August is Women in Translation Month, a time for much celebration – or, more specifically, to focus on reading works by women writers from around the world who have been translated into English. Women are still a vastly underrepresented group in this area, writing less than one-third of all translated literature, but thanks to this campaign and the hard work of many publishers (especially independents), the balance is slowly changing.
Alas, it is also still essential that I clear some space on my bookshelves, so for this month’s non-fiction pick I have had to reach a compromise: a book that wasn’t written by a woman, but has been translated by one (a translator and publisher whom, incidentally, I very much admire).
My other choices – which do fulfil the brief – will be taking me to Barcelona, southern India and Mexico, while to help celebrate WIT Month even further, I will be exploring literary translation as a discipline by reading about the process of translating one of Latin America’s most applauded women writers into English.
For August 2022, my reading list is as follows:
Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, But… by Gogu Shyamala, translated from the Telugu by various (Tilted Axis Press)
What the publisher says: ‘A young girl is sent away to school to save her from being declared the sexual property of the village’s upper-caste men. The village water tank laments to a passing child. A Brahmin boy is considered “polluted” by the touch of a Dalit girl – the same action that saved his life. Rendered with idiomatic vitality, humour and lightness, these stories revel in rural childhood without nostalgia or romanticism, forcing the reader to question their expectation of violence in the representation of certain lives, and of what the short story can be and do. Shifts in tone and perspective reveal relationships – between the different castes that make up a village, between an individual and the wider community, between identities and the seasonal rhythms of the land. Imbued throughout with a Dalit feminist philosophy that is above all a philosophy of life, to be lived with wit, ingenuity, and defiance.’
Putin’s Postbox by Marcel Beyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (V&Q Books)
What the publisher says: ‘Eight essays on literature, language, art, Europe and life from one of Germany’s most revered living writers. After a visit to Putin’s old postbox, the reader is taken to Dresden and Brixton, Gdańsk and Minsk, diverted to birds, bees, stray cats and pet dogs, confronted with Stasi and KGB, Proust and Jah Shaka, puzzled by overcoats and anoraks, Francis Bacon and Vermeer, and lost (then found) in service stations and memorial centres. Throughout, Marcel Beyer forges unexpected links and makes unpredictable leaps. Inspired by the great W. G. Sebald, Beyer’s playful literary investigations wend through the high points and horrors of Europe’s artistic history, towards a profoundly personal conclusion.’
Loop by Brenda Lozano, translated from the Spanish by Annie McDermott (Charco Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Loop is a love story narrated from the point of view of a woman who waits for her boyfriend Jonás to return from a trip to Spain. They met when she was recovering from an accident and he had just lost his mother. Soon after that, they were living together. She waits for him as a sort of contemporary Penelope who, instead of knitting only to then un-knit, writes and erases her thoughts in a notebook: Proust, a dwarf, a swallow, a dreamy cat or David Bowie singing “Wild is the Wind” make up some of the strands that are woven together in this tapestry of longing and waiting. Written in a sometimes irreverent style, in short fragments that at points are more like haikus than conventional narrative prose, this is a truly original reflection on love, relationships, solitude and the aesthetics and purpose of writing.’
Goodbye, Ramona by Montserrat Roig, translated from the Catalan by Megan Berkobien and María Cristina Hall (Fum d’Estampa Press)
What the publisher says: ‘Montserrat Roig’s first novel, Goodbye, Ramona is a powerhouse story told through the point of view of three generations of women from the same family. Opening with scenes of a pregnant woman looking for her husband after a bombing, Goodbye, Ramona explores the role of family, women’s relationships with men, the influence the weight of history and events out of their control have on them, and the silence in which they live their lives. Goodbye, Ramona is an historical and social mosaic seen through the lives and experiences of the female characters.’