I LOVE Women in Translation Month, it’s by far the best month of the year to get recommendations for new-to-me, amazing, underhyped books. I had three books on my TBR (The Years by Annie Ernaux, Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun and Trap by Lilja Sigurðardóttir) and I managed to pick up all of them, plus another five books. I think eight is a very good amount of books for this year’s WITmonth reading list and I already look forward to next year’s.
I will normally try to read broadly and not stick to one continent (it’s SO easy to just pick up a lot of European lit), as well as not repeat countries but this year I did not plan much what to read and just picked up what I had available and felt like reading – which made this month’s reading so much fun but not as wide as I hoped for! Next year hopefully I will pick up more Caribbean, Latin American and African reads.
Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki, translated from Japanese by Polly Barton, Sam Bett , David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi, Helen O’Horan
I had mixed feelings about this collection of short stories by Japanese author Izumi Suzuki and translated by several talented people. The stories are all sci-fi, the kind of interesting, weird concepts with a bit of a surreal feeling to them. I feel like this collection will get mixed reactions with readers, as it did with me, but I do want to highlight that they were written in the 70s-80s and that the author managed to capture some of our current societal issues perfectly into her dystopic stories. I was confused in the beginning about whether these were alternate reality contemporary stories with hints of sci-fi, and did not realize until I was way into the book that these were written decades ago. A very interesting collection, especially within the context when it was written, but it did fall a bit flat for me – I just wanted more from it. My favorite is still the first story, set in a dystopic/utopic world in which there are very few men and so society has arranged itself into a queer matriarchy.
The Years by Annie Ernaux, translated from French by Alison L. Strayer
This was another book that was not a perfect fit for me, but a very interesting read that I know will work for other readers a lot better. It is a literary biography, in which French author Annie Ernaux tells the story of France and her own story, from 1941 until 2006. She alternates between being an omnipresent narrator and explaining what was happening to society as a whole, sharing tidbits of daily life and such, and focusing back into her own story. The main character of the book is the places where she has lived, and time – more than Ernaux herself. Such an interesting story and wonderful execution! I am not sure about listening to this, though, because it lacked a bit of that “attention gripping factor” for me in audio format, which is probably why I wavered between 3 and 4 stars for this, but still a very good read!
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell
Megan McDowell is quickly becoming one of my favorite translators, if I see her name in a book I immediately want to read it. Little Eyes, by Argentinian author Samantha Schweblin, is by far my favorite read of this #WITmonth. Little Eyes tells the story of several characters all around the world, and how they interact with kentukis, a new gadget meant to be like a pet for the modern world – a fluffy toy with wheels and cameras, run by a real person. Some people use it to connect with other people, others to commit crimes, others are horrified by the idea of a stranger inside their home. It’s a fantastic novel! I have another book by Schweblin on my Kindle and I am SO excited to read it!
Trap by Lilja Sigurðardóttir, translated from Icelandic by Quentin Bates
This is the second book in the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy and it was SUCH a great read! In this book, written by Icelandic author Lilja Sigurðardóttir, we follow Sonja, who in book 1 (Snare) we see get caught into a massive drug trafficking scheme as a mule in order to raise enough money to prove to the court that she is financially stable enough to see her son, whose custody she lost after her messy divorce. This is dark, intense and full of plot twists, I LOVED it.
Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun, translated from Korean by Janet Hong
I’m sad to say that this was the worst read for the Women in Translation Month by far. This is pitched as a mystery about who killed a beautiful, young girl, but it’s in fact about the repercussions of the crime on the girl’s sister, the boy accused of the crime and two classmates. While the idea itself was interesting and some chapters I did enjoy, this was just not for me – I detested the writing style, the characters felt very, very flat and the dialogue a little bit weird. I was always held at a distance while reading this and could never really immerse myself in the story, into the characters’ lives and motivations… it just did not work for me. I felt like it did not go deep enough for it to be an effective character exploration, neither the writing annoyed me so much, for example – the girl who was murdered is often described as having an “otherworldly beauty” and being a bit cold and standoffish and acting weird but this was not ever explained, just stated – I feel like she was not given any voice or personality at all. I just didn’t like this book.
Magma by Thora Hjortleifsdottir, translated from Icelandic by Meg Matich
If you like getting punched in the gut, I highly recommend this one! I got super curious about this book after seeing Callum, Marija, and Rachel talk so highly about it. I am very glad to have picked it up because it’s a short and intense read that will definitely stay with me. Magma tells the story of a young woman who falls in love and quickly moves in with a man who she feels so lucky to be with. As she starts to become more intimate with him, his toxic, manipulative behavior starts to break her. This is an intense, dark read that perfectly captures the feeling of being in a relationship that you tell yourself it’s not abusive.
I normally would not have gotten a second book from the same country for WIT month, but this was so short and if I didn’t read it now, I don’t know when I would have picked it up. This broke my heart and oh gosh, it was a hard but such wonderful read. It’s also only 2h in audiobook, so I highly recommend!
The Door by Magda Szabó, translated from Hungarian by Len Rix
Whew, this novel! The Door is a wonderful novel about the complex relationship between two women, a housekeeper and a much younger writer. They often clash in their beliefs and go into huge fights, but always gravitate back to each other. I adore books about friendships, and I loved how there was an aura of mystery throughout the whole book about the housekeeper’s past. If you love stories with grey, unlikable characters that you just KNOW will break your heart, read this. It’s SO good.
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd
I was not really going to pick up another WIT book for August, but then I saw this available on Scribd and I just had to! As said before, I normally try to not repeat countries, but since Terminal Boredom fell a bit flat for me, I felt quite justified picking this up. This was also a mixed experience, with a lot of the dialogue seeming a bit off, plus the story itself didn’t quite do it for me, but nevertheless I highly admired the author’s ability to convey such an emotional punch in such a slim volume. I am excited to read Ms Ice Sandwich next!