I haven’t been doing a lot of wrap ups lately, which means I am missing out on talking about a lot of my recent reads and I wanted to highlight a bit some of the books I’ve read that are both really short and also written by women in translation. There is still SO MUCH time for Women In Translation Month but I simply cannot wait until next August to talk about these!
Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero, translated by Frances Riddle
Ok so this was absolutely brutal, but a quick and very engaging read. The writing is dark, intense and I needed a few breaks between stories but I’m still thinking about this gem of a book weeks after reading it. I cannot find the translator.
Named one of the ten best fiction books of 2018 by the New York Times en Español, Cockfight is the debut work by Ecuadorian writer and journalist María Fernanda Ampuero.
In lucid and compelling prose, Ampuero sheds light on the hidden aspects of the home: the grotesque realities of family, coming of age, religion, and class struggle. A family’s maids witness a horrible cycle of abuse, a girl is auctioned off by a gang of criminals, and two sisters find themselves at the mercy of their spiteful brother. With violence masquerading as love, characters spend their lives trapped reenacting their past traumas.
Heralding a brutal and singular new voice, Cockfight explores the power of the home to both create and destroy those within it.
Inseparable by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Sandra Smith
This is my first Simone de Beauvoir book and it immediately put on my radar everything else she ever wrote. This heartbreaking fictionalized autofiction is about Simone’s best friend and first love, who dies suddenly and so young, truly captivated me.
A never-before-published novel by the iconic Simone de Beauvoir of an intense and vivid girlhood friendship
From the moment Sylvie and Andrée meet in their Parisian day school, they see in each other an accomplice with whom to confront the mysteries of girlhood. For the next ten years, the two are the closest of friends and confidantes as they explore life in a post-World War One France, and as Andrée becomes increasingly reckless and rebellious, edging closer to peril.
Sylvie, insightful and observant, sees a France of clashing ideals and religious hypocrisy—and at an early age is determined to form her own opinions. Andrée, a tempestuous dreamer, is inclined to melodrama and romance. Despite their different natures they rely on each other to safeguard their secrets while entering adulthood in a world that did not pay much attention to the wills and desires of young women.
Deemed too intimate to publish during Simone de Beauvoir’s life, Inseparable offers fresh insight into the groundbreaking feminist’s own coming-of-age; her transformative, tragic friendship with her childhood friend Zaza Lacoin; and how her youthful relationships shaped her philosophy. Sandra Smith’s vibrant translation of the novel will be long cherished by de Beauvoir devotees and first-time readers alike.
Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas
Okay so I read this poetry collection in the original Portuguese, but there is an edition in English, translated by Hilary Kaplan. If you enjoy contemporary, fun poetry, this might be for you! I liked her more recent collection a lot better but this was still a very interesting read.
Rilke Shake’s title, a pun on milkshake, means in Portuguese just what it does in English. With frenetic humor and linguistic innovation, Angélica Freitas constructs a temple of delight to celebrate her own literary canon. In this whirlwind debut collection, first published in Portuguese in 2007, Gertrude Stein passes gas in her bathtub, a sushi chef cries tears of Suntory Whisky, and Ezra Pound is kept “insane in a cage in pisa.” Hilary Kaplan’s translation is as contemporary and lyrical as the Portuguese-language original, a considerable feat considering the collection’s breakneck pace.
Magma by Thora Hjortleifsdottir, translated by Meg Matich
This short but incredibly intense book about a young woman in an abusive relationship really broke my heart. I think I literally held my breath in some parts, which I did not expect from a book that takes about 2h to listen to. This was VERY good.
A compulsive, propulsive debut about a young woman’s haunting experience of love, abuse, and sex in an era of pornification by one of Iceland’s most provocative writers.
20-year old Lilja is in love. As a young university student, she is quickly smitten with the intelligent, beautiful young man from school who quotes Derrida and reads Latin and cooks balanced vegetarian meals. Before she even realizes, she’s moved in with him, living in his cramped apartment, surrounded by sour towels and flat Diet Cokes. As the newfound intimacy of sharing a shower and a bed fuels her desire to please her partner, his acts of nearly imperceptible abuse continue to mount undetected. Lilja desperately tries to be the perfect lover, attempting to meet his every need. But in order to do so, she gradually lets go of her boundaries and starts to lose her sense of self.
With astounding clarity and restraint, Hjortleifsdottir sheds light on the commonplace undercurrents of violence that so often go undetected in romantic relationships. She deftly illustrates the failings of psychiatric systems in recognizing symptoms of cruelty, and in powerful, poetic prose depicts the unspooling of a tender-hearted woman desperate to love well.
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy
Oh god I loved this so much! I was not ready for how bonkers and hilarious this collections of short stories about an old lady “with no qualms about a little murder” was going to be. This truly made my day. I also just found out the second book was JUST published and I will definitely be picking it up!
Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.
Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.
Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?
Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami, translated Louise Heal Kawai
Let’s be honest, I will enjoy anything Mieko Kawakami writes. I loved Breasts and Eggs, really liked Heaven, and Ms Ice Sandwich was another very good read! There is something fascinating, sweet and sad about the way she writes characters and I love it.
A quixotic and funny tale about first love – from the Akutagawa Prize-winning author.
Ms Ice Sandwich seems to lack social graces, but our young narrator is totally smitten with her. He is in awe of her aloofness, her skill at slipping sandwiches into bags, and, most electric of all, her ice-blue eyelids. Every day he is drawn to the supermarket just to watch her in action. But life has a way of interfering – there is his mother, forever distracted, who can tell the fortunes of women; his grandmother, silently dying, who listens to his heart; and his classmate, Tutti, no stranger to pain, who shares her private thrilling world with him.
Tender, warm, yet unsentimental, Ms Ice Sandwich is a story about new starts, parents who have departed, and the importance of saying goodbye.