As of today, it’s still Women in Translation Month! Yes, I know, there are months named for everything and often no one knows why they exist. But I can point you towards this one’s origins. It was founded by Meytal Radzinski, a book blogger who started collecting data on translated books and found that there were significantly fewer women being translated than men.
While some people have interpreted it differently, the original purpose of WITMonth was to focus on women authors being translated (regardless of the translator’s gender), not on women themselves involved in the field of translation.
I think this is important to acknowledge because it’s easy to miss the very point of visibility initiatives like this one by lumping them all into the same pool. I’m prone to getting steamed about well-meaning but muddied gender politics, and it may be for this reason that I feel that when the original intention behind an effort like this is strong, it’s all the more important to recognize it for what it actually is.
If we’re already going to aim to read translations of work by women writers, of course it’s a fine thing to aim to read books that are also translated by women. But as Radzinski recently pointed out on her blog, opening things up to books by male authors who are translated by women risks overshadowing or erasing the entire original point.
That all out of the way, if you’re still searching for books to read by women in translation this month, or you want to jump in on the fun now, here are a few ideas:
Columbia University Press is offering excerpts from several female-authored, translated titles here, including City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, translated from the Russian by Nora Seligman Favorov, which is available this August. I have a review of this book out on Education & Culture, which you can read here.
Words Without Borders is recommending 31 woman-authored books in translation (some of which are listed with links to reviews or excerpts), including Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan. Having read the original and the translation, I think this is an especially intriguing one to read if you’re interested in the mechanics of language and translation, as neither of the main characters are identified by gender—which can lead to an exploration of why this is such a challenge and constraint in both English and French.
Scott Esposito, whose Twitter account I check regularly for translation news and recommendations, has a list of 28 recommended female authors to read this month up on Conversational Reading that includes Anne Garréta as well as influential Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, a writer who seems to be getting a lot of attention this month in general. I have yet to read a full work by her, a fact that brings me a little guilt because I was given her name years ago, scrawled on a piece of paper by a girl I was training in the same kind of dull work environment described in Esposito’s recent essay on Lit Hub about discovering Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H.
Radzinski’s own blog has been featuring daily updates during Women in Translation Month, including thoughts on books she’s reading. She’s also sharing plans for an incredibly ambitious, long-term “reading the world” challenge, which involves reading a book from every country in the world by a woman writer that was originally written in a language other than English.
Here’s a list apparently compiled by Lillie Langtry that was posted on Radzinski’s blog last year at the end of WITMonth. While you obviously won’t find anything from within the last year here, it’s still a very intriguing list. It includes The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift, translated by Jamie Bulloch, a book from the lovely Peirene Press that I literally have sitting on a shelf and just haven’t gotten around to reading yet.
For a look at another read from Peirene, you can check out my review of Her Father’s Daughter by Marie Sizun (translated by Adriana Hunter).
WITMonth can serve as a reminder that you need to actively seek out books in translation by women all year round if you don’t want to miss out. As with encouraging people to seek out translations in general, this isn’t a matter of literary broccoli, at least I don’t think it should be. I prefer to think of WITMonth as a chance to share and trade tips on procuring something that’s less likely to just fall into your lap.
In other news, this blog will in the relatively near future be moving from WordPress.com to a self-hosted site. The website address (LitAllOver.com) will remain the same, but you won’t be able to follow me through WordPress.com’s reader anymore and there might be a brief interruption in services (though hopefully not). The trade-off is that I hope to do much more with this site in the future, and to make it as awesome as I have always wanted it to be.