Top 10 Books by Women In Translation #100BestWIT

Meytal Radzinski, the founder of #WITMonth, an initiative to encourage people to read more books by women that have been translated from another language, therefore promoting diversity, has asked readers to share their top 10 ten books by women writers in translation.

I initially shared mine in a thread on twitter, but since not everyone uses twitter, I thought I’d share my ten reads here as well before #WITMonth starts (August 1st) and if I can manage it, I may even share a picture of the pile of books from which I hope to read during August.

So here are my top 10 reads of books by women in translation, with links to my reviews, not in any particular order, although I have to say the first probably is my absolute favourite.

My Top 10 Books by Women in Translation

1. The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwartz-Bart (Guadeloupe) tr.Barbara Bray (French)

– the life of Telumee, the last in a line of proud Lougandor women on the French Antillean island of Guadeloupe. My Outstanding Read of 2016.

“a fluid, unveiling of a life, and a way of life, lived somewhere between a past that is not forgotten, that time of slavery lamented in the songs and felt in the bones, and a present that is a struggle and a joy to live, alongside nature, the landscape, the community and their traditions”

2. Tales From The Heart, True Stories From My Childhood by Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)tr. Richard Philcox (French)

– essays of her early years in Guadeloupe, her education, and growing awareness of her ignorance of literature from the Caribbean & her own family history, when she moves to further her studies in Paris.

The ideal introduction to her many wondrous novels, including her masterpiece, the historical novel Segu and the novel of her grandmother’s life Victoire, My Mother’s Mother.

3. Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina (Russia) tr. Lisa Hayden (Russian)

– an historical novel inspired by the author’s grandmother’s memories of exile in a Russian gulag (labour camp), published in English 100 years since the gulags first began in Russia.

The novel  follows the story of a young woman for whom exile is a kind of emancipation, freed from the tyranny of marriage, she finds a new role and skills despite the hardship, and experiences genuine love for the first time.

4. The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi (Iraq) tr. Luke Leafgren (Arabic)

– Slightly surreal, nostalgic, deeply philosophic portrayal of a neighbourhood in Baghdad, of childhood and early youth lived in the shadow of war.

We are the last teardrop aboard the ship, the last smile, the last sigh, the mast footstep on its ageing pavement. We are the last people to line their eyes with its dust. We are the ones who will tell its full story. We will tell it to neighbours’ children born in foreign countries, to their grandchildren not yet born – we, the witnesses of everything that happened.

5. Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (Iran) tr. Tina Kover (French)

– the story of a family forced to flee Iran, a family history, a modern young woman now living in France, sits in a fertility clinic but something about her situation isn’t as it should be, she reflects on the past, while waiting to control the outcome of her present, a clash of the old and the new.

“That’s the tragedy of exile. Things, as well as people, still exist, but you have to pretend to think of them as dead.”

6. So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ (Senegal) tr. Modupé Bodé Thomas (French)

– an epistolary novella, a letter from a widow to her best friend, reflecting on the emotional fallout of her husband’s death, unable to detach from memories of better times, a lament.

I am not indifferent to the irreversible currents of the women’s liberation that are lashing the world. This commotion that is shaking up every aspect of our lives reveals and illustrates our abilities.
My heart rejoices every time a woman emerges from the shadows. I know that the field of our gains is unstable, the retention of conquests difficult: social constraints are ever-present, and male egoism resists.
Instruments for some, baits for others, respected or despised, often muzzled, all women have almost the same fate, which religions or unjust legislation have sealed.

7. The Complete Claudine by Colette (France) tr. Antonia White (French)

– Claudine at school, in Paris, in Marriage and with her friend Annie, the unfettered, exuberant joys of teenage freedom vs the the slap in the face of an approaching adult, urban world.

“a novel that anticipates by ninety years, the contemporary fashion for wry, first-person narratives by single, thirty something career women. Its heroine examines her addictions to men with amused detachment, and flirts, alternately, with abstinence and temptation. Is there love without complete submission and loss of identity? Is freedom really worth the loneliness that pays for it? These are Colette’s abiding questions.”

8. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt) tr. Sherif Hetata (Arabic)

– an Egyptian woman is imprisoned for killing a man, soon to be executed. Nawal El Saadawi gains permission to interview before her death. A spell-binding tale of lifelong oppression & desire to be free of it, told with compassionate sensitivity.

The idea of ‘prison’ had always exercised a special attraction for me. I often wondered what prison life was like, especially for women. Perhaps this was because I lived in a country where many prominent intellectuals around me had spent various periods of time in prison for ‘political offences’. My husband had been imprisoned for thirteen years as a ‘political detainee’.

9. Human Acts by Han Kang (South Korea) tr. Deborah Smith (Korean)

– the Gwangju massacre in South Korea in 1980 witnessed from multiple perspectives, an attempt at understanding humanity.

At night, though, when all the grown-ups were all sitting in the kitchen and I knew I’d be safe…I crept into the main room in search of that book. I scanned every spine until finally I got to the top shelf; I still remember the moment when my gaze fell upon the mutilated face of a young woman, her features slashed through with a bayonet. Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke. Something that, until then, I hadn’t even realised was there.

