Summer reading used to be beach reads, these days I have one beach read, my one summer chunkster, otherwise I try to participate in #WITMonth, reading women writers in translation, those who originally wrote their books in a language other than English.
I won’t be putting any pressure on myself to achieve any lists or numbers, but a quick scan of my shelves shows me that I already have a few potentially excellent novels to choose from for #WITMonth.
One Summer Chunkster
My summer chunkster isn’t a woman writer, it will be Marlon James Booker Prize winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel that explores Jamaican life, culture, politics and the drug trade through a fictionalised telling with a multitude of characters, of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 70’s in a blend of standard English prose and Jamaican patois.
Women in Translation
A quick look at my shelves tells me that these are the novels I’ll be choosing from in August to read books by women writing in a language other than English. I’ll be reading them in the English translation and starting off with Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (South Korea) tr. Deborah Smith (Korean)
Viewed in South Korea initially as ‘extreme and bizarre’ it has gone on to become a cult bestseller and in English, it was the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016 – an allegorical novel about modern-day South Korea told via three narratives surrounding a woman’s decision to become vegetarian; a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others. I read and was blown away by her Human Acts earlier this year.
Masks by Fumiko Enchi (Japan) tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter (Japanese)
A subtle and sometimes shocking novel about seduction and infidelity in contemporary Japan and the destructive force of feminine jealousy and resentment with allusions to the masks of the traditional Japanese theatrical Nō plays and the 11th century epic The Tale of Genji.
The Rabbit House by Laura Alcoba (Argentina) tr. Polly McLean (French)
A short memoir set in 1975 Buenos Aires, Argentina when Laura is seven years old and the brutal military regime has just taken over. Her father is imprisoned and she and her mother go into hiding in ‘the rabbit house’ where the resistance movement is involved in clandestine activity that puts their lives in constant danger.
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (French-Guadeloupean) tr.Barbara Bray (French)
Set on the French Antillean island of Guadeloupe, a story of mothers and daughters, spiritual values and the grim legacy of slavery, a reminder of the Creole oral tradition.
Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Condé (Guadeloupean) tr. Richard Philcox (French)
More from Guadeloupe, following the death of a handsome outsider, villagers reveal clues that will uncover the mystery of this man’s death, a story imbued with the nuances of Caribbean culture.
A Season in Rihata by Maryse Condé (Guadeloupean) tr. Richard Philcox (French)
Condé’s second novel set in a sleepy backwater fictitious African state, a family struggle amid the backdrop of political upheaval, a community torn between progress and tradition, subject to the whims of a dictatorship.
The Door by Magda Szabó (Hungary) tr. Len Rix (Hungarian)
A young writer employs an elderly woman as housekeeper, a woman everyone knows, though no one knows anything about, nor have they ever crossed her threshold. An event will provoke her to unveil glimpses of her past, shedding light on her peculiar behaviour as the relationship between the two evolves. This recent New Yorker article makes comparisons with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. The Hungarian Despair of Magda Szabó’s “The Door”
The Looking Glass Sisters by Gøhril Gabrielsen (Norway) tr. John Irons (Norwegian)
A Peirene Press novella from the Chance Encounters series and another intense relationship between two women; sisters who live an isolated life, one who nurses the other and keeps house. Until one day, a man arrives… ‘raw, dark and wonderfully different from anything else’
The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller (Romania) tr. Philipp Boehm (Romanian)
An early masterpiece set in Ceaușescu’s Romania by Herta Müller, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature. A young school teacher returns home to find her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. Then a foreleg. Signs she is being tracked by secret police – a portrayal of the corruption of the soul under totalitarianism.
I would love to hear any recommendations you have, that I might add to the list, anything you’ve read and absolutely loved, or are anticipating reading soon that you’ve heard good things about, let me know in the comments below. And if you’ve made a list, feel free to provide a link to it in the comments as well.
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