This August, readers around the world have been paying particular attention to women in translation, in an annual celebration of a continually underrepresented aspect of fiction writing. Only thirty percent of translated fiction is written by women, and so the need to shine the spotlight on these writers remains ever-important.
Here are our recommendations for what you should be reading both to commemorate the occasion, and frankly, because they’re really good books.
The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožic – trans. by Ellen Elias-Bursac (Seven Stories Press, 9780995580701, h/b, £9.99)
1991. After fleeing the war zone of their small Croatian town, a mother and two children are housed, along with other displaced persons, at a former communist school in the village of Kumrovec. For years they share a single room, waiting to hear whether the narrator’s father survived the war. In the meantime, life goes on for the teenage protagonist. First loves bloom and burn, new friendships are acquired and lost. But she never loses her shy, insightful voice, nor her self-deprecating sense of humour. Hotel Tito is a sensitive and forthright coming of age novel in a time of atrocity and loss.
What’s Left Of The Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos – trans. by Karen Emmerich
(New Vessel Press, 9781939931610, p/b, £12.99)
In June 1897, the young Constantine Cavafy arrives in Paris on the last stop of a long European tour, a trip that will deeply shape his future. He is by turns exhilarated and tormented by his homosexuality; the Greek-Turkish War has ended in Greece’s defeat and humiliation; France is torn by the Dreyfus Affair, and Cavafy’s native Alexandria has surrendered to the indolent rhythms of the East. A stunning portrait of a budding author – before he became C.P.Cavafy, one of the 20th century’s greatest poets.
Strike Your Heart by Amelie Nothomb – trans. by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions, 9781609454852, p/b, £9.99)
Marie is the prettiest girl in her hometown and is dating the most popular boy. The envy of all her schoolmates, when she falls pregnant and gives birth to Diana, things change. Diana steals the hearts of all who meet her, inciting nothing but jealousy in her mother. This is Diana’s story. The story of a young, brilliant woman who grows up without maternal affection and of Diana’s relationships with the other women in her life: her best friend; her mentor; her sister. It is a story about the baser sentiments that often animate human relations: rivalry, jealousy, distrust.
We Were The Salt Of The Sea by Roxanne Bouchard – trans. by David Warriner (Orenda Books, 9781912374038, p/b, £8.99)
As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation. On Quebec’s outlying Gaspe Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves.
Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac – trans. by Roy Kesey
(Soho Press, 9781616958671, p/b, £12.99)
A student at the Buenos Aires School of Philosophy attempts to put her life (academically and romantically) in the service of a professor whose nearly forgotten theories of violence she plans to popularise and radicalise – against his wishes. Meanwhile, a young couple – a documentary filmmaker and a blogger – engage in a series of cerebral and sexual misadventures. In a novel crammed with philosophy, group sex, revolutionary politics and a fighting fish named Yorick, Oloixarac leads her characters and the reader through dazzling and digressive intellectual byways.
Ma Bole’s Second Life by Xiao Hong – trans. by Howard Goldblatt (Open Letter, 9781940953809, p/b, £13.99)
A Confederacy of Dunces-esque family story written by one of China’s most beloved women writers. Ma Bole follows the eponymous cowardly layabout as he escapes his unhappy family life by going on the run to avoid the coming Japanese invasion. A humorous-yet-stark depiction of despair in the face of war and Westernisation, Xiao’s novel (completed by the translator) mirrors the identity struggles of early-twentieth century China in the form of an unforgettable comic anti-hero.
North Station by Bae Suah – trans. by Deborah Smith
(Open Letter, 9781940953656, p/b, £13.99)
A writer struggles to come to terms with the death of her beloved mentor; the staging of an experimental play goes awry; time freezes for two lovers on a platform, waiting for the train that will take one of them away; a woman living in a foreign country discovers she has been issued with the wrong ID. Emotionally haunting, intellectually stimulating, the seven stories in North Station represent the range and power of Bae Suah’s distinctive voice and style, which delights in digressions, multiple storylines, and sudden ruptures of societal norms.
A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos – trans. by Hildegarde Serle
(Europa Editions, 9781609454838, h/b, £14.99)
Long ago, following a cataclysm called ‘The Tear,’ the world was shattered into many floating celestial islands. Known now as Arks, each has developed in distinct ways and at a different pace; each seems to possess its own unique relationship to time. Ophelia lives on Anima, an ark where objects have souls, with which Ophelia can communicate. When she is promised in marriage to Thorn, from the powerful Dragon clan, Ophelia must leave her family and follow her fiancee to the floating capital on the distant Ark of the Pole. Though she doesn’t know it yet, she has become a pawn in a deadly plot.
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi – trans. by Tina Kover
(Europa Editions, 9781609454517, p/b, £12.99)
Kimia Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five and facing the future she has built for herself as well as the prospect of a new generation, Kimia is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which come to her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. A high-spirited, kaleidoscopic story, blending key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture with stories of family drama and triumph.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono – trans. by Lawrence Schimel
(Feminist Press, 9781936932238, p/b, £13.99)
La Bastarda is the story of the orphaned teen Okomo. Forbidden from seeking out her father, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of mysterious girls revelling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture.
Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener – trans. by Jennifer Adcock & Lucy Greaves (Restless Books, 9781632061591, p/b, £12.99)
In fierce and fearless first-person accounts, Gabriela Wiener records infiltrating the prisons of Lima, participating in sexual exchanges in swingers clubs, travelling the dark paths of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris to live with transvestites and prostitutes, undergoing a complicated process of egg donation, taking part in a ritual of ayahuasca ingestion in the Amazon jungle, and slipping into the bedroom of the porn superstar Nacho Vidal. At the same time, she takes us on deep, inward journeys. A reckless and exciting journey through the most savage side of narrative journalism.
The Restless by Gerty Dambury – trans. by Judith G. Miller (Feminist Press, 9781558614468, p/b, £14.99)
Structured like a Creole quadrille, this lyrical novel is a rich ethnography bearing witness to police violence in French Guadeloupe. Narrators both living and dead recount the racial and class stratification that led to a protest-turned-massacre. While Dambury’s English debut is a memorial to a largely forgotten atrocity, it is also a celebration of the vibrancy and resilience of Guadeloupeans.