Women in Translation: It’s a readathon, it’s a month, it’s a thing

I’ve been vaguely aware for a few years that Women in Translation Month, or #WITmonth, happens in August. And I have read many impassioned posts from #WITmonth founder and blogger Meytal Radzinski, aka Bibliobio, about the sorry state of gender representation in translated lit. Fewer works by women are translated into English, and even fewer of the women who do get translated are reviewed in major publications. That second stat could kickstart a vicious cycle: fewer reviews means less attention which means lower sales which means publishers take fewer chances translating women, which leads back to fewer women translated… that’s simplified, but you get the picture.

But it took a booktube readathon, of all things, to spur me into action. Well, “action” – I made a list! But I will eventually choose a book and participate in this readathon. That’s a few steps up from slacktivism, right?

The Women in Translation Readathon takes place in the last week of August, and includes a few prompts. I’m going to tackle #4:

1. Read something that is not a novel
2. Read a book about childhood
3. Read a book with red on the cover
4. Read a text translated from a language that you haven’t read a text translated from before

First, I had to make a list of languages that I have read a text translated from:

  1. French (bien sûr, too many to mention)
  2. Russian (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Chekov, Teffi (psst – she’s 40% off at NYRB right now), etc.)
  3. Spanish (Marquez, Allende, and many more)
  4. German (Mann, Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada)
  5. Chinese (My new fav Eileen Chang, Wu Ming-Yi, Liu Cixin)
  6. Korean (just Han Kang, because I’m basic)
  7. Greek (The Odyssey counts, right?)
  8. Japanese (Murakami and a few others)
  9. Polish (Tokarczuk, this year’s Man Booker International winner)
  10. Hungarian (Krasznahorkai)
  11. Arabic (Frankenstein in Baghdad)
  12. Portugese (Ondjaki)
  13. Hebrew (Grossman, last year’s Man Booker International winner)
  14. Italian (Ferrente, again, basic)
  15. Czech (Yes, Kundera)

This list was longer than I though. Once you get away from French, Russian, Spanish, German, and Japanese, it gets harder to find books, or at least, books I’m familiar with and want to read. So, I turned to Twitter. And man, did Translation Twitter come through!

Here’s a list of books that were recommended to me, based on this one tweet. Not all the books will work for this readathon, since I didn’t list the full 15 languages that are ineligible, but it’s a great starter pack for books by women in translation from non-standard languages. Books are in alphabetical order by language, then author, and those marked with an asterisk were recommended more than once.

  1. Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk (Afrikaans)
  2. The Others by Seba Al-Herz (aka Siba Al-Heraz) (Arabic)
  3. The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (Arabic)
  4. Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh (Arabic)*
  5. Brother In Ice by Alicia Kopf (Catalan)
  6. Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda (Catalan)*
  7. Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin (Chinese)
  8. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (Danish)
  9. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse (Dutch)
  10. Purge by Sofi Oksanen (Finnish)*
  11. What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou (Greek)
  12. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan (Hebrew)
  13. Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk (Inuttitut )
  14. Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (Latvian)*
  15. Eve Out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi (Mauritius French)
  16. The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti Skolmsvold (Norwegian)
  17. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (Norwegian)
  18. Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg (Polish)
  19. Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta by Aglaja Veteranyi (Romanian)
  20. The Gravity of Love by Sara Stridsberg (Swedish)
  21. Brett Easton Ellis and Other Dogs by Lina Wolff (Swedish)
  22. Novel Without a Name by Dương Thu Hương (Vietnamese)
  23. The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (Welsh)
  24. Arguing With the Storm, edited by Rhea Tregebov (Yiddish)

I’m a bit overwhelmed! You’ll have to tune in during the Women in Translation Readathon to find out what I choose. I’m leaning towards the Dorthe Nors, which was already on my TBR. Which would you choose?




  1. Rebecca Foster

    That’s quite a list of recommendations you got! Swallowing Mercury is fantastic — I read it for Novellas in November last year. I’ve got some short fiction by a Colombian author to read for this #WITmonth, and if I get time also a Ferrante novella and a nonfiction work by a Chinese author.

  2. bookbii

    Well I would recommend The Waiting Years or Masks by Fumiko Enchi (Japanese), neither of which are on your list 🙂 and Kristen Lavransdatter, of course, but you’d need much more than a week to get through that epic! Good luck, whichever you pick.

  3. Adam @ Roof Beam Reader

    I’ve been following along with WIT on Twitter and in my blog feed. It seems very popular this year, at least among the people with whom I’m connected, and I’ve been finding the whole thing very exciting! I don’t read nearly enough translated literature, let alone by women, so having this on my radar regularly for a month is fantastic (adding to the ever-growing TBR.)

  4. Ceri

    Fantastic recommendations and I’m happy to see some Welsh lit on the list too. 🙂 I think most people think Welsh writing only goes as far as Dylan Thomas but there is such a plethora of literature – it’s just rarely translated into English.

    • lauratfrey

      I loved Flights! I read it during the Man Booker International. I’ve got an ARC of her new one and will probably start it this month too, it just won’t work for my challenge because I’ve already read one trans. from Polish!

  5. Kristilyn

    I love this list! I’ve read Dutch, Swedish, German, Polish, Japanese, Greek, Korean, Inuktitut, French, and Spanish – which is more than I thought I’ve read. lol. I’m bookmarking this to see if I can find some. The only ones I own and need to read are Ru by Kim Thuy and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – both French.

    • lauratfrey

      I will get to the Hedgehog one day – it’s on the 1001 list. I’ll let you know which one I choose for this readalong, I’m pretty much down to either Purge or Soviet Milk.

  6. james b chester

    For what it’s worth, I’ve read two from your suggested list and enjoyed them both. In a Dark Wood Wondering fit right in with the medieval fantasy stuff I was reading at the time I read it. It’s not fantasy at all, though. And I liked Eva Out of Her Ruins. It was not at all what I thought it would be, but I liked it quite a bit.

  7. Claire 'Word by Word'

    Many works in translation are novellas, here in France, they read loads of short books and it makes me wonder why so many novels in English are so long.

    So I’m going to recommend a novella translated from French, one of my favourites, it also an epistolary novella, a letter from a woman to her friend on the eve before she is coming to visit, it’s a kind of lame,t and something of a classic now.

    So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ.

  8. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer 2019 | Reading in Bed

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