It’s only Women in Translation Month* for a few more days but I couldn’t let August go by without sharing a list of past and upcoming books you should add to your TBR** list.
Master storyteller, Nobel laureate and Booker Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk is very witty, so she’s perfect to lead off this list. Flights and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead were nearly 10 years old when they were translated into English for the first time. Now that she’s winning all of the major awards, maybe we won’t have to wait so long in the future. I read that we’re in store for a freshly translated 1,000 page novel, Books of Jacob, in March of 2021. And you didn’t think there was anything to look forward to! Literary whodunnit meets fairytale, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was one of my most enjoyable reading experiences over quarantine. Janina is a cranky, reclusive translator of William Blake, and she has a murder mystery to solve–if anybody will listen to her. Flights “interweaves reflections on travel with an in-depth exploration of the human body, broaching life, death, motion, and migration.”
Strange Weather in Tokyo and its companion, Parade, by Hiromi Kawakami are both available on Hoopla. Strange Weather is all about the relationship formed by chance in a bar between a student and her former teacher. Written in spare, precise language, it is driven by a strange bond between two people and their conversations more than by a plot. Disquieting Parade takes place over a summer afternoon of storytelling and noodles, shared by teacher and student.
I can’t say enough good things about Marie NDiaye, French author and winner of the Prix Goncourt. My Heart Hemmed In, available in print and on Hoopla, is surreal, complex, and allegorical. It also took about 10 years for this novel to be translated into English. She is known for provocative and innovative stories about interesting women.
Fox and Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (both available on Hoopla) by Balkan novelist and literary scholar, Dubravka Ugresic, use elements of folklore in different ways. Baba Yaga is a well-known witch from Slavic fairy tales who lives in a house on chicken legs, and Ugresic’s eponymous novel is about a trio of women who decide in their old age to spend a week together at a hotel spa. Fox, blending essay and fiction, is “a story of literary footnotes and minor characters”.
Breasts And Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (available on Hoopla) won the Akutagawa Prize in 2008 and “took [Haruki Murakami’s] breath away“. “Breasts and Eggs takes as its broader subjects the ongoing repression of women in Japan and the possibility of liberation, poverty, domestic violence, and reproductive ethics. Mixing comedy and realism, it is an epic life-affirming journey about finding inner strength and peace.”
Mina by Kim Sagwa, from Two Lines Press, (also available on Hoopla!) is not for the faint of heart! (CW: contains pretty intense scene of animal abuse)
Full disclosure: I skimmed quickly past the scene that everyone talks about when they talk about this book. That being said, it’s bold and incisive and worth reading if you appreciate disturbing stories that don’t hold back. Mina explores the bad decisions of three affluent, driven-to-succeed teens in South Korea.
Coming soon to a library (and a Netflix series) near you: The Lying Life of Adults, the much anticipated new novel by Elena Ferrante, beloved Italian author of richly imagined female characters.
And while we’re talking about Elena Ferrante, let’s take a moment to appreciate the translation work of Ann Goldstein.
Who would you add to your list?
*#WITMonth links to Twitter thread about how and why this came to be
**To be read.