The Eighth Life

Ten Books by Women in Translation

August is known as Women in Translation month, so I thought it would be the perfect time to share some recommendations. Thanks to my Read the World Project I’ve read more translated works these past few years than I ever would have if I hadn’t decided to try and read a book from every country in the world.

Here’s ten books from women in translation that I enjoyed and I’ve noted the country where the author is from.

Safe as Houses by Simone van der Vlugt, translated by Michele Hutchison (Netherlands)
I listened to this audio and it was really good. It’s a proper suspenseful crime/thriller where a woman and her young child are held hostage in their own home by an escaped criminal.

Crimson by Nivaq Korneliussen, translated by Anna Halager (Greenland)
No one in this book is straight. It’s a really short coming of age story about a group of people who are all in their late teens/early twenties who are all connected in some way, they might be friends, siblings, roommates and it’s them just living their lives and figuring out who they are.

The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers, translated by Kit Maude (Uruguary)
This is the sort of book I’d love to discuss with other people. It’s a really interesting feminist story about a “crazy” woman who is really just liberated.

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin (Georgia)
This chonky book is over 900 pages and follows a family for generations. It’s a real deep dive into the history of Georgia and the Soviet Union, and a lot of these characters have truly horrible things happen to them.

Love in No Man’s Land by Duo Ji Zhuo Ga, translated by Hallie Treadway (Tibet)
Spanning forty years, Love in No Man’s Land shows how life changes for families who live on the grassland of Tibet and it has romance, drama, mystery and mysticism,

In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein, translated by John Cullen (Chile)
This book was beautifully written (which I think is a sign of a great translation) and it’s kind of a love letter to authors, their stories and the impact they can have on people.

Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke, translated by Liz Waters (Belgium)
Spanning thirty days of a painter and decorators life, it is about how his life entwines with the people he works for and how things change when he meets and helps a group of Afghans and Syrians at a makeshift refugee camp.

Fear and His Servant by Mirjana Novaković, translated by Terence McEneny (Serbia)
I didn’t love this book, but I found the combination of eighteenth-century Serbia, vampires and what could be the Devil really interesting. There’s also a wry sense humour throughout the book which I really liked.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid, translated by Adam Cullen (Estonia)
Set in Estonia between 1941-1990s, the thing I really remember about Burning Cities is how the city it’s set in is a character itself and how the city is struggling or thriving helps show how life could be like for people during and after the conflict they experienced.

The Door by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix (Hungary)
The Door is about the relationship between an author and her housekeeper and it’s a relationship that’s sometimes fraught and at other times is caring.

Have you read any of these books? What are some of your favourite books from women in translation? There’s a Women in Translation Readathon happening 24 – 31 August hosted by Matthew Sciarappa, Kendra Winchester and Insert Literary Pun Here on YouTube, if you want to dedicate some time to women in translation.

READ THE WORLD – Georgia: The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili

Translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin.

Trigger warnings for rape, domestic violence, forced abortion, and torture.

At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste. Stasia learns it from her Georgian father and takes it north, following her new husband, Simon, to his posting at the centre of the Russian Revolution in St Petersburg. Stasia’s is only the first in a symphony of grand but all too often doomed romances that swirl from sweet to sour in this epic tale of the red century.

The Eighth Life is a sprawling epic, following one family through the generations for over one hundred years, spanning the twentieth century and beyond. It gives an insight into what life was like in Georgia when it was a part of the USSR and controlled by the powers that be in Moscow, and how the struggle for independence does not go smoothly.

The story of the Jashi family in The Eighth Life is told by Niza to her young niece Brilka. She recounts the family history, from her great-great-grandmother Stasia to her and her sister Daria, and all of the love and tragedy that befalls the family and their close friends in that time. The different members of the family experience so much heartache, it’s almost cruel or depressing how unlucky or sad their lives often turn out. Nothing ever runs smoothly for them, and there are so many instances when actions of previous generations have unforeseen repercussions on their descendants. Whether the tragedies that befall each member of the family is down to having a taste of the amazing yet potentially cursed chocolate, is down to you to decide.

This family saga takes place during the heights of communism. Various historical figures are mentioned either explicitly by name, or through their nicknames or other references. If you know more about the important figures in Russia and USSR’s history, they may be easier to pick up than if you don’t. Personally, I studied the Russian revolution in college and then only have a passing knowledge of Stalin and Lenin and know little about the other important figures of that time. I was still able to follow the passage of time, and with the Jashi family connected to the KGB and Moscow top brass, it was an interesting way to learn more about this period of history and how the extreme rules and surveillance could effect the everyday person.

At over 900 pages long The Eighth Life really is an epic novel. It takes its time to develop the many characters, but it also does a great job at keeping track of the family connections, and the little call backs to past events or conversations work really well. It’s an engaging read, and the writing is often beautiful. It’s fascinating to see how much can change in one person’s lifetime. How history can affect them in both big and small ways, and how events can shape a person so completely.

The Eighth Life is a fascinating yet often harrowing read. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of war or from how cruel people can be to one another, and how some people must close themselves off from feeling anything in order to survive. This might make The Eighth Life sound like a depressing read, and it can be at times as you wonder at how much suffering a person can take, but it also captures the many emotions people go through in life. There’s still love in its various forms, and hope, and freedom. It’s just unfortunate that those who are in love or free, can’t always experience it with the ones they want to the most. 5/5.