Monday, August 26, 2019

WITMonth Day 26 | The 100 Best Books by Women Writers in Translation

For the past almost-two months, readers from around the world have been sending in their nominations and votes for this list: The 100 Best Books by Women in Translation. Inspired in part by Catherine Taylor's excellent review of Boyd Tonkin's 100 Best Novels in Translation, fellow bloggers (including Twitter user Antonomasia), and subsequent conversations on this blog, the idea was to create a new canon of sorts. Every reader could send up to 10 nominations of books written by women, trans, or nonbinary authors, originally written in any language other than English. Ultimately, almost 800 unique books were nominated. Most of the titles only ever had a single vote, but it speaks to the passion and love that readers have for women writers from around the world that we reached such a number. Many people sought to promote books that they felt didn't get enough attention, or books that they hoped might someday be translated, regardless whether they expected that book to make it to the top 100. The whole list - and specifically the one comprised of untranslated-into-English books - is also a worthy one, but I'll talk about it at a later time.

Let's focus on the top 100.

First and foremost, a disclaimer: This is obviously not really a list of the 100 best books by women in translation... because no such list could ever possibly exist! Every canon will be flawed in some form or other, as I'll be discussing more over the next few days and weeks. Our list is crowdsourced and borne of reader-love; it is a list that is strongly rooted in current reading trends (even if you might be surprised by some inclusions/omissions... I certainly was!). There's a lot of ink to be spilled over just about every title that ended up making it into the top 100 and much more over those that didn't make it, but here's the bottom line: Whether or not these are truly the 100 best books by women writers from around the world, whether or not this is a flawlessly representative list, and whether or not we'd get the same list if we tried again next week (I am confident we would not), this is a list of 100 books by women writers from around the world that people loved. That's worthy in and of itself.

But enough of my thoughts! I'll have plenty of time to talk about things I find interesting, surprising, or disappointing about this list at a later time (and I assure you, I will). Instead, I now present to you...

