August is a glorious month! For these 31 days we shine a brighter light on translated books written by women — but extra emphasis on books written by women and translated by women. Women in Translation Month was started by Meytal Radzinski, a book blogger, in 2014. Works in translation are such a small percentage of the market and of those works roughly 30% is written by women.
Earlier in the summer, I sat in the audience of a panel discussion of a recently translated novel. During the Q and A, an audience member stood up and ask, “Where you do find books in translation?” Everywhere, I said in my head. As a lover of translated works, I’m in my element when I want to find translated poetry, novels, and nonfiction. There are publishers that specialize in translated works, or have lists that are largely made of translations. Some such publishers are New Directions, Transit Books, Open Letter, Feminist Press, Pushkin Press, Deep Vellum, and And Other Stories. This month Harper Collins, in fact, just launched a new imprint called HarperVia that will acquire works in foreign languages for “World English publication.”
For this inaugural celebration, I’ll share with you some translated books by women from Latin America. The following posts will focus on Europe, Asia, and Africa and the Middle East. This list is not by any means exhaustive. There are many countries that are not represented and many authors whose stunning work is not highlighted. This is not a judgement on any author’s work or the merit of any country’s literary tradition, just a jumping off point to inspire your international curiosities. Share with us in the comments what you have read or now want to read.
The Iliac Crest by Christina Garza Rivera, translated by Sarah Booker
I really need to talk about a different book. Seriously, I cannot stop thinking about this book. A woman shows up to the house of a stranger. The stranger lets her in while upstairs another woman is recovering from an illness. The new guest and the recovering woman tell the owner of the house that they know his secret: he is actually a woman. From there Rivera shows us the limits of language, the border between logic and illogic, and the contours of history and violence on the body.
Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney
Lusielli is currently receiving much praise for her English-language debut, Lost Children Archive, which was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and is now longlisted for the Man Booker. Sidewalks was her first book. This collection of essays is a meditation on form, human and geographical, and linguistic. Does the land we call home contour our very bodies? Or vice versa? A meditation on the interplay of borders and made, unmade, and found things. Luiselli is easily the smartest writer living today.
Poso Wells by Gabriela Aleman, translated by Dick Cluster
Although Aleman was born in Brazil, she calls Ecuador home. Poso Wells is her first and only work to be translated and how lucky we are for it. The slim novel is about the disappearance of women from an ignored and forgotten city called Poso Wells. These disappearances have been going on for years. Amidst the media frenzy around the vanishing of a politician, an investigative journalist tries to uncover where these women are going. Aleman’s wit and cleverness made this novel a great read.
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead
The best way to describe this novel is as a digression into beauty. The main character experiences life through art and in that we she is no different from any of us. This story is about animates life which is to say the expression of it. How do we know what love is like when we’ve never seen it? How do we learn what countries not our own look like if not through images? Gainza’s short novel is gracious and intelligent — a rare and delightful combination.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell
Reporters and journalists use unremarkable words when conveying to us the news of the hour. History teachers and professors do much the same thing. As a fiction writer Enriquez has an arsenal of metaphors and prose styles to use to craft stories that are dripping in violence and singing in language. She shows us a history of both political corruption and spiritual corruption. A house swallows a girl; a middle class woman witnesses the disappearance of a homeless mother; a bus tour guide sees the ghost of a serial killer at the back of the tour group. History is not what has happened but rather what is happening in our subconsciousness.
Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff
The prose of Harwicz is hypnotic yet dazzling. With every page we feel the claustrophobia and mania of the unnamed protagonist who lives in the countryside with her husband and new born baby. This is not quite a horror story, but it does focus on the anxieties of being a part of a newly expanded family and living in isolation.
Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos, translated by Jack Agueeros
De Burgos’s was an activist whose poetry weaved together themes of romance and political activism. Her poetry is about liberation and love. The smoothness of her poetry will stay with you even when you move on to other books.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector, translated by Benjamin Moser
A classic of Brazilian modernism, this short book focuses on a writer who is attempting to relay the story of a woman living in the slums of a city. Lispector’s frank in her portrayal of poverty. It is not noble; there is not an arc of triumph; and yet there can still be happiness.
Tentacle by Rita Indiana, translated by Achy Obejas
When I think of an unapologetically messy, complex story, this is what I think of. Indiana tells a sci-fi story of self discovery and a longing for safety while touching on topics such as environmental destruction, poverty, queerness, and colonialism. Achy Obejas has done an excellent job in translating this novel. The haziness of the prose gives us a feeling of dirtiness and dread. The ideas are complex and challenge what we think a short novel can do.