A reading list of some of our favourite women in translation.
A reading list of some of our favourite women in translation.
From the blistering romance in All About Sarah to the Orwellian dystopia in The Memory Police, these novels explore migration, identity, relationships and power from a wide range of perspectives, perfect for expanding your reading this summer.
The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen Epstein (2020)
You’ve grown roots, you’re gathering moss. You’re desperate to escape your boring life teaching English in Jakarta, to go out and see the world. So you make a Faustian pact with a devil, who gives you a gift, and a warning. A pair of red shoes to take you wherever you want to go. The Wandering is a novel about the highs and lows of global nomadism, the politics and privileges of travel and desire, and the freedoms and limitations of the choices we make. It’s a reminder that borders are real, and a playful experiment that turns the traditional adventure story on its head.
All About Sarah by Pauline Delabroy-Allard, translated by Adriana Hunter (2020)
An intoxicating and evocative novel about the all-consuming love affair between two women in Paris and the ruin it leaves in its wake. A thirty-something teacher drifts through her life in Paris, raising a daughter on her own, lonely in spite of a new boyfriend. Then one night, at a friend’s tepid New Year’s Eve party, Sarah enters the scene like a tornado. A talented young violinist, she is loud, vivacious, appealingly unkempt in a world where everyone seems preoccupied with being ‘just so’. It is the beginning of an intense relationship, tender and violent, that will upend both women’s lives. A literary sensation in France, All About Sarah perfectly captures the pull of a desire so strong that it blinds us to everything else.
The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette (2020)
Suleima and Nassim first meet in their therapist’s tiny waiting room in Damascus. In the city’s atmosphere of surveillance and anxiety, they begin a tenuous relationship. Some years later, after civil war breaks out, Nassim leaves Syria for Germany. He doesn’t ask Suleima to come with him; instead, from thousands of miles away, he sends her a book he has written, a novel about a woman whose experiences are very close to her own. As Suleima reads, her past overwhelms her. Time begins to fold in on itself, her sense of identity unravels, she has no idea what to trust: Naseem’s pages, her own memory, both – or neither? As she attempts to solve the mystery of her lover’s manuscript, she must confront what has happened to her family, to her country, and start to make sense of who she is and what she has become. Told with captivating immediacy, The Frightened Ones is an intimate reckoning of living with fear from an electrifying new voice.
Segu by Maryse Condé, translated by Barbara Bray (2017)
Segu is an epic novel of family, treachery, rivalry, religious fervour and the turbulent fate of a royal African dynasty. It is 1797 and the African kingdom of Segu, born of blood and violence, is at the height of its power. Yet Dousika Traore, the king’s most trusted advisor, feels nothing but dread. Change is coming. From the East, a new religion, Islam. From the West, the slave trade. These forces will tear his country, his village and the lives of his beloved sons apart, in Maryse Condé’s glittering epic. Segu was the winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature 2018.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder (2020)
On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses – until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss, The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language. Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020, The Memory Police is an enthralling Orwellian novel about the terrors of state surveillance.
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith (2020)
A hypnotic, disorienting story of parallel lives unfolding over a day and a night in the sweltering heat of Seoul’s summer. Untold Night and Day is a high-wire feat of storytelling that explores the possibility of worlds beyond the one we see and feel. For two years, twenty-eight-year-old Kim Ayami has worked at Seoul’s only audio theatre for the blind. But now the theatre is shutting down and Ayami’s future is uncertain. Her last shift completed and the theatre closed for good, Ayami walks the streets of the city with her former boss late into the night. Together they search for a mutual friend who has disappeared. The following day, at the request of that same friend, Ayami acts as a guide for a detective novelist visiting from abroad. But in the inescapable, all-consuming heat of Seoul at the height of the summer, order gives way to chaos, the edges of reality start to fray, and the past intrudes on the present in increasingly disruptive ways.
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead (2019)
A woman searches Buenos Aires for the paintings that are her inspiration and her refuge. As a young mother with a complicated family, the protagonist’s life is sometimes overwhelming. But among the canvases, often little-known works in quiet rooms, she finds clarity and a sense of who she is. Blending stories of fascinating episodes in art history – from El Greco visiting the Sistine Chapel and being horrified by Michelangelo’s bodies, to Picasso organising a cruel banquet in Rousseau’s honour – this novel explores the mysterious connections between art and the perceiver.
No matter who you are, 2020 hasn’t been easy; so this Christmas we’re seeking solace in books that bring us hope. From life-affirming memoirs to bold manifestos and moving meditations on nature, these stories are the perfect gift to remind a loved one (or yourself) that there are better days around the corner.
From Keanu Reeves to the Brontës, football to biscuits, there is something for every reader in our round-up of the best books to go under your tree this year.