The 100 Best Books by Women Writers in Translation

Title Author Translator(s) into English Language Country Vote tally Original publication
My Brilliant FriendElena Ferrante Ann GoldsteinItalianItaly262011
The VegetarianHan Kang Deborah SmithKoreanSouth Korea242007
Fever DreamSamanta Schweblin Megan McDowellSpanishArgentina222014
Human ActsHan Kang Deborah SmithKoreanSouth Korea192014
The DoorMagda Szabó Len RixHungarianHungary191987
FlightsOlga Tokarczuk Jennifer CroftPolishPoland192007
Convenience Store WomanSayaka Murata Ginny Tapley TakemoriJapaneseJapan192016
The Summer BookTove Jansson Thomas TealSwedishFinland171972
The Housekeeper and the ProfessorYoko Ogawa Stephen SnyderJapaneseJapan132003
The YearsAnnie Ernaux Alison L. StrayerFrenchFrance122008
Things We Lost in the FireMariana Enríquez Megan McDowellSpanishArgentina122016
Death in SpringMercè Rodoreda Martha TennantCatalanSpain121986
Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the DeadOlga Tokarczuk Antonia Lloyd-JonesPolishPoland122009
SphinxAnne Garréta Emma RamadanFrenchFrance111986
Die, My LoveAriana Harwicz Sarah Moss, Carolina OrloffSpanishArgentina112012
KitchenBanana Yoshimoto Megan BackusJapaneseJapan111987
PersepolisMarjane Satrapi Mattias Ripa, Blake Ferris, Anjali SinghFrenchIran / France112000
DisorientalNégar Djavadi Tina KoverFrenchIran / France112016
The Mussel FeastBirgit Vanderbeke Jamie BullochGermanGermany101990
The Notebook TrilogyÁgota Kristóf Alan SheridanFrenchHungary91991
InnocenceHeda Margolius Kovály Alex ZuckerCzechCzech Republic91985
The House of the SpiritsIsabel Allende Magda BoginSpanishChile91982
The End of DaysJenny Erpenbeck Susan BernofskyGermanGermany92013
A True NovelMinae Mizumura Juliet Winters CarpenterJapaneseJapan92002
The Unwomanly Face of War Svetlana Alexievich Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky Russian Belarus 9 1985
Eve Out of Her Ruins Ananda Devi Jeffrey Zuckerman French Mauritius 8 2006
Trieste Daša Drndić Ellen Elias-Bursać Croatian Croatia 8 2007
Bonjour Tristesse Françoise Sagan Irene Ash French France 8 1954
Love Hanne Ørstavik Martin Aitken Norwegian Norway 8 1997
Suite Française Irène Némirovsky Sandra Smith French France 8 1942
So Long a Letter Mariama Bâ Modupe Bode-Thomas French Senegal 8 1979
The Tale of Genji Murasaki Shikibu Various Japanese Japan 8 1008
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery Alison Anderson French France 8 2006
Tentacle Rita Indiana Achy Obejas Spanish Dominican Republic 8 2015
Kristin Lavransdatter Sigrid Undset Various Norwegian Norway 8 1922
Second Hand Time Svetlana Alexievich Bela Shayevich Russian Belarus 8 2013
Territory of Light Yūko Tsushima Geraldine Harcourt Japanese Japan 8 1979
The Hour of the Star Clarice Lispector Benjamin Moser Portuguese Brazil 7 1977
Woman at Point Zero Nawal El Saadawi Sherif Hetata Arabic Egypt 7 1975
Soviet Milk Nora Ikstena Margita Gailitis Latvian Latvia 7 2015
Notes of a Crocodile Qiu Miaojin Bonnie Huie Chinese Taiwan 7 1994
La Bastarda Trifonia Melibea Obono Lawrence Schimel Spanish Equatorial Guinea 7 2016
Vernon Subutex I Virginie Despentes Frank Wynne French France 7 2015
Revenge Yoko Ogawa Stephen Snyder Japanese Japan 7 1998
Memoirs of a Polar Bear Yoko Tawada Susan Bernofsky German Germany 7 2014
Nada Carmen Laforet Edith Grossman Spanish Spain 6 1945
Near to the Wild Heart Clarice Lispector Alison Entrekin Portuguese Brazil 6 1943
Strange Weather in Tokyo / The Briefcase Hiromi Kawakami Allison Markin Powell Japanese Japan 6 2001
Go, Went, Gone Jenny Erpenbeck Susan Bernofsky German Germany 6 2015
Seeing Red Lina Meruane Megan McDowell Spanish Chile 6 2012
