Reading Women in Translation #WITMonth

August is the month when the annual reading challenge #WITMonth or Reading Women in Translation takes place, initially begun three years ago by Meytal at Biblibio.

I’m not a big fan or participant of reading challenges or lists, as I love changing my mind and being spontaneous about what I read next, however I do like to follow this one and read the reviews and keep up with what is being published as well as reading more of those I have discovered. And this is a challenge that is making a big difference in the reading and publishing world, so the more we read and demand books like these, the more expansive the selection will become.

I recently wrote an article about how I have become quite a fan of reading literature in translation, which was published by Tilted Axis Press in their lead up to WIT Month. If you haven’t read it already, you can do so by following the link here. At the end of the article I mention a number of titles I’ve really enjoyed, with links to my reviews. Reading in Translation, A Literary Revolution.

This year I’ll be reading a few titles from my current bookshelves and another title from one of my favourite authors Maryse Condé. Below is a summary of the author, translator, the language translated and what each book promises:

The Complete Claudine by Colette tr. Antonia White (French) – Colette began her writing career with Claudine at School, which catapulted the young author into instant, sensational success. Among the most autobiographical of Colette’s works, these four novels are dominated by the child-woman Claudine, whose strength, humour, and zest for living make her a symbol for the life force.

Selected Letters by Madame Sévigne (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévigné) tr. Leonard Tancock (French) –  One of the world’s greatest correspondents, Madame de Sevigne (1626-96) paints a 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, her close friends included Madame de La Fayette and La Rochefoucauld, she reflected on significant historical events and personal issues, and in this selection spanning almost 50 yrs, she can be humorous, melancholic, profound and superficial. Whether describing the new plays of Racine and Moliere, speculating on court scandals including the intrigues of the King’s mistresses or relating her own family concerns, Madame de Sevigne provides an intriguing portrait of the lost age of Le Roi Soleil.

Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabó tr. George Szirtes (Hungarian) – When Ettie’s husband dies, her daughter Iza insists  her mother give up the family house in the countryside and move to Budapest. Displaced from her community and her home, Ettie tries to find her place in this new life, but can’t seem to get it right. She irritates the maid, hangs food outside the window because she mistrusts the fridge and, in her naivety and loneliness, invites a prostitute in for tea.  Iza’s Ballad is the story of a woman who loses her life’s companion and a mother trying to get close to a daughter whom she has never truly known. It is about the meeting of the old-fashioned and the modern worlds and the beliefs we construct over a lifetime.

Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante tr. Ann Goldstein (Italian) – Following her mother’s untimely and mysterious death, Delia embarks on a voyage of discovery through the streets of her native Naples searching for the truth about her family. A series of mysterious telephone calls leads her to compelling and disturbing revelations about her mother’s final days. I’m keen to try this after reading all about it in Ferrante’s nonfiction book Frantumaglia, which I read and reviewed earlier this year.

Maryse Condé

Ever since discovering Maryse Condé via the old style Man Booker International Prize, when it was a two yearly prize for an author’s entire works, I’ve been reading through her novels and stories, as suggested by the author I started with her Tales From the Heart: True Stories from My Childhood, Victoire: My Mother’s Mother, Segu,  and A Season in Rihata.

These are the books I still have on the shelf, and I’m already halfway into the novel the author said at a visit to our local library last year was the favourite of her novels, The Story of the Cannibal Woman, set in Cape Town, and centering on the life of a widow of a multicultural couple, reminding me of the character Hortensia in Yewande Omotoso’s excellent The Woman Next Door, which I just finished reading.

The Story of the Cannibal Woman – One dark night in Cape Town, Roselie’s husband goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back. Not only is she left with unanswered questions about his violent death but she is also left without any means of support. At the urging of her housekeeper and best friend, the new widow decides to take advantage of the strange gifts she has always possessed and embarks on a career as a clairvoyant. As Roselie builds a new life for herself and seeks the truth about her husband’s murder, Conde crafts a deft exploration of post-apartheid South Africa and a smart, gripping thriller.

Crossing the Mangrove – Francis Sancher, a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others, is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe.  None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself.  As the villagers come to pay their respects they each, either in a speech to the mourners, or in an internal monologue, reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death. Retaining the full colour and vibrancy of Conde’s homeland, Crossing the Mangrove pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.

