Women in Translation Month

READ THE WORLD – Ecuador: On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga

Translated by Paulette A. Ramsay and Anne-Maria Bankay.

Susana grows up with her parents living next door to the Manns family – Susana and her parents are Black, the Manns are white. She spent her childhood playing with Jamie and Margarita next door and as she becomes a young woman, she’s unaware of how their father, Marvin, becomes infatuated with her.

I think On Friday Night is one of those books that would’ve worked better for me as an audiobook. That’s mainly down to how this book was written. It was written in both the first and third person and it took me a long time to realise the when it was in first person it was from Susana’s point of view. There’s no chapters or line breaks or anything to help show when the narrative has gone from one character’s point of view to another; it could change from one paragraph to the next. This made it difficult to follow to begin with, especially as there was no blurb on my copy of On Friday Night so I had no idea what the story could be about before starting it.

All I knew before starting On Friday Night was the author Luz Argentina Chiriboga is known for writing about the Afro-Hispanic cultural identity and that certainly came into play in this book. Susana’s family comes from a working-class background but Susana is smart and is able to go to university and get a job working at the bank where Marvin Manns is the manager. The Manns are Hispanic and much more affluent. There’s a blurring of the lines when Susana, Jamie, and Margarita are children as they just like having neighbours to play with but as they grow older there’s more frequent comments about Susana being Black, even from Margarita.

This cultural and class divide is even stronger once Marvin makes his feelings about Susana known. Their whole romance and situation just felt very messy to me. He’s at least thirty years older than her, she’s the same age as his children so any respect for her as a mother figure would be impossible to find, and while he is besotted with her, he also is quick to believe other people’s lies about her. I don’t know if it was down to the story, the writing, my brain or a combination of all three but at times I really didn’t understand what was going on with some characters motivations and choices. At one point Susana and Marvin break up and I was really unsure how they ended up back together as he never seemed to apologise for his accusations.

Besides from the “love story” between Marvin and Susana there’s the history of their parents that’s mentioned – again without any type of indication that we’re going to suddenly go into the past – and Susana’s first love who is a conman. Susana is so naïve in many ways and it can be frustrating to see how she reacts to different situations. I mean, at one point she truly seems to believe she could be a mother to Jamie and Margarita when she’s the same age as Jamie and maybe a year or two younger than Margarita.

The writing style in On Friday Night really didn’t really work for me but once I’d got my head around it, the story was fairly easy to follow – even if the point of view changes still got me every now and then. This all made a 150-page book take me longer to read than it should. If there had been line breaks or anything to make the reading experience easier, I probably would’ve enjoyed the story more. Though the whole relationship dynamic between Susana and Marvin still often made me feel uncomfortable.

READ THE WORLD – Cape Verde: The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio

Translated by Jethro Soutar.

Serrano is an isolated village where a so-called madwoman roams. One day a young woman is found in the forest by Jerónimo and though the villagers are suspicious of this foreigner Jerónimo falls in love with her. When she gives birth and then disappears, Jerónimo raises and loves her daughter who he names Filipa. Years later the two are estranged and as Filipa becomes a business woman in the city, the village of Serrano is under threat by plans to build a dam. As villagers are forced to move, will Jerónimo and Filipa be able to reconnect?

The Madwoman of Serrano is a book that slowly grew on me and the last couple of chapters surprised me when there were some impactful moments there that I wasn’t expecting and actually made me realise how invested I was in some of these characters.

I think what I struggled to begin with with The Madwoman of Serrano was the narrative structure. It bounces between different characters points of view (not that confusing) and different time periods (what did throw me). To begin with there was no mention of Jerónimo and then when he does meet the mysterious woman, after that the time shifts from decades in the future where Filipa is an adult with her own teen daughter, to back when she’s five years old, to when she’s a teenager and back again. Tracking Filipa’s age is one of the only ways I could try and orientate myself. Especially once I realised what was happening because when it went from an adult-Filipa point of view chapter to a Jerónimo point of view I’d think they were in the same time period until there’s mentions of young-Filipa who appears to be mute, still living with Jerónimo in the village.

