Thursday, August 8, 2019

WITMonth Day 8 | If you liked [X], read... women in translation!

Year after year, one of the biggest goals I have for WITMonth is to make it "big". As I've already mentioned, the vast majority of readers are not familiar with women in translation month (if that's you, hello! *waves*) and many English monolinguals admit that they haven't read more than a book or two by women writing in a language other than English. It's hard, when the market is dominated by English-language writers (overwhelmingly English or USian) and favors men writers.

But fret not! Even if you haven't had many opportunities to read books by women writers in translation until now, WITMonth is always your friend. Today, we're going to play a little game of "comparative recommendations". While this is definitely far from my favorite way to recommend books, the fact is that it can help guide us toward the sorts of books we might like!

So here we go. If you liked this other piece of art, maybe I can interest you in some women writers in translation?

Chernobyl ---- Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich (tr. from Russian by Keith Gessen)

This should be a no-brainer - if you were entranced by a TV phenomenon that portrayed the horrors of the Chernobyl catastrophe, you will likely be as entranced - and horrified - by Voices from Chernobyl. Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for her oral histories and this work is a pivotal (if brutal) account of Chernobyl and a must-read for anyone interested in the history.

The Tortall Books by Tamora Pierce ---- The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff (tr. from Finland-Swedish by A. A. Prime)

Like your YA fantasy to be fantastically feminist? Don't mind if it gets a little gritty and real? If you grew up reading Tamora Pierce's fabulous Tortall books (beginning with Alanna: The First Adventure and continuing through to the Beka Cooper books and Tempests and Slaughter), the Red Abbey Chronicles is the series for you. An at-times dark but ultimately radically optimistic feminist series about an island sanctuary for women, Maresi starts things off with a bang and doesn't let up.

Planet Earth ---- Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson (tr. from Norwegian by Lucy Moffatt)

If you love our planet (or Our Planet!) and love learning about the wild, weird, and wonderful creatures that inhabit it, Extraordinary Insects is the book for you. Full of fantastic facts, gorgeous sketches (even for people afraid of bugs!), and a clear love of the science, Extraordinary Insects is a joy to read and an excellent introduction to a world we too often ignore (and literally step on). 

Belle ---- Dance on the Volcano by Marie Vieux-Chauvet (tr. from French by Kaiama L. Glover)

Tired of historical dramas that portray history through a white-washed lens? While there are few plot similarities between Belle and Dance on the Volcano, the two stories often remind me of each other in their clear-eyed representation of life for mixed-race women in the late 18th century. In both stories, the main character seeks her independence, voice (literally in Dance on the Volcano's case!), and love... though this ends up unfolding very differently for the English Belle versus the Haitian Minette. 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton ---- A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (tr. from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter)

Another case of an indirect similarity, but one nonetheless: Here we have huge, at-times slow, complexly structured and deeply intricate historical narratives that hearken to older literary styles. Where The Luminaries is more of a purely historical work rooted in a specific period of New Zealand history, A True Novel sprawls over several decades and eras of Japanese history. And yet the two novels seem to ring with a similar tone. Both are remarkably written and structured; both are extraordinary literary works; both are intensely long books that do not remotely feel as such.

Fleabag ---- Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (tr. from Spanish by Charlotte Coombe)

Fleabag's immense charm comes from the central character herself - at times abrasive, vaguely unappealing, vulnerable, ecstatic, and brutally open to the viewer. Fish Soup doesn't have quite the same individual hook (since it's a collection of several works), but the effect is similar. Many of the stories center on characters that are somewhat unlikable, yet appealing. The storytelling is largely straight-forward, yet striking. The writing is sharp and clever, with the overall effect that of a tightly controlled work... just like Fleabag is on the television screen.

That's all for now, folks! But of course, these are far from the only cases where you might compare a piece of popular culture (or literature!) to a lesser-known gem by a woman writer from around the world. What comparisons might you propose? Stay tuned (get it?) for more...!


  1. Great post, I have Maresi and Naondel to read this month, wanting to add a bit of genre fiction that's not my usual to the mix.

  2. I love this!! A dangerous business for my TBR, this post, but I love having all these excellent recs. <3


Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam. Sorry!