Making a List: Women in Translation Month

WITMonth15August, for the second year in a row, is  Women in Translation Month. Last year I read and I discovered some wonderful books, and so I couldn’t let it pass me by this year.

I never can resist making a list, and so I looked around the house and I pulled together a lovely pile of possibilities. Each and every one is calling me. I can’t possibly read them all but I will read some of them.

Here they all are:

The smallest book in my collection

Lavinia by George Sand – translated by George Burnham Ives

“Sir Lionel Bridgemont, a wealthy young English traveller, and Lavinia Buenafè, a young well-born Portuguese girl, had thought, ten years ago when they were betrothed, that their love was forever. But Lionel abandoned her, miserably, breaking her heart. He has continued his wandering life; she has married a wealthy nobleman and become a widow. Now the news of his forthcoming marriage reaches her, and she writes to him to suggest that they return each other’s letters. Considering that they are, for the first time since they parted, physically so close to one another, high up in the Pyrenees, they cautiously decide to meet.”

The book from my wishlist that appeared in the Oxfam shop last weekend

The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt – translated by Laura Wilkinson

“It is the dead of night. Sixteen-year-old Tiuri must spend hours locked in a chapel in silent contemplation if he is to be knighted the next day. But, as he waits by the light of a flickering candle, he hears a knock at the door and a voice desperately asking for help. A secret letter must be delivered to King Unauwen across the Great Mountains – a letter upon which the fate of the entire kingdom depends. “

The book that was recommended by a friend a long time ago

The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini – translated by Dick Kitto and Elizabeth Spottiswood

“Set in the mid-18th century, this novel tells of the noble Ucria family, seen through the eyes of the deaf-mute Duchess Marianna. Married at 13 to her uncle, Marianna searches for fulfilment in a society in which women face either endless childbearing or a life of renunciation within a convent.”

The Book that I’d almost forgotten I had

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto – translated by Michael Emmerich

“Yoshimoto spins the stories of three young women bewitched into a spiritual sleep. One, mourning for a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by a woman against whom she was once pitted in a love triangle. Sly and mystical as a ghost story, with a touch of Kafkaesque surrealism, Asleep is an enchanting new book from one of the best writers in contemporary international fiction.”

The book that supports my theory that there’s a Virago Modern classic for every reading theme

Deborah by Esther Kreitman – translated by Maurice Carr

“Deborah is an autobiographical novel. It takes us back with cinematic immediacy to the world of Polish Jewry in the middle of Europe well before the First World War. Deborah is the daughter of a feckless, unworldy rabbi, Reb Avram Ber, and his wife, Raizela. She is fourteen years old, sensitive, intelligent and romantic; but the two things she longs for are denied her: education and marriage to the man of her choice – a dark-eyed Marzist she meets in Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto. For Deborah is doubly oppressed: there is literally no hope for women in this society if the established order is not accepted. Propelled into an arranged marriage, she escapes her family and her country on the eve of the First World War to dream a terrifying dream of another – a portent of the horror that lay in store for millions of Jews in the decades to follow.

The volume of short stories by a beloved author

Travelling Light by Tove Jansson – translated by Sylvester Mazzarella

“This translated collection of stories brilliantly evokes the shifting scenes and restlessness of summer. A professor arrives in a beautiful Spanish village only to find that her host has left and she must cope with fractious neighbours alone; a holiday on a Finnish island is thrown into disarray when a disconcerting young boy arrives.

The book that I held over from last year’s Women in Translation Month

Manja by Anna Grymer – translated by Kate Phillips

“The story of five children and their loyal and resolute friendship, MANJA opens with the five nights on which they are conceived. They gradually meet and, only partly understanding, are drawn into the destinies of their parents: the left-wing activist to imprisonment and flight, the Nazi from poverty and humiliation to power, the doctor forced to defend his humanitarian stance, the financier in increasingly desperate attempts at assimilation – and the Jewish parents of Manja herself.”

The memoirs of a 19th century traveller and social reformer

Peregrinations of a Pariah by Flora Tristan – translated by Jean Hawkes

“A pioneer of Latin American feminist movement and instrumental in the growth of Utopian Socialism, the life of Peruvian-French social activist Flora Tristan took her on a global journey of the sort seldom undertaken by lone women of the time. Undaunted, Flora took it upon herself to raise and defend the cause of the oppressed and challenge the injustice she saw, documenting and publishing her travels and observations in Peregrinations of a Pariah .”

The historical novel

The World is not Enough by Zoe Oldenbourg – translated by Willard R Trask

The World Is Not Enough re-creates medieval life. This first of Zoe Oldenbourg’s acclaimed historical novels chronicles the lives of a remarkable gallery of people in twelfth century France and the catastrophic upheavals of the Second and Third Crusades.”

The book by an author I’m sure I can remember my grandmother reading

In The City of Gold and Silver by Kenize Moraud – translated by Anne Mathai

“Little known, little remembered, this is the story of Begum Hazrat Mahal. The soul of the 1857 War of Independence; orphaned poetess of the Chowk; captivating wife of King Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh; the Rani of Jhansi’s contemporary and soul sister; freedom fighter and misunderstood mother; illicit lover and intrepid war leader – she risked everything only to face the greatest betrayal of all. This is a gripping tale behind the scenes of the first war of independence fought by Indians against the British.”

