5 Books to Check out for Women in Translation Month

It’s August, which means it’s Women in Translation Month! I’d love to spotlight 5 reads I’m looking forward to reading and would recommend others check out too!

Heaven by Meiko Kawakami

Ever since I read Meiko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs, she had me by the NECK! I bought this book as soon as it came out, eager to digest more of her precise character portraits and striking descriptions.

“Hailed as a bold foray into new literary territory, Kawakami’s novel is told in the voice of a 14-year-old student who subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy chooses to suffer in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormentors.

These raw and realistic portrayals of bullying are counterbalanced by textured exposition of the philosophical and religious debates concerning violence to which the weak are subjected.” – Goodreads

Here Is a Body by Basma Abdel Aziz

I read Aziz’s novel The Queue last year and enjoyed its take on dystopia, and I’m thoroughly excited to see how she continues to explore these ideas.

“Mysterious men are rounding up street children and enrolling them in a so-called “rehabilitation program,” designed to indoctrinate them for the military-backed regime’s imminent crackdown on its opponents. Across town, thousands of protesters encamp in a city square demanding the return of the recently deposed president.

Reminiscent of recent clashes in Egypt and reflective of political movements worldwide where civilians face off against state power, Abdel Aziz deftly illustrates the universal human struggles between resisting and succumbing to an oppressive regime.

Here Is A Body is a courageous and powerful depiction of the state cooptation of human bodies, the dehumanization of marginalized groups, and the use of inflammatory religious rhetoric to manipulate a narrative.” – Auc Press

The Union of Synchronised Swimmers by Cristina Sandu

I don’t think I’ve read a lot of Finnish or Romanian literature, so I’m excited to finally add this book into my to-read list. The premise and reviews are promising.

“It’s summer behind the Iron Curtain, and six girls are about to swim their way to the Olympics — and a new life.

In an unnamed Soviet state, six girls meet each day to swim. At first, they play, splashing each other and floating languidly on the water’s surface. But soon the game becomes something more.

They hone their bodies relentlessly. Their skin shades into bruises. They barter cigarettes stolen from the factory where they work for swimsuits to stretch over their sunburnt skin. They tear their legs into splits, flick them back and forth, like herons. They force themselves to stop breathing.

When they find themselves representing their country as synchronised swimmers in the Olympics, they seize the chance they have been waiting for to escape and begin new lives.

Scattered around the globe, six women live in freedom. But will they ever be able to forget what they left behind?” – Scribe Publications

The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil

I adored Min Jin Lee’s family epic of Zainichi Koreans and am excited to pick up another book of the same topic. I’m always on the look-out for voices that, even in translated fiction, can be overlooked!

“Seventeen-year-old Ginny Park is about to get expelled from high school—again. Stephanie, the picture book author who took Ginny into her Oregon home after she was kicked out of school in Hawaii, isn’t upset: she only wants to know why. But Ginny has always been in-between; she can’t bring herself to open up to anyone about her past, or about what prompted her to flee her native Japan. Then, among the scraps of paper and drawings of Stephanie’s stories, Ginny finds a mysterious scrawl that changes everything: The sky is about to fall. Where do you go.

Ginny sets off alone on the road in search of an answer, with only her journal as a confidante. In witty and brutally honest vignettes, and interspersed with old letters from her expatriated family in North Korea, Ginny recounts her adolescence growing up Zainichi, a Japan-born Korean, and the incident that forced her to leave years prior. Inspired by her own childhood, author Chesil creates a portrait of a girl who has been fighting alone against barriers of prejudice, nationality, and injustice all her life—and one searching for a place to belong.” – Soho Press

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé

Often times I see Black authors overlooked in ‘women in translation’ recommendations, so I want to encourage people to proactively seek them out! In Condé’s novel, she explores the slow steps of radicalization through two men, and covers topics on colonization, exploitation, etc. All these topics are straight up my alley and I’d love to get my hands on a copy.

“Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization. The twins, unable to live either with or without each other, become perpetrator and victim in a wave of violent attacks. In The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Condé, winner of the 2018 Alternative Nobel prize in literature, touches upon major contemporary issues such as racism, terrorism, political corruption, economic inequality, globalization, and migration. With her most modern novel to date, this master storyteller offers an impressive picture of a colorful yet turbulent 21st century.” – Goodreads

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