10. The Wall by Marlen Haushofer (Austria) tr. Shaun Whiteside (German)

– living behind an invisible wall, alone, with a few animals, a stream of consciousness narrative of one woman’s courageous survival, using the feminine instinct .

The Wall is a muted critique of consumerism and a delicate poem in praise of nature, a challenge to violence and patriarchy, an encomium to peace and life-giving femininity, a meditation on time, an observation on the differences and similarities between animals and humans, and a timeless minor masterpiece.

If you have a top 5 or 10 to share, or even just one favourite, share it on twitter or instagram using the hashtag below:

35 thoughts on “Top 10 Books by Women In Translation #100BestWIT

  1. The Bridge of Beyond is an all-time favourite of mine too! I enjoyed reading your review just now. What a magical book. Now that I know you have good taste, I better check out the rest of these😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s interesting to see several titles from countries outside Europe on your list; you’ve done well to highlight writers from the Caribbean, the Middle East and Africa. My own reading of women in translation is almost exclusively from Europe or Japan, so it’s nice to find so many other options here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for noticing that Jacqui, I hadn’t really thought about the geographic coverage, but it’s true I love Caribbean fiction by women, whether it’s translated (usually from French) or written in English and the same for certain African literature (some of which is translated). I do enjoy the European novellas and haven’t read much at all from Japan, I feel drawn towards parts unknown, as if travelling there as well as reading. 🙂


  3. Tales from the Heart sounds extraordinary! I don’t know her fiction but I’d love to read the essays of her life. Thanks for spreading the word about the top 10 nominations too! I hadn’t heard of it yet, what a great idea.


  4. I love how diverse your list is, Claire! The Wall is such a great book, it is good to see it on your list. And I am particularly curious to read Disoriental & So Long A Letter – maybe I should add those to my WITMonth TBR… 🙂


  5. I have only read one of the books on your list, and it also made mine. So far I have only tweeted my list, but I am planning to put it on the blog too in the next few days.


    • Oh, great, I just checked and I see your post is up! I’m going to link it here: Ali’s Top 10 Books by Women in Tranlsation

      The Bridge of Beyond, yay! Such a wonderful read, and I like that you have Farewell My Orange there too. I hope to read Iza’s Ballad soon; I could easily have added The Days of Abandonment to my list, such a powerful, raw novel that I read one summer, stiflingly good!

      Oh and that Colette book, I want to read that, I was so intrigued about her free-spirited mother, a kind of background, unorthodox influence in her life, I’m glad to know this one exists!


  6. I always look forward to what you’ll bring my way during WIT month. I thought ‘Woman at Point Zero’ was pretty powerful. I would certainly add ‘Go, Went, Gone’ by Jenny Erpenbech as one of my top picks. Then there’s Natalia Ginzburg, who is having something of a revival, all the more pronounced in light of her having written at a time when the male voice ruled Italian literature. I can’t get enough of her almost in the way I couldn’t get enough of Elena Ferrante.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for mentioning Natalia Ginzburg, I just saw today that Jacqui has reviewed her Voices in the Evening, is that one you’ve read? Which novels that you’ve read do you recommend?

      I’m a little wary of Erpenbeck, having not got on at all with Visitation, but Go, Went, Gone certainly has had some excellent reviews.

      Thank you for sharing your latest favourite Deborah, I look forward to your recommendations too, happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Re: Natalia Ginzburg, I’ve read ‘The Little Virtues’ — essays that are wonderful and bring insight to her fiction, of which I’ve read ‘Happiness, as Such’ and ‘The Dry Heart.’ Recent articles in the New Yorker and New York Review of Books suggest that ‘Family Lexicon’ is her ‘masterpiece. Will let you know if I agree, once I read it.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Really pleased to see Zuleikha on this list – I have a library copy in my TBR pile at the moment, so looking forward to it even more now! And So Long A Letter is a masterpiece.


    • Yes, please do a list of your Top 10 and share it, it’s one of the best things about reading women in translation in August, is knowing what other people’s favourites are, that highlights for me, books I’ll try to acquire for the year ahead! And this is such a good idea to share our top 10 just ahead of #WITMonth.


  8. I feel ignorant having not come across any of these, although I have heard of a few so there is hope for me yet. I need to add more women to my list of books, Didion, Kang, and yet more Nemirovsky are on the TBR pile so that is a start. Looking forward to reading these recommendations at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure you’ve heard of them, even if it’s only reading a few reviews, the literary equivalent of shop browsing. So that when you do spot them, you’ll awaken that sense that says, pick me up, read me. I hope you might read one or two WIT during August from your TBR!

      Liked by 1 person

      • If I get time to read anything it will be welcome. I started a new job and am going through intensive training, and quite naturally am retaining little so August will be stress month but I will see what I can do.


  9. Beautiful list, Claire! I loved Marlen Haushofer’s ‘The Wall’ – so happy to see it on your list! I also loved ‘Woman at Point Zero’ – such a powerful book! I remember your review of ‘Zuleikha’ – it was so thought-provoking. I want to read the Claudine series. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on your favourite WIT books, Claire! Loved your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Top Five Translated Fiction #StayAtHome – Word by Word

  11. Pingback: Top Five Translated Fiction – Word by Word

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