Children of Segu – Sequel to her masterpiece Segu, this fascinating story continues as brother fights brother and the powers of the globe threaten to change their world forever. If you enjoyed Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi, defintiely check out Segu.

Conversations With Maryse Condé by Françoise Pfaff– an exploration of the life and art of Maryse Condé, including conversations about Condé’s geographical sojourns and literary paths, her personality, and her thoughts. Their conversations reveal connections between Condé’s vivid art and her eventful, passionate life. In her encounters with historical and literary figures, and in her opinions on politics and culture, Condé appears as an engaging witness to her time. The conversations frequently sparkle with humour; at other moments they are infused with profound seriousness.

Maryse Condé was born in Guadeloupe, the youngest of eight children and her essays of childhood provide an excellent base for understanding the motivations that underpin much of her writing, firstly to get to know her family influences and aspirations and why she knew nothing of their origins (a past and ancestral pattern her mother was desperate for them to leave behind), her discovery of the turning points in the history of the Kingdom of Segu in Africa and the exploration of racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales, often focused on topics with strong feminist and political concerns. As she herself said:

“I could not write anything… unless it has a certain political significance. I have nothing else to offer that remains important.” extract from an interview with Rebecca Wolff

Further Reading

Who, What, When, Where: A Guide to #WITMonth 2017 – via WomeninTranslation.com

8 New or Forthcoming Books by Arab Women – via ArabLit.org

Have you read any of these?

What books have you decided to read for WIT Month?

Do you have a favourite to recommend as I’ll be topping up my shelf for next years reading!

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15 thoughts on “Reading Women in Translation #WITMonth

    • It’s so great that there are so many more lists and suggestions about this year, not just the few bloggers who’ve supported this challenge from the beginning, I love it, I just wish I had a larger budget to acquire more of the works and more time to read them all, but even virtual window shopping for books by women in translation is so satisfying!

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  1. Pingback: Reading Women in Translation for #WITmonth 2017 – Rita E. Gould: An Artful Sequence of Words

    • Thanks Deepika, I’d almost forgotten about that little article as I wrote it at the beginning of the year, but love that they timed its publication with #WITMonth, it was an interesting exercise to be asked about my reading works in translation, to discover that it’s a kind of ultimate destination, one I have been journeying towards unknowingly for years.

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  2. Several books here I’ve not heard of though I did read Magda Szabo’s The Door last year and loved it. I don’t really follow WITMonth per se but I do plan to read The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami for it this year. Just bought it today in preparation ( as well as Home Fire after read your review!!)

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  3. Reading Une Femme à Berlin ( translated German–> French) by Anonymous.
    Only a few people know who this journalist was…..she allowed her book to be published only after her death. She died in 2001. It is a chilling description of the fall of Berlin April-May 1945.
    From your list…I think The Complete Claudine and Iza’s Ballad would interest me.

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    • That sounds like an intriguing read, and also that even on publication she would need to remain anonymous. I look forward to your review. I’m looking forward to diving into Colette’s work and Szabo’s, it’s so great to be so immersed in reading and to have time to write some catch up reviews and read yours and others!

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  4. I’ve enjoyed reading this post as well as your article. Even though I don’t seem to read many books in translation (and when I do they tend to be Quebec French to English), I love learning about them all and hope to read more of them!

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    • I know what you mean Naomi, it’s a literary form of keeping up with the fashions! There are so many excellent books I have an awareness of but m a long way from getting round to reading, still an awareness of them expands the knowledge even if not in such a profound way.

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  5. That’s an interesting selection of books, Claire – quite diverse in terms of setting and style. Of the books on your list, the ones of greatest interest to me are the Colette and the Madame Sévigne – I seem to be on a French kick these days, certainly as far as WIT reads are concerned! I’ll be interested to see how you find the Elena Ferrante too. I tried reading it a couple of years ago but didn’t get very far at all. It made me feel very uncomfortable in a way that I couldn’t quite understand or deal with at the time. Not that I’m trying to put you off or anything – it was probably just a case of poor timing on my part.

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    • Yes I remember you telling me that when I read Frantumaglua as it’s mentioned a lot, I guess I’m reading it more from a writing perspective and from having read about the author’s own shocked response to seeing it made into film, but Frantumaglua feels like an incomplete read without it, so I shall detach and read with all that and your gentle warning in mind. I can’t wait to dip into Colette’s and Madame Sévigne!

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