It's Women in Translation Month!
It's no secret that we love reading books in translation here at Book Culture. Anyone who spends time browsing the shelf talkers at the store will see that our favorite writers come from all over the world and write in many different languages. Though books in translation make up only 3% of all books published in any given year, they are some of the most exciting and memorable books out there, and we are grateful for the translators and publishers whose work allows us to read these amazing books.
Last year, for the first time, we participated in Women in Translation Month, a project started by translator Meytal Radzinsky to bring attention to the fact that, of the 3% of books published in translation each year, only 30% of those are written by women. That means that less than 1% of all books published each year are by women in translation--a terrifying statistic, given that women make up over 50% of the world's population, and non-English speakers (and writers) even more. Think of what we're missing!
We had a lot of fun with Women in Translation Month last year. We did Q&As with translators Susan Bernofsky and Margaret Carson; we talked about our favorite books by women in translation, and what forthcoming books we were looking forward to. So this year we're doing it again! Just like last year, we'll be tweeting a book a day, so follow us on twitter to get involved in the #WiTMonth conversation. And this Friday we'll be celebrating with cocktails and a reading with Susan Bernofsky, John Keene, Ann Goldstein, and Nathan Xavier Osorio, so we hope you join us then!
But let's kick things off with some of our staff favorites. Here is what we'll be recommending this Women in Translation Month:
The Nakano Thrift Shop
by Hiromi Kawakami
translated by Allison Markin Powell
Kawakami gives us a slice of Japanese suburban life, away from the crowds and chaos of Tokyo. Quietly humorous, The Nakano Thrift Shop is ultimately about transitions in life and the relationships which transcend them.
The Land of Green Plums
by Herta Müller
translated by Michael Hofmann
The daily horrors of living inside Ceauescu's Romania are recorded here in a story that is both blunt and poetic, real and mysterious. The boundary between the outer and inner landscapes has melted away.
Grandfather and the Moon
written by Stéphanie LaPointe and illustrated by Rogé
translated by Shelley Tanaka
This book is a heartbreaking work of art. While the plot is fantastical (a girl wins a trip to the moon), the beauty is the descriptions of despair and disappointment. How do you find life after someone you love dies? What do you do if you achieve your dream and it leaves you empty? Who will be there if you fall?
This book is supposedly for young people. I recommend you read it with someone older, for perspective.
Texas: The Great Theft
by Carmen Boullosa
translated by Samantha Schnee
Set on the US-Mexico border shortly after the annexation of Texas, this book provides a welcome rebuttal to the nativist fantasy about the border region. But don't read it just for the politics-- it's also a really fun novel featuring a huge cast of characters--Mexicans, Europeans, Comanches, bandits, aristocrats, ranchers, and socialists. Boullosa is a really exciting writer, and I'm eagerly awaiting Deep Vellum's release of her next novel, Heavens on Earth.
The Hour of the Star
by Clarice Lispector
translated by Benjamin Moser
This book is one of the most breath-taking I've ever read. Lispector's voice weaves through her multi-layered narrative to create an amazing story that you can't help but read in one sitting. In it, Lispector explores passion, language, and death, in ways that will make you read it again and again.
by Maylis de Kerangal
translated by Sam Taylor
This is an incredible novel--thrilling, empathetic, and moving at every turn. The Heart sets a new standard for great science writing.
by Fernanda Torres
tranlated by Alison Entrekin
You think you see The End coming—or the ending coming—but Fernanda Torres has other plans for you on this journey. Torres presents five friends—fairly flawed, tragic clowns—and their views on life and those around them as they try to navigate their lives and deaths. This novel is a funny, smart, well conceived, and perfectly executed playful look at mortality.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear
by Yoko Tawada
translated by Susan Bernofsky
Tawada weaves a multigenerational story about a family of real polar bears -- an unnamed matriarch, her daughter Tosca, and her grandson, Knut -- through the landscape of the Soviet Union, Canada, East Germany, and reunified Berlin. The first bear we meet is trying to write in her “mother tongue,” a language somewhere between Russian, German, and North Pole-ish. Her daughter Tosca’s story is told by her circus trainer, who together shares such a deep relationship their stories become interconnected. The memoirs ends with Knut, a famous polar bear who goes on to be photographed by Annie Leibowitz and is raised by human zoo keepers. Knut comes of age between humans and polar bears in a sort of dual existence that is reminiscent of his grandmother’s struggles to express herself at the opening of the book.
Things We Lost in the Fire
by Mariana Enriquez
translated by Megan McDowell
These stories are not for the faint of heart--they are dark, sometimes violent, sometimes grotesque, and deeply unnerving. This is Mariana Enriquez's first work to be translated into English and it will leave you wanting more.
Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, HP Lovecraft, and Silvina Ocampo.
The Obscene Madame D
by Hilda Hilst
translated by Nathanael with Rachel Gontijo Araujo
Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst, whose works were largely considered pornography, destroys every traditional form--language, selfhood, gender, sexuality. At once chaotic and vulnerable, her writing mediates between madness and liberation; the difference between the breakdown and transcendence becomes impossible to recognize.
Dance on the Volcano
by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
translated by Kaiama L. Glover
This is the story of Minette, a young, free woman of color in pre-revolutionary Haiti. While her fantastic talent as an opera singer allows her partial entry into white society, she simultaneously experiences a growing political consciousness as revolutionary forces form around her. The complex racial and gendered hierarchies of the era are on full display here in this fascinating historical novel about a time and place that I, for one, know all too little about.
Letters to Sartre
by Simone de Beauvoir
translated by Quintin Hoare
When Simone de Beauvoir’s letters to her lifelong companion John-Paul Sartre were published in 1990, it caused a start. Sartre and Beauvoir were France’s most famous intellectuals when they were alive, having the sort of celebrity that America usually reserves for movie stars. The real interest of the letters, however, is found in the very specific environment the correspondence creates. What she’s often telling Sartre in the letters seems unimportant and were probably all things he already knew.. She’s writing to someone she trusts, taking notes in order to articulate her thoughts enough to shape the many novels, philosophies, and memoirs she would later publish. The letters allow an accessibility to the thought process and articulation of one of the 20th century’s most notable minds.
by Samanta Schweblin
translated by Megan McDowell
What a strange little book! If you're looking for something to curl up with and read all in one sitting, this one's for you. A young boy coaxes a story out of an older, unrelated woman who seems to be on her deathbed. What's going on? How do these two know eachother? It's not always clear, but the sense of urgency and mystery are unforgettable.
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