The village of Serrano are full of people who are not happy and seem to relish in the misfortune of others. They don’t like Filipa when she’s mute, the men of the village judge the women and the women can be mean towards anyone else they see as lesser than. The madwoman, a woman who is probably seen as mad as she’s independent and wise and perhaps a bit magical, lives at the edge of this society. She strikes up a friendship with young Filipa when no one but Jerónimo cares for her, which in turn does make Filipa more shunned as what sane child would spend time with a madwoman.

The Madwoman of Serrano does a good job of showing the toxicity of the small town (or in this case village) mentality, and how the patriarchy can harm the men as well as the women. Though the midwife of the village is the most important figure, men in the village see sex as their right and will beat any woman who refuses for whatever reason.

Some of the characters in the village are so horrible it’s a wonder that someone like Jerónimo manages to be so kind – though he’s not always kind, how he treats his wife is horrible but does feed into how the people of the village, the men especially, never talk about their emotions.

The Madwoman of Serrano is a strangely captivating book once I’d gotten my head around the time jumps. Slowly backstories are revealed and minor events mentioned in passing chapters before suddenly have meaning The Madwoman of Serrano is mostly a story about family, and the family you choose whether that’s friends or adoptive family. There’s also the idea of fate having a hand in characters lives, and there’s the odd unexplainable moment that can only be put down to magic.

Women in Translation Month 2021 TBR

August is Women in Translation Month, which was started by blogger Meytal Radzinski, and a readathon that I like to take part in. As well as dedicating the whole month to reading books by women in translation there’s also a specific readathon hosted by Jennifer from Insert Literary Pun Here, Matthew Sciarappa and Kendra Winchester over on YouTube.

The Women in Translation readathon is a weeklong from Saturday 14th – Friday 20th August (midnight-midnight in your time zone) and there’s two prompts and a group read. The group read is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette) and the prompts are:

  • Read something that’s not a novel – poetry, an essay, manga, short stories, non-fiction, whatever as long as it’s not a novel
  • Read something that was in a language that is new to you – if you do tend to read translated works then think of a language you haven’t read from for a number of years or just have read very few works from that language.

I’d already picked out the books on my TBR that were from women in translation before the prompts were announced, so while all these books are novels, I could maybe complete the “new to you language” prompt as I very rarely read works from Japan and I believe A Spare Life is translated from Macedonian and I don’t think I’ve yet to read anything that was originally in that language.

All these books aren’t just for the weeklong readathon but are instead what I plan to hopefully read during the whole month of August. I’m slowly getting out of my year-long slump and hopefully this gives me a little extra push.

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano
These two were cover buys a couple of months ago and how could I not when they are so gorgeous! This is a YA duology about a girl who discovers she can talk to the huge, majestical beasts of her world and becomes entangled in politics and war as she tries to keep herself and the beasts safe.

The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio, translated by Jethro Soutar
This is one of the books where it seems difficult to summarise in a couple of sentences. The titular character lives in an isolated village where she appears to babble nonsense but maybe she tells the future especially when the life of a man from the village and the businesswoman who he raised when she was a little girl become connected to the fate of their home.

The Madwoman of Serrano was both the first novel by a female author to be published in Cape Verde and the first to be translated into English.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated by Christina E. Kramer
Starting in 1984 in communist Yugoslavia, A Spare Life is the story of twins Zlata and Srebra who are conjoined at their heads from their childhood to young adults as they try to decide whether to go through with the dangerous surgery to separate them.

On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga, translated by Paulette A. Ramsay and Anne-Maria Bankay
Honestly, I don’t know what this book is about as the back cover is all about the two translators and doesn’t have a blurb. Internet searches tell me that Luz Argentina Chiriboga is known for writing about women and the challenges they face as well as Afro-Hispanic cultural identity so I expect those themes may be in this book.

