was mostly busy working, I did have a chance to visit the gorgeous Kansas City Public Library and I highly recommend the hotel I stayed in, The Hotel Philips. It’s got a 1920s/1930s art-deco Great Gatsby feel and I had some mouthwatering meals at the Italian restaurant in the hotel. (Literally, some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had.)

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Reading Pathways: Hiromi Kawakami

Hiromi Kawakami is an award-winning and bestselling Japanese author known for her contemporary fiction. I was introduced to her recently and immediately fell for her distinct style and interesting female protagonists. Her writing is subtle and provocative—quirky doesn’t do it justice but it’s immensely strange and appealing and surprisingly sweet. A huge shoutout to the amazing translators listed below—Lucy North, Michael Emmerich, and Allison Markin Powell—who capture the intricacies and depth of her writing, it seems an unimaginable task. Have I peaked your interest but you don’t know where to start? Check out this reading pathway and enjoy!

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell

Shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and the International Foreign Fiction Prize, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a sweet and poignant story of love and loneliness. Tsukiko is 38, lives alone, works in an office, and is not entirely satisfied with her life when she runs into a former high school teacher, her “sensei,” at a bar one night. They talk and over time this “hesitant intimacy” grows into something more. It’s a “moving, funny, and immersive tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance” while also managing to be this quiet, understated beauty of a book. Strange Weather also has these amazing passages describing Japanese food and drink and the changing seasons in Japan—it would make a great read for anyone traveling to Japan. I think it’s also a beautiful introductory book to Kawakami’s distinct style.

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Michael Emmerich

Twelve years have past since Kei’s husband disappeared and left her alone with their three-year-old daughter, Momo. Still haunted by the disappearance, Kei keeps returning to the seaside town of Manazuru to remember and connect to something just out of reach. Manazuru is a beautiful and profound story of loss and memory. There’s this restless quality to the novel that’s utterly gorgeous and—as is usually the case with Kawakami—there’s a quirky, unusual element that I wouldn’t dare spoil for you! I read it in a beach house in Maine in February overlooking the icy, still waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Saco River and it was a fitting place to read this subtle, poetic but ultimately powerful novel.

 

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Lucy North

Record of a Night Too Brief is an unforgettable collection that really stands on its own in this list. The stories (three in total) are bizarre and haunting, full of yearning and loss. They have many similarities—young female protagonists, elements of folktale and lore set against contemporary Japan, and this dreamlike, surreal quality—but each is strange and perfect and gets under your skin in its own way. The third story, “A Snake Stepped On,” won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1996. If you like the stranger elements in the two previous books on this list this one might be the perfect Kawakami for you!

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Allison Markin Powell

The Nakano Thrift Shop is in my mind the perfect ending for a Hiromi Kawakami pathway. It doesn’t have the surreal or fantastic elements of some of her other works but instead focuses on this cast of eccentric and endearing characters. It’s a “funny, heartwarming story about love, life, and human relationships” told by Hitomi, a young sales clerk at the thrift shop who in love with her coworker, Takeo. The characters—both the people who work at the shop and its unusual customers—are the life blood of the story. They are thoughtfully written—understated, quirky, flawed, and by the end of the novel you care about them so much. And it’s also a little longer than her other novels, so you can really sink into this endlessly charming book.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.