Fish Soup Margarita García Robayo Charlotte Coombe Spanish Colombia 6 2018
The Lover Marguerite Duras Barbara Bray French France 6 1984
Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar Grace Frick French France 6 1951
The Wall Marlen Haushofer Shaun Whiteside German Austria 6 1963
Family Lexicon Natalia Ginzburg Various Italian Italy 6 1963
People in the Room Norah Lange Charlotte Whittle Spanish Argentina 6 1950
Mouthful of Birds Samanta Schweblin Megan McDowell Spanish Argentina 6 2008
Poems Sappho Various Ancient Greek Greece 6 -570
The Faculty of Dreams Sara Stridsberg Deborah Bragan-Turner Swedish Sweden 6 2006
Thus Were Their Faces Silvina Ocampo Daniel Balderston Spanish Argentina 6 1993
The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir Various French France 6 1949
The True Deceiver Tove Jansson Thomas Teal Swedish Finland 6 1982
Faces in the Crowd Valeria Luiselli Christina McSweeney Spanish Mexico 6 2011
A View with a Grain of Sand Wisława Szymborska Stanislaw Baranczak, Clare Cavanagh Polish Poland 6 1995
The Queue Basma Abdel Aziz Elisabeth Jaquette Arabic Egypt 5 2016
Fox Dubravka Ugrešić Ellen Elias-Bursać Croatian Croatia 5 2017
The Days of Abandonment Elena Ferrante Ann Goldstein Italian Italy 5 2002
History Elsa Morante William Weaver Italian Italy 5 1974
Arturo's Island Elsa Morante Various Italian Italy 5 1957
Confessions Kanae Minato Stephen Snyder Japanese Japan 5 2008
The Ten Thousand Things Maria Dermoût Hans Koning Dutch Indonesia / Netherlands 5 1955
My Heart Hemmed In Marie NDiaye Jordan Stump French France 5 2007
The Unit Ninni Holmqvist Marlaine Delargy Swedish Sweden 5 2006
The Bridge of Beyond Simone Schwarz-Bart Barbara Bray French Guadeloupe 5 1972
Purge Sofi Oksanen Lola Rogers Finnish Finland 5 2008
The Story of My Teeth Valeria Luiselli Christina MacSweeney Spanish Mexico 5 2013
Swallowing Mercury Wioletta Greg Eliza Marciniak Polish Poland 5 2014
Tokyo Ueno Station Yu Miri Morgan Giles Japanese Japan 5 2014
The Little Girl on the Ice Floe Adélaïde Bon Various French France 4 2018
Extracting the Stone of Madness Alejandra Pizarnik Yvette Siegert Spanish Argentina 4 1972
The Remainder Alia Trabucco Zerán Sophie Hughes Spanish Chile 4 2015
The Seventh Cross Anna Seghers Margo Bettauer Dembo German Germany 4 1942
The Naked Woman Armonía Somers Kit Maude Spanish Uruguay 4 1950
Waking Lions Ayelet Gundar-Goshen Sondra Silverston Hebrew Israel 4 2012
The Quest for Christa T. Christa Wolf Christopher Middleton German Germany 4 1968
A Winter's Promise Christelle Dabos Hildegarde Serle French France 4 2013
Mirror Shoulder Signal Dorthe Nors Misha Hoekstra Danish Denmark 4 2015
Sweet Days of Discipline Fleur Jaeggy Tim Parks Italian Switzerland 4 1989
Zuleikha Guzel Yakhina Lisa Hayden Russian Russia 4 2015
The Hunger Angel Herta Müller Philip Boehm German Romania / Germany 4 2009
Please Look After Mom Kyung-sook Shin Chi Young Korean South Korean 4 2008
Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel Thomas Christensen, Carol Christensen Spanish Mexico 4 1989
La Femme de Gilles Madeleine Bourdouxhe Faith Evans French Belgium 4 1937
The History of Bees Maja Lunde Diane Oatley Norwegian Norway 4 2015
The Weight of Things Marianne Fritz Adrian Nathan West German Austria 4 1979
Translation as Transhumance Mireille Gansel Ros Schwartz French France 4 2014
Out Natsuo Kirino Stephen Snyder Japanese Japan 4 1997
Our Lady of the Nile Scholastique Mukasonga Melanie L. Mauthner French Rwanda / France 4 2012
Subtly Worded Teffi Anne Marie Jackson, Robert Chandler Russian Russia 4 1990
The Letter for the King Tonke Dragt Laura Watkinson Dutch The Netherlands 4 1962