The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri, translated by Sara Hanaburgh
I have the ebook of this and I believe The Fury and Cries of Women follows Emilienne’s life through her university studies, marriage, children, work, and how she tries to search for what feminism means to her while dealing with cultural expectations and the taboos of sex and motherhood.Angèle Rawiri is Gabon’s first female novelist.

That’s six books written by women in translation that I’d ideally like to read next month. While I do appear to be coming out of my reading slump if I can read at least three of these I’ll be happy. Plus, four of these books are for my Read the World Project which is always helpful.

Are you going to try and read any books from women in translation in August? If you’d like any recommendations then be sure to check out @WITreadathon and @Read_WIT on Twitter.

READ THE WORLD – Guadeloupe: The Restless by Gerty Dambury

Translated by Judith G. Miller.

Guadeloupe, a French overseas department, May 1967. Nine-year-old Émilienne Absalon is struggling with the sudden disappearance of her teacher, Madame Ladal, and her father at the onset of a workers’ strike. As violence throws the city into chaos, characters both living and dead take the stage to help Émilienne find those she’s lost, and in the process rewrite Caribbean history.

This may sound weird, but I found The Restless so easy to read and was thirty pages into it before I realised, and that made me instantly like this book. Perhaps it’s because I was in the middle of a fantasy/sci-fi short story anthology when I decided I needed something different. While the short story anthology was good, I struggled going from one story to another when I wanted to spend more time with the different characters or learn more about the different worlds, so it was nice to feel settled in one place with a clearly defined protagonist again.

I really liked how the story unfolded in The Restless. The chapters alternate between Émilienne’s point of view and other character’s point of view. These other characters are family members, neighbours or other people connected to the Absalon family somehow – and some are dead, and some are ghosts. Each character had a distinct voice which certainly helped with the chapters not from Émilienne’s point of view as sometimes they’d start and you wouldn’t be sure who was now recounting their tale, just that it was a different person to before.

Émilienne is a great character. The author does a great job of showing how a child would experience and try to understand suddenly losing an important figure in her life like a teacher. How some things are difficult to explain to a child because they’re to do with governments and fears of communism and having ideas that are deemed inappropriate, but how the child can still pick up on how something isn’t right or is unfair. Add to the fact her father, who she believes can explain to her what happened to her teacher, hasn’t been home for days leads her to be very unsettled. Also, Émilienne and her fellow classmates’ anger and frustrations of the sudden dismissal of their teacher mirrors those of the workers who want their wages to increase.

In The Restless’s prologue, it gives a short overview of the talks between management and construction workers union that led to work stoppages in Pointe-à-Pitre and, after the breakdown of negotiation, violence as the police were ordered to fire on the demonstrators. This is important as it’s the backdrop to Émilienne’s stress of her missing teacher and father, and it provides context for the anti-union sentiment that you slowly learn her teacher was a victim of and provides reasons for her fathers absence.

The Restless is a relatively short but effective book. It juggles its characters well and provides both a child’s perspective to sudden violence that they cant comprehend a reason for, and various adults perspectives, some only just learning about their workers rights, some who have died and were struggling in different ways, and some who are just trying to get by. 4/5.

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 – Albania: Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku

Translated by Ani Gjika.

A collection of poetry from Luljeta Lleshanaku examining the space between objects and people, how things balance together and the different human emotions.

I’m not someone who knows a lot about poetry, but I found a lot of Lleshanaku’s poems beautiful yet bleak. There’s a loneliness to a lot of them, when someone is the subject matter of a poem they often can’t connect with others and there’s a distance between the subject and what they’re doing. Many of the poems aren’t tied to one specific place or time, instead the “story” flows from different perspectives, almost always focusing on the mundane.

