Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 12, 2015

Women in Translation, suggestions from the archive

Inspired by Stu from Winston’s Dad who has just posted Five from The Archive to support Women in Translation month (#WITmonth), I’ve looked back through my archive and have some suggestions too…

There are reviews of 32 translated books written by women on my blog, but whereas I am relaxed about gender issues in my general reading, that’s not the case for translated fiction.  I don’t consciously read to maintain gender balance but I monitor it and make the results transparent using WordPress categories (see the Reviews category).  Over time, the ratio for my general reading hovers around 45:55 (female:male) and I’m comfortable with that because the results will always be slightly skewed by my love of the classics and by the type of non-fiction that I read.  But when it comes to translated fiction, even if I ignore the C19th classics that skew the results further (reading French classics including the entire 20 novel Rougon-Macquart cycle by Zola, and reading so many of the great Russians before my trip to Russia in 2012), the ratio is still 1:3 in favour of male authors in translation.

From what I’ve read around the web, this is consistent with the proposition that there’s not a lot to choose from.  For a variety of reasons, it is said, women authors tend to be translated and marketed less than male authors.  One obvious reason is that historically women have won fewer of the major prizes: if you plan to read all the Nobel Prize winners, as I do, you will end up reading lots more male authors in translation.  The same goes for reading the great classics from Europe, because (as with British classics) most of them were written by men.  It would be daft to set aside reading these wonderful books because of the gender of their author and I don’t intend to do that.

But when it comes to contemporary authors, the picture is less clear, and I don’t have time or inclination to explore it.  What I offer here is some suggestions to encourage you to check out the best of what I’ve discovered of women in translation:

Nobel Prize winners:

From Asia:

From the Middle East:

And finally, my favourites from Europe and Russia:

Happy reading!


Responses

  1. Gosh, I’ve not read any of those – and many of them sound very interesting. I am fairly new to translated fiction. Of the 25 books I have read (only 25, isn’t that shameful!), 12 of them are by female authors. It’s not something I’d looked at before… My stats from librarything which include both read and to be read books – show I favour women authors – about 53% to 47% so it’s a pretty close thing…

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    • Oh, I don’t think it’s shameful, reading isn’t meant to be a tick-this-category kind of adventure IMO. But I’d be very interested in any suggestions you can make from your LT list, because I suspect that half the battle is finding out about what’s good. Any time you want to write a guest review, you just let me know!

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      • PS Are we friends at Library Thing? I just checked my friends list and you’re not there. (Not that I use LT much, but still…!!)

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        • No, but we are on GR. I’ll try and find you on LT.

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          • I”m anzlitlovers there, but how do you find friends at LT? What’s the system?

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      • I might just do that one day, thank you. I also have my books on Goodreads (I thought I wasn’t as up to date on as on Librarything but obviously I was wrong as I have 30 books tagged as translated on GR!) I have to say I am a big fan of Peirene Press – I have loved the books I have read so far. It is difficult to narrow down favourites but it would include Stone in a Landslide, Beside the Sea, The Book of Fate and Suite Francaise.

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        • I’ve read Beside the Sea… I think I’ve accidentally not tagged it and so I’ve left it out! I’d better fix that right away.
          And Suite Francaise, of course. I read that in my pre-blogging days, and I’ve never forgotten it.
          PS Yes, I had forgotten to tag it as Translated Fiction. So that makes 32 translated books written by women, not 31. I wonder if I’ve forgotten any others…

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          • I found you on LT, it took me a while to figure out how! I keep both LT and GR up to date and I’m gradually adding my backlist to GR (the export/import function didn’t work). I find them both good for different reasons. I hate that I can’t have a wishlist on GR without adding the book to my shelves. I find LT easier to use for monitoring what I have on my shelves and GR because it is easier to discuss books, find out what others are reading and so on.

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            • Yes, you can have a wishlist. I have quite a few. What you do is add a wishlist shelf, and then go to Edit your Shelves and make it ‘Exclusive”. That way it’s not on your TBR or your Read shelf, but you can still ‘edit your review’ by adding links to reviews that made you want to read it, in your ‘private notes’.

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          • Wonderful, thanks for that, it might just tip me over the edge to just use GR. :)

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        • PS Sharon, can you please give me the author of The Book of Fate? There are so many books with this title at Goodreads, I can’t find it.

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          • Parinoush Saniee.