  1. Not disappointed at all! 6 of my 10 made it into the top 100! (Ferrante, Tokarczuk(2), Greg, Oksanen, Sappho). Thank you so much for your work on this. Looking forward to the complete list of 700+

    1. 7 of 10! I missed seeing Garréta in my first excited pass-through the list!

  2. is there a reason why women poets are excluded from this list?

    1. They're not! Sappho, Alejandra Pizarnik, Wisława Szymborska... These are just the titles that were the top-rated, just ended up being more fiction/nonfiction than poetry. There's more in the full list (which will be released next month, most likely), per people's nominations/votes. :)

  3. thanks! I did miss them, and i love all three. didn't check the entire list, but a few more poets wouldn't hurt...

  4. This is amazing! Can't wait to see the entire list, but I'm pleased to see that I've read many of these, even if all my favourites didn't make it to the final 100 ;)

  5. Great list. Just one thing: Sigrid Undset was Norwegian.

    1. Yes she was! *facepalm* Correcting that quickly...

  6. Would love to see how many there are of each genre (fiction, non-fiction, poetry...) either on this page, or to look forward to in a future blog post!
    I suspect many readers were like me and initially thought of the fiction they'd read.

    1. I probably won't be able to do a full breakdown, but I will be discussing basic genre breakdown from this list at a later stage!

  7. The newest translation of Sigrid Undset's Kristen Lavransdatter is by Tiina Nunnally. Tiina's award winning translation brings to life the beauty of the this masterpiece.

    1. Yes, I actually recently purchased it myself! But because there are various translators from over the years, I felt that it'd be more appropriate to acknowledge the status the book has (and there's no room to list them *all*). I'll be talking about the books with multiple translations at a later stage, though!

  8. A quirky nuance that I noticed about Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. I see you have it listed as German and Germany and that would be true that the 2016 English version was based on the German edition from 2014. The original 2011 book was in Japanese though, as far as I could figure out when I did a few clicks around Goodreads. Not sure if you want to reflect that or is it too nitpicky? You can get the links to the different editions and years inside the review here

    1. Really? Wow, I didn't know that! My understanding was that it was one of Tawada's originally-German titles. I'll look into that some more and update accordingly.

  9. I've done some digging in the catalogues of the Japanese and German national libraries. On the German one, it says (translated the German from Google translate, because I'm lazy): "Yoko Tawada first wrote this novel in Japanese. And translated it herself, the first time she herself translated one of her texts written in Japanese. When translating the text of course, the text was changed, some new she wrote. Is it an original novel or a translation, if the author translates her own text and partially rephrased in the other language in which she also writes original? May we submit such a book to the German novel prize, or to the international translator's prize, or to neither?" (see:, click on "Inhaltstext", which gives you a summary of the book as well as the above paragraph)

    So, the German text is not identical to the Japanese one...

    1. In that case, I'll be sticking with German since the English-language translation is specifically from German. Hand-waving galore!

    2. Thanks to Sanne for the research! That helps explain a lot. But is the date of the original text of "Memoir of a Polar Bear" then 2014? :D

    3.'re making my life complicated here!!! :P Oh well, what's true is true...

  10. I love that Maria Dermoût made it to the list - and I'm ashamed I hadn't thought of voting for The ten thousand things... It's one of my favorite books!

    But how did you determine the country-column? Is it where the book is based, where the author is born or the nationality of the author? Because Maria Dermoût was Dutch and all of her fiction is set in colonial Indonesia, which is where she was born. If you're going by place the author is born in, Tonke Dragt should also have Indonesia (but she's also Dutch).

    1. I mostly went with where the author predominantly lived/lives/identifies as, less a question of literal birth. My understanding re: Dermoût is that she mostly lived in Indonesia, but I can definitely update that to be Indonesia/Netherlands if that makes more sense! It's definitely a little hand-wavy. :P

  11. Only 2 of mine made it, but I do like quite a few of the ones that did (and would probably have nominated them if I'd thought of it at the time instead of doing it in a very unsystematic, emotional fashion rather than logically and evidence-based).

  12. Yes, I think mentioning both is a lovely solution! I only now notice you've also done so with other authors. People don't always fit neatly in boxes, so hand-wavy sounds only reasonable ;)

    and I just noticed I was so deep into the nitty gritty that I didn't even thank you for all your work this morning! So hereby: thanks for putting this together. Can't wait to dig into this list!

  13. "Pedra de Tartera" Maria Barbal

  14. " Poesia Maria" Mercè Marçal
    "L'hora violeta" Montserrat Roig

  15. Thanks for this list and for the Literary Saloon for the link.


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