Most of the poems here were about a page long, but there were a few that almost played out like short stories – Homo Antarcticus and Water and Carbon are two examples of this. They are both sad, haunting poems about people who are at a distance from others, through they choice or not. I enjoyed the poems that were more like short stories rather than the page-long ones as they naturally had more depth to them.

The poems in this collection are quiet peculiar and haunting. Whether it’s because they have been translated into English or because they’re from an Albanian poet, they don’t quiet fit with what my preconceived notions of poetry are. It makes reading these poems an interesting experience and I could see myself going back and rereading some of them to see if they have a different affect on me.

This is my pick this month’s Monthly Motif “Read a book that has won a literary award, or a book written by an author who has been recognized in the bookish community” as Negative Space is the winner of the English PEN Award and Luljeta Lleshanaku received the 2009 Crystal Vilenica award for European poets.

READ THE WORLD – Colombia: Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo

Translated by Charlotte Coombe

Fish Soup is a bind up of two novellas and a short stories collection. Waiting for a Hurricane follows a girl who’s desperate to leave her life and her country. Sexual Education is about a student who tries to keep to the strict doctrine of abstinence taught in her school. Worse Things is a collection of snapshots about different characters who are all in different states of turmoil.

Trigger warning for child abuse in Waiting for a Hurricane. The main character forms an unlikely friendship with an old fisherman from a young age. There’s one moment where it seems like his touching her under her underwear but it’s something she never minds and isn’t really mentioned again, and as it’s from a child’s perspective it takes a while for you to figure out what’s happening. She’s so desperate to leave her home on the Colombian coast that she loses touch with friends and family but never seems to find any real connections.

All the stories in Worse Things, and in the two novellas as well, are about people who are suffering in some way. None of them appear to be happy and nearly all of them are unreliable narrators. This makes it difficult to connect to these characters, especially in Worse Things as each snapshot is a matter of pages so you can never truly understand them. Some snapshots I’d have preferred to be longer as I found the characters and their situations interesting whereas I found others very frustrating.

In both Waiting for a Hurricane and Sexual Education, punctuation around speech isn’t used which can make reading these stories a little difficult to begin with as you get used to the style of them. The way the towns and overall settings of the stories were described was incredibly vivid and I could see the beauty of the country even though so many characters didn’t like their home or saw all the problems with it. Fish Soup is an interesting collection of work from Margarita García Robayo. It’s probably a good place to start but I unfortunately found it difficult to like and connect with the majority of the characters which lessened my enjoyment.

Women in Translation Readathon TBR

If you didn’t know, August is Women In Translation month, celebrating women writers from across the world who have been translated from their original language. Now I was planning to read more books by women this month in general, but then I heard about the Women In Translation Readathon which is being hosted by Matthew Sciarappa, Kendra Winchester and Insert Literary Pun Here on YouTube, and it gave me an extra bit of motivation.

The readathon is the last week of August and starts midnight wherever the world you are at midnight on Saturday 25th August and finishes 11:59pm on Friday 31st August. I am going to be on holiday at the start of this readathon (I’m going to Bucharest with friends for a long weekend) so I’m not sure how much reading I’ll be doing then but I’ll definitely try and fit a book or two in my hand luggage-sized suitcase.

With this readathon there are some prompts that you can try and make your books fit into if you wish and they are as follows:

1. Read something that is not a novel
2. Read a book about childhood
3. Read a book with red on the cover
4. Read a text translated from a language that you haven’t read a text translated from before

Then there’s two bonus prompts:
1. Read a book that was translated posthumously
2. Read a text written by a Nobel Laureate

And a double bonus prompt is:
Read texts that were also translated by women translators

I’ve picked out three books for this readathon, they’re the only unread books from women in translation I have to be honest, and if I read all of them during the readathon, I’ll complete four out of the seven challenges.

Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Ani Gjika.
Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke, translated by Liz Waters.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated by Lawrence Schimel.

