Sunday, August 3, 2014

WITMonth Day 3 - A short introduction to Western and Northern Europe

Here's an interesting takeaway from Three Percent's translations database: half of the books published by women writers in translation stem from distinctly Western or Northern European countries. To be fair, I am essentially omitting the notion of a Central Europe for this definition (so Germany and Austria get sent west, while the Czech Republic by my extremely arbitrary measure get shifted east, as does the entire Balkan region), but this is a calculated choice. The overwhelming majority of literature in translation stems from this very Western region. It's an important metric, because as happy as I am to have more French and German novels, truthfully we cannot claim diversity by simply expanding our comfort zone only one or two countries over.

And so I must admit that starting WITMonth off with these countries was distinctly intentional. It's easy to read books by French writers - it's not even so hard to read books by French women writers. It's not hard to find Scandinavian women writers, or German heavy-hitters (indeed, let us recall that German and Swedish had the best ratios of women writers), but it's a bit harder to find Latin American women writers in translation, or Chinese, or Iraqi, or Algerian, or Russian women. They're there... but it's harder to see them.

But that's coming. Right now, it's time to talk about France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Sicily and Portugal, as well as other countries I am shamelessly forgetting! This ought to keep us occupied for the next week, no?

These are the countries from which some of the greatest women in translation success stories stem from: Muriel Barbery, Elena Ferrante, Simone de Beauvoir, Herta Müller (arguably Eastern Europe, but she won her Nobel as a German writer and writes in German, so I'll count her here), and a host of crime/thriller writers (Nele Neuhaus, Camilla Läckberg and several others I'm less familiar with). There are also lesser known writers, and some who are practically unknown. The goal over the next week is to taste from all different corners of this sprawling landmass and to showcase some of the splendid literature that has emerged from it (as well as some that is, perhaps, a little less splendid), spanning genres, designations, tastes and styles. There's a huge diversity here, ready to be explored and discussed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm putting in another plug for Juli Zeh here (German)! I've read two of her books in the past, and although I had some issues with In Free Fall particularly, I love the way she tosses you into these strange worlds (the world of science theory, the world of diving) and makes them crucial to the mystery.

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