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            • Thanks, I’ve found it at GR and added it to my wishlist:)

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              • I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  2. I should count mine up not sure it is as even as yours lisa but feel I must reviewed at least hundred woman in translation

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    • The way I did it, Stu, (which means I don’t have to count them up) was to set up a new category called Translations (which you don’t need to do because all yours are translations) and then to set up two extra categories: women authors in translation & male authors in translation. Then using Quick Edit I just assigned them to either male or female.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I may go back at some point and subdivide it

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        • It will be more work for you, Stu, because you have done so many translations, but it will be a wonderful resource once it’s done.

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  3. I loved the way the stories in Yoko Owaga’s Revenge linked together – all those recurring motifs, characters and locations, very clever. The Kawakami (also published as Strange Weather in Tokyo) was another favourite.

    I keep meaning to read Herta Muller…one day!

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    • *chuckle* I’ve got so many books in that ‘meaning to read’ category, Jacqui!
      Are you going to do a ‘suggestions from the archive’ post as well?

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      • I might do if I have time, but off the top of my head I would recommend Nada by Carmet Laforet (tr. Edith Grossman) and Transit by Anna Seghers (tr. Margo Bettauer Dembo). Also, I’ve just reviewed Louise de Vilmorin’s Madame de ___ (tr. Duff Cooper), which I absolutely loved.

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        • On to my wishlist, thanks Jacqui!

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  4. My discovery of the year has been a woman in translation, Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen. She joins my perennial favorites Elena Ferrante and Irene Nemirovsky.

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    • I’ve checked out Oksanen at Goodreads – she’s written quite a few books and they all look interesting, I’ve added her to my wishlist.
      (Later, the same day)
      Correction: I’ve just *bought Purge* and When the Doves Disappeared – they were waiting for me at my local bookshop – how could I resist!

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  5. lots of new names here for me, how exciting! I have no idea what the ratio would be in the last few years since I’ve read from a broader range of countries

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  6. Another issue worth looking at is the gender of the translator. It’s important work and I wonder if it runs up against the same gender bias issues that we are finding in other areas of literature. My reading of translated works is pretty small but I’m going to look at how it falls out.

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    • Oh, you could explore all kinds of issues, but I think the most important one is how books are chosen. If you read Will Firth’s article (https://anzlitlovers.com/2013/04/28/the-perils-of-transation-guest-post-by-will-firth/) he says that his key client accepts his suggestions for titles to translate. That makes sense, Lily and I talked about that at the BWF on Saturday, if someone is going to translate a book they probably have to read it 5-6 times and they’re only going to want to do that with books that they like. But it does mean that the translator’s preferences may result in, say, more crime novels being translated, or more romances, and maybe less literary fiction, because that’s a minority preference for most readers.
      I know one thing: on Twitter where I follow Stu, there’s a regular hashtag #NameTheTranslator because so often they’re not acknowledged. On Goodreads I often have to add the translator’s name to the records, and most often people spruiking their reviews on Twitter or Facebook don’t bother to #NameTheTranslator either. It must be galling to spend months of your life making someone’s novel available to English readers, only to have them ignore all the work that’s done for the translation!

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      • Yes, I realised a couple of months into my blog that I hadn’t named the translator (but back then, I didn’t record bibliographic details for the books so I guess that wasn’t surprising). I soon rectified that because as you say it is a big job and deserves recognition.

        I’ve read a few articles on translation, including by Linda Jaivin and Edith Grossman. It’s such a fascinating (mine)field, I love to read what translators think about their job. It’s interesting to compare translations of those books that have been translated multiple times. Just comparing first paragraphs can be really enlightening about the translator’s approach.

        I’m fascinated by authors like Haruki Murakami who translates English books to Japanese, and yet has someone else translate his work into English.

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        • I went to a symposium on translation here in Melbourne and heard Linda Javin talk about translating Chinese. It was fascinating! (That reminds me, I must read her book, The Empress Lover, I’ve had it since it was first published). And Edith Grossman, what a star – I’ve just finished reading her translation of The Night of Time, and it’s so beautiful it’s enough to make you weep.
          So true about comparing translations – and IMO nothing shows it more than comparing translations of the classics. I have just enough French to be able to compare the original Zolas with the earliest translations of his work, and with some that have been re-translated just recently. It’s not just censorship issues, it’s the style. I’m reading George Sand’s Indiana in French at the moment (don’t hold your breath waiting for a review, it will take me months to read it) but it is a joy to read it in the original…
          But of course even the best of polyglots can’t be fluent in all the languages we want to read, so three cheers for the army of translators around the world, and to the unsung heroes who fund it, that’s what I say!

          Liked by 1 person


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