Negative Space and Thirty Days are translated from Albanian and Dutch, two languages I haven’t read from before. Negative Space also fits the “read something that is not a novel” as it’s a poetry collection and Thirty Days has some red on the cover (you cant’t really see it in the picture but the text is red). Negative Space and Thirty Days are translated by women translators too.

Are you going to take part in the Women in Translation readathon? Or are you reading more books translated from women in general this month? I’d love to hear of any recommendations you might have.

READ THE WORLD – Brazil: Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson

Translated by Tara F. Chace.

Christiana Mara Coelho was born into extreme poverty in Brazil. She grew up living in a cave outside Diamantina with her mother, and then survived on the streets of São Paulo where they begged for food and avoided the many dangers being homeless brought. When she and her young brother are suddenly put up for adoption, everything changes for Christiana as she and her brother move across the world to a village called Vindeln in the north of Sweden, to start a new life with their adopted parents. It’s there she becomes known as Christina and must learn so many new things while missing her mother an indescribable amount.

Never Stop Walking is two stories in one and they’re told in alternating chapters. There’s Christina’s childhood, growing up in the forest and on the streets, her time in an orphanage before being adopted and moving to Sweden, and there’s her as a thirty-two-year-old, going back to Brazil for the first time in search of her biological family.

Christina is adopted when she was eight years old, and because of her time on the streets she had knowledge and memories, no young child should have. She’d seen her friends be beaten or killed, she’s gone hungry for days and learnt never to trust anyone in uniform. To say it was a tough childhood would be an understatement, but it’s clear that it is one that was full of love and laughter too. Christina adored her mother and her little brother Patrick (he was a baby when they were adopted so didn’t have the same memories or difficulties as Christina), and the three of them had fun and shared a lot of positive memories.

Seeing how Christina as a child dealt, or didn’t, with the culture shock of moving somewhere where she was the only child who wasn’t white, who had to struggle, and who had never seen snow before, was awe-inspiring in a way. Seeing how children can be so resilient, but at the same time being sad that so many children have to go through traumatic things just because where they were born. As an adult she has culture shock again, along with a whole host of other emotions, when she returns to Brazil for the first time. She’s forgotten the language, and while some memories are clear, for so long she’s never really understood how she came to be adopted when her mother was out there somewhere, wanting to be with her.

Never Stop Walking is the story of a woman finding out where she belongs and coming to an understanding that she can be both Swedish and Brazilian and that she can have a biological family and an adopted family she loves equally but in different ways. Over the course of Christina returning to Brazil and retracing her childhood, she learns many things about herself, while also affirming who she is. It’s a remarkable tale that’s told with so much raw emotion. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Argentina: Death Going Down by María Angélica Bosco

When young, beautiful Frida Eidinger is found dead in the lift of a luxury Buenos Aires apartment block, it looks like suicide but none of the building’s residents can be trusted. When Inspector Ericourt and his assistant Blasi take the case, they uncover a disturbing tale of survival, extortion and obsession and slowly the lies begin to unravel.

At 150 pages, this is a crime novel that speeds along. It’s set during the 1950’s so there’s some mention of World War Two and some of the characters are Europeans who have emigrated to Argentina. This offers some interesting historical and social background on these characters.

The people who live in the building where Frida Eidnger was found are all suspicious. There’s the womanizer, the controlling husband, the secretive siblings, and the deceased’s husband is also behaving strangely. As the death is investigated you learn more about the potential suspects, their motives and their lives. However, some characters end up being more fleshed-out than others.

You never really got to know the detective team on the case, and become attached to them in any way. They often seemed like the eyes for the reader and had little personality. Ericourt, Blasi and Lahore are all detectives but I was never really sure who was in charge, especially as they each do their own investigations and drop in and out of the story.

I can’t really say I liked this book, but there was something about it that kept me reading – maybe it was because it was so short. I personally didn’t figure out who had done it until everything was revealed, especially as more and more people kept seeming to incriminate themselves. Death Going Down is quick, intriguing crime story that will keep you guessing.