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August is the month of women in translation! About 30% of books published in English translation are written by women, according to figures from the translation database started by Three Percent and Open Letter and now hosted by Publishers Weekly. Founded by literary blogger Meytal Radzinski and now in its eighth year, Women in Translation Month was launched to encourage women writers from all over the world and to counteract these terribly low statistics. Every year during the summer I flip through catalogs, read a pile of galleys, and pick out some of the women’s titles in translation I look forward to most, published in June, July, and August.
And it’s another great summer for books by women in translation. Exciting debuts, literary thrillers, powerful social novels and much more. And whether it’s just about releasing this summer or the books that have drawn me in lately, but there are plenty of new collections of short stories out there. So if you want to immerse yourself in an incredible short story these last few days of summer – or, for the nonfiction fans, a stunning collection of essays – you’re in luck. Check out these hot 2021 summer releases from women in translation!
Variations on the Body of María Ospina, translated by Heather Cleary
In her brilliant debut collection, María Ospina reckons with the body, more precisely with the female body, with stories of women and girls in Bogotá society in the 1980s and 90s. With hints of the connection between the stories, Ospina presents a lively and nuanced depiction of the lives of these women – their longings, obsessions and fears in a time of violence. Heather Cleary feels more of a medium than a translator and flawlessly channels these women’s voices both individually and as a choir. Based on Guadalupe Nettle’s Bezoar, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, and the short story collections by Mariana Enriquez, Things We Lost in the Fire and The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, both translated by Megan McDowell.
Oktoberkind by Linda Boström Knausgård, translated by Saskia Vogel
“I wish I could tell you about the factory, but I can’t any more. And soon I won’t be able to remember my days and nights or why I was born. ”Based on Knausgård’s own experience, October Child revolves around the four years the narrator, also a writer, spent in a mental institution, an electroconvulsive therapy received and desperately struggled to keep her memories. Skillfully written and breathtakingly translated by author and translator Saskia Vogel, October Child joins Knausgård’s other haunting and sensitive depictions of mental health and family – Welcome to America, translated by Martin Aitken, and The Helios Disaster, translated by Rachel Willson- Broyles – but is a powerful addition with his study of memory and the creative mind.
Migratory birds by Mariana Oliver, translated by Julia Sanches
Migratory Birds is the latest addition to the Undelivered Lectures Series, an impressive new narrative non-fiction series from Transit Books. From the Berlin Wall to the underground city of Cappadocia, Mariana Oliver’s debut collection is a thoughtful and intimate meditation on movement and memory, language and place. Oliver artfully combines history, travelogues and glimmers of her own fascinating life in a language that is wise and warm, precise and poetic, all exquisitely captured – like a photo of a rare and fleeting bird – by translator Julia Sanches.
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Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang
If, like me, you think endlessly about the blooming animals from Two Lines Press’s Collection of Speculative Chinese Fiction We Can Live, you’ll be happy to know that there are even more weird animals from one of the most formidable writers of contemporary Chinese literature , Yan Ge, and exhilaratingly translated by the brilliant Jeremy Tiang. In the fictional Chinese city of Yong’an, an amateur cryptozoologist is hired to uncover the stories of its many beasts. From happy animals to blooming animals to animals with heart disease, the narrator reveals the life of Yong’an’s strange and beautiful creatures to the intrigued reader. This fantastic and atmospheric city novel is both a detective story and an intoxicating meditation on life, love and identity.
Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur
“Grandfather used to say, ‘If we do our damn fetishes, it’s important that they be pretty.’” While Bora Chung’s anti-genre collection of short stories won’t exactly curse you, chances are you’ll be done by the end of this one Collection, you will be more than obsessed with its intense beauty. Chung’s stories are broad and varied, drawn from horror, science fiction and fantasy with a strong feminist and anti-capitalist perspective. Chung has a background in Slavic literature and translates modern literary works from Russian and Polish into Korean, which has another fascinating influence on her work. Acclaimed Korean translator Anton Hur captures the diversity of the collection, from moments of sheer terror to its sharp humor and beauty. These gripping stories of power and trauma are perfect for fans of Ha Seong-nan, translated into English by Janet Hong.
Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Frances Riddle
Claudia Piñeiro is a critically acclaimed and best-selling crime writer in her native Argentina with a growing international fan base. She combines detective novels with incisive political commentary and is the third most translated Argentine author after Borges and Cortázar. In particular, she was also an active figure in legalizing abortion in Argentina, alongside other campaigns such as the #NiUnaMenos movement against feminicide. Elena Knows follows a 63-year-old mother with Parkinson’s disease who is investigating her daughter’s death and believes the hasty suicide verdict was a mistake. Well-structured and excitingly implemented by the translator Frances Riddle, Elena Knows is a powerful story about mothers and daughters, illness and society’s control over women’s bodies.
The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura, translated by Lucy North
Akutagawa Prize winner, The Woman in the Purple Skirt, is a chilling psychological thriller that has received rave reviews from Japanese writers such as Sayaka Murata, Yoko Ogawa, and Hiromi Kawakami. The voyeuristic novel is told from the perspective of a narrator who observes the woman in the purple skirt, an unusual and calm woman in the neighborhood. The narrator knows exactly the woman’s daily routine and even begins to interfere in the life of the woman in the purple skirt, which sets in motion a captivating chain of events. The Woman in the Purple Skirt is a compelling novel about loneliness and obsession.
Four minutes by Nataliya Deleva, translated by Izidora Angel
“Four Minutes is a novel about people on the fringes of society. Different storylines intertwine to tell a story: about invisibility. ”With this praise from the author Georgi Gospodinov, additional praise from the incredible Wioletta Greg, and the extensive story of Open Letter of publishing brilliant Bulgarian and Eastern European authors, I knew that I had to pick up this novel as quickly as possible. At the center of Four Minutes is Leah, a woman who struggles with the trauma of her childhood as an orphan and is now trying to adopt a child herself, but comes up against policies that discriminate against her as a gay woman. Thoughtfully placed around Leah’s story are independent narratives by other people that are often marginalized in our world. In the revealing translation by Izidora Angel, Deleva’s honest and direct prose is amazingly beautiful and profound.
For more great reads by Women in Translation, check out this list of 50 Must-Read Books by Women in Translation.