The big book the I started, loved, but drifted away from

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – translated by Tiina Nunnally

“A landmark among historical novels, Kristin Lavransdatter is part of the body of work that won Sigrid Undset the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. This trilogy of more than one thousand pages follows its title character through her life in fourteenth-century Norway. It is a novel full of big and dramatic happenings: romantic intrigues, political schemes, and spiritual debates. It is also a novel about one woman’s life, set against a richly detailed historical backdrop.”

The book of letters that Audrey made me order from the library

Letters of Madame de Sevigne to her Daughter and her Friends – translated by Violet Hammersley

“One of the world’s greatest correspondents, Madame de Sévigné (1626-96) paints an extraordinarily vivid picture of France at the time of Louis XIV, in eloquent letters written throughout her life to family and friends. A significant figure in French society and literary circles, whose close friends included Madame de La Fayette and La Rochefoucauld, she reflected on both significant historical events and personal issues, and in this selection of the most significant letters, spanning almost fifty years, she is by turns humorous and melancholic, profound and superficial. Whether describing the new plays of Racine and Molière, speculating on court scandals – including the intrigues of the King’s mistresses – or relating her own family concerns, Madame de Sévigné provides throughout an intriguing portrait of the lost age of Le Roi Soleil.”

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And that’s it – a selection of books to chose from – for the next month and for the months beyond.

I’m sorry for the lack of pictures, but WordPress doesn’t seem to like me tonight.

Now tell me:

Do you have any plans for reading women in translation?

Do you have a particular favourite book or author to recommend?

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25 thoughts on “Making a List: Women in Translation Month

  1. What a fascinating set of books! And I’ve now realised that I can happily read lots of Tove Jansson and fit in with this reading month. I’m notoriously hopeless at challenges but I’ll try to read some Jansson, Silvina Ocampo and Simone de Beauvoir.


  2. I saw your photo via Twitter, and recognized your edition of Kristin Lavransdatter. I don’t read enough in translation. You have so many intriguing choices here! particularly Deborah and Bamboo.


    1. I knew I had a few possibilities on my shelves, but I was amazed at what I found when I checked carefully. I don’t read enough in translation either, so I’m glad to have the themed month to give me a push.


  3. I love how you’ve structured your list of possibilities for WITMonth, and what an interesting selection of books! Banana Yoshimoto is one of those writers I’d like to try at some stage, but I don’t have any of her books on my shelves right now. Ditto George Sand.

    I have a few books lined up for WITMonth: La Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe and a couple of French novels. Looking forward to following your reviews!


  4. Looks like you have some really interesting choices. I haven’t read any of them so can’t recommend where to start, though I do particularly like the sound of Madame de Sevigne’s letters. I hope you enjoy this event 🙂


  5. Great list! I saw your picture on Twitter, too. I wouldn’t know where to start; I’d want to read them all. I have 4 books lined up for WITMonth, but I just got some books by Slavenka Drakulic, a Croatian writer, and I’d like to start reading them right away. I need more hours in the day, too!


  6. Ooh – Banana Yoshimoto, I really love her stuff. I must take a look at my Virago and Persephone line-up for August and see whether anything fits …


  7. I hope you enjoy the City of Gold and Silver ….The number of times I have started on Kristin Lavransdatter and not gone beyond first few pages are beyond count! I will try to get hold of Deborah and The World is not Enough; they seem very intersting!


    1. I’ve only started Kristin Lavransdatter the once and that was years ago, so it’s definitely time for a serious attempt. But The City of Gold and Silver will come first, because the library will want it back. I loved Farewell Princess – many years ago – so it was lovely to spot the author back in print, and my hopes are high.

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  8. That’s an interesting list. I haven’t read any of those but I love the sound of The World is Not Enough and I’m definitely planning to read Kristin Lavransdatter one day. Most of the books I can think of that I’ve read in translation have been by male authors, which I suppose illustrates the importance of events like this. Maybe I can get organised and join in next year!


    1. I picked up The World is Not Enough simply because it looked like a great historical novel, and my hopes are high. There do seem to be more male authors available in translation – pretty much all of Dumas, Zola and Balzac is out there, but only a few of George Sand’s many books.


  9. Manja is amazing really hope you love it. I would like to join in with this but I may not manage – I am already thinking of doing many Viragos for LT’S AVAA.


  10. I’m hoping to join in with Muriel Barbery’s The Gourmet – and maybe will sneak in a Tove Jansson re-read! Or even break open Sun City, which I’ve had unread for ages, as I can’t bear the thought of having read all the Jansson available to me.

    Oh, and with Sigrid Undset – I read Images in a Mirror, as the length of Kristin L put me off. I don’t remember anything at all about Images in a Mirror, though…


  11. I love how you organized your post and your choices. I considered The Letter for the King and Kristin Lavransdatter as well. In fact, seeing the former on your stack is making me wish that I had requested it from the library. Oh well, maybe in September. I have never heard of In the City of Gold and Silver – it sounds so intriguing! 🙂


  12. What a wonderful list! So many sound tempting; I’ll have to see which ones are available at my library tomorrow. 🙂 I didn’t realise it was women in translation month, but now I definitely want to participate.


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