Meytal Radzinski, the inspiration behind Women in Translation month every August, is looking to compile a list of top 100 women in translation titles. All those who want to participate have to nominate their 10 best books for the purpose. Here are the precise rules…
I have read some great books by Women Writers in Translation over the years and had a tough time narrowing down the list to ten.
Having said that, here are the 10 books that I nominate…
My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels took the world by storm when they were published, and My Brilliant Friend – the first book in the quartet – is where it all started. Set in a poor and violent neighbourhood in Naples, these novels chart the friendship between two girls – the fiery and fiercely intelligent Lila Cerullo and the clever and hardworking Elena Greco. My Brilliant Friend begins their story when the girls are eight years old and ends when they turn sixteen. Intense, cinematic in scope with richly drawn characters, this is a fabulous and highly addictive novel (as are the subsequent books in the series).
Billed as Japan’s equivalent of Wuthering Heights, A True Novel is an expansive story charting the doomed relationship between the brooding and intense Taro Azumo and the beautiful Yoko. The story is narrated by Fumiko (the Nelly Dean of the novel), although she is very much a finely etched character in her own right. Despite the comparison to the Bronte classic, A True Novel is strong enough to stand on its own. Set in post-war Japan, the novel also examones class differences and the meteoric rise and fall of Japan’s economy.
Katri Kling is an outcast who lives in the village with her simpleminded brother. She hates white lies and can see straight to the core of any problem. Anna Aemelin is just the opposite – a respected member of the village, but aloof. Anna has something Katri wants, and to get it Katri will take control of Anna’s life and livelihood.
The Vegetarian – Han Kang
One day, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating meat – an act of revolt unheard of in Korean society, thereby shocking her family. Combining three tales told from the viewpoints of Yeong-hye’s husband, brother-in-law and sister (Yeong-hye is the central focus in the novel although we never hear her voice), this is an excellent novel that examines rebellion, mental illness, and desire. It’s the book that has made me a fan of Han Kang and I intend to read every novel of hers that is released.
The Looking Glass Sisters – Gohril Gabrielsen
Two sisters – one is bedridden, the other is the carer – live in a remote town in Northern Norway. This is a riveting, psychological tale narrated by the bed ridden sister. Are they living harmoniously together? Or is each one deliberately trying to wreck the life of the other? This is a story in which all is not necessarily what it seems.
A young, recently divorced Japanese woman and her daughter move into an apartment filled with light. This is a bracing, unsettling yet poignant tale in which Tsushima, in unflinching and crystal clear prose, highlights the challenges of being a single parent.
Sphinx is a love story between the narrator (who is never named) and A***, who is a dancer in America. But what makes this novel interesting is this – throughout the book the gender of both the narrator and A*** is never revealed.
La Femme de Gilles – Madeleine Bourdouxhe
Elisa loves her husband Gilles deeply and her world revolves around him. Until her sister Victorine appears on the scene causing her much anguish. This is a beautifully rendered tale of desire and the fear of losing what you value the most.
Fish Soup is an invigorating collection of novellas and stories that explore the themes of frayed relationships, travel and the opposing forces of sex and desire as against abstinence and self-denial.
This is a wonderful, roller coaster of a novel that effortlessly packs in big topics such as time travel, environmental disasters, gender fluidity, and art history all in a few pages.