That women are remarkably underrepresented in almost every sector of life is a sobering fact yet to be addressed in any country across the world. Film, television, banking, politics; the push against poor gender representation has been both public and provocative. You probably know about these issues, and you'll also probably know that women are grossly underrepresented in the literary world, too.
From George Eliot in the 19th century to JK Rowling in the 1990s, women have resorted to masculinising their names in order to be taken seriously by critics before, and since the offset of printing began. Female authors review less, are reviewed less, and find it harder to get published. These figures are even more staggeringly disheartening for women of colour.
Still, there are some aspects of gender disparity that don't receive nearly as much attention as they deserve. The business of translating novels from around the world is growing year by year, yet women represent less than 30% of novels, short stories and poems translated into English. This is where 'Women in Translation Month' comes in.
Kicked off by Blogger Meytal Radzinski in 2014, and celebrated annually every August, #WITmonth honours female authors from all across the globe by encouraging readers to support women in translation. Wondering what you can do to help? Get yourself over to your local bookstore, and make the next novel you walk out with one by a translated woman. Stuck for ideas? Here are seven worldly female authors that should be on every book lover's TBR list.
1. The Tale of Genji
Outdating Don Quixote by a large number of centuries was Hikaru Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese Emperor and the invention of Japanese Lady-in-Waiting, Murasaki Shikibu. Despite the world's first ever novel being written by a Japanese woman, today female authors from Japan represent just 28% of the country's translations.
2. The House of the Spirits
This debut novel from the now-prolific author Isabel Allende, Chile, was an instant best seller in most Spanish-speaking countries, and remains a classic to this day, having been translated into over 37 different languages. The novel began as a letter to Allende's dying grandfather, and ended as an epic story of the Trueba family, spanning four generations. If you liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Huraki Murakami or Toni Morrisson, make this the next novel on your TBR list.
It has also been adapted into a film, but rather disappointingly replaced the roles of Allende's very much Latin- American characters with some very white actors. Skip the rather lacking Meryl Streep interpretation, and go straight to reading the book instead.
3. Gigi & the Cat
A hallmark of Parisian culture, Colette is one of France's best known authors, yet women represent just 27% of the French literature translated into English.
Here is the review I left on Goodreads; although it is not so favourable, the book is well-loved by many across the world and shouldn't be disregarded by any means.
|"I wasn't sure what to think of this one, and found myself pretty much just racing to finish so I could move on to my next book. The language was beautiful, but reviews of Colette's work maintain that "her books offer a manual on how to live fearlessly and joyfully" - perhaps I missed the point, but I didn't see much of that here. The characters were hard to relate to, the internal dialogue and people seemed unnatural and too constructed, with very little reason to sympathise or care for them. "The Cat" was the most enjoyable story, having a little more tension and energy to it, but I still found little to enjoy about it and instead found myself itching to finish it. Perhaps it's a little too out of my time and culture, but I won't be rushing to pick up another book by Colette anytime soon."|
4. Clarice Lispector
Despite being hailed as one of the most influential and innovative short-story writers of the 20th century, the complete collection of her works was only just published fully for the first time, in English less than one year ago when it was picked up under the 'Penguin Modern Classics' collection.
Born in Ukraine, raised in Brazil, Lispector herself is one of literature's most fascinating women. She has had several books written about her, and her works are routinely mentioned in Brazillian pop culture. Although Lispector passed away prematurely aged just 56, after suffering a bad accident some years before, the complete anthology of her works contrains no less than 85 stories and has recieved favourable reviews from just about everyone; including the New York Times and Vogue. Compared to Nabakov and James Joyce, Clarice Lispector is one of the most underrated genuises of modern literature.
This autobiographical graphic novel takes us through Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Iran and Austria, during and after the Islamic revolution. It is beautifully told, beautifully illustrated and one of the most influential graphic novels in the world. Originally printed in French, it has since been translated into over 24 different languages. It touches on religion, politics, culture, and western imperialism, with a strong but incredibly astute and relevant message.
This is the review I left on Goodreads;
"I finished this in less than 24 hours. I just couldn't put it down. Marjane is quite a divisive voice, but that's part of what makes the book so commanding. It's emotionally powerful but also an incredible insight into the recent history of Iran from a very personal perspective. Highly recommended."
6. Woman at Point Zero
Women at Point Zero is a novel by Egyptian author Nawal Al Saadawi, inspired by her encounter with a woman in Qanatir Prison. It tackles some heavy subjects; FGM, arranged marriages, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation. Although bleak, it is essentially a novel about choice, and about hope.
The novel is considered by critics feminist classic, and the issues it discusses, whilst shocking, are struggles still faced by many women all across the globe. Despite this, it has often been underrated in literary canons - just as many books by non-white and non-western women are. Nawal Al Saadawi is a doctor, and a female-rights activist who has spent time in prison for her radical and 'outspoken' opinions.
7. Ministry of Moral Panic
I received this book completely by chance, all the way from Singapore and sent by an anonymous angel through a round of #SaveTheCulture book exchanges on Facebook. Amanda Lee Koe is an incredibly talented writer, and one of the most promising young authors in the world.
This is the review I left on Goodreads;
"This is one of the best books I've ever read. Amanda Lee Koe writes exquisitely about various themes of modern life, it is full of emotion, depth and it is un-put-downable. This novel also explores life in Singapore and across Asia, whilst completely transgressing any cultural barriers. Very little is lost in translation. These stories are rebellious, full of heart, and almost omniscient in their wiseness. They explore the flawed emotions and lives of characters that you learn to care and mourn for in rarely more than ten pages, from experiences and points of view very little tend to look for. There is nothing stereotypical, girly or cliched about them. It is a truly modern book. If you ever have the chance to read this collection of short stories, don't pass it up"
So what else can you do for Women in Translation Month? Here are some suggestions;
- Read a book by a woman in translation
- Read only books by women in translation
- Buy a book by a woman in translation
- Borrow a book from the library by a woman in translation
- Read books by women in translation from countries beyond Europe.
- Tell friends, family and anyone who will listen exactly what #WITmonth is, and why we need it
- Tweet, Facebook and Instagram about it. Use the hashtag!
- Write a post about #WITmonth to raise awareness
- Or, share this/any other post about #WITmonth to raise awareness
Meytal Radzinski and the team behind this awesome celebration have also put together an incredibly helpful and extensive list of books by women in translation from all around the globe. There is a link to it right -> here <-
Had you ever heard about Women in Translation Month before? Are you going to participate? Do you have a favourite translated book by a woman? Leave your suggestion in the comment below, i'm always looking for news books to add to my wishlist!