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Jessica Maria's Favorite Women In Translation Books

Welcome to a celebration of translated literature by women, thanks to Women In Translation Month. August became a month dedicated to translated women authors in 2014, thanks to the efforts of blogger Meytal Radzinski. I love reading translated works—to read is to transport oneself, and translated novels offer an endless array of experiences.

Part of Radzinski’s initiative was about how little women are represented in translated work, and I’m eager to continue my journey into exploring more translated authors. In researching this piece, I realized I haven’t read any translated works originating in many different languages (Hungarian, Tagalog, Arabic, Latvian, Portugese, Malayalam); I hope to rectify that. There are some great indie presses finding and publishing excellent works in other languages, like And Other Stories, Deep Vellum Publishing, Charco Press, Archipelago Books, and Europa Editions to name only a few.

There are so many more books I wanted to recommend for #WITmonth and couldn’t fit in (Hurricane Season! Humiliation!)—for now, here are my recommendations if you seek out the words of women from around the world.

The Days of Abandonment

by Elena Ferrante

Translated from the Italian

by Ann Goldstein

When it comes to checking out #WITmonth on social media, you’ll likely see Elena Ferrante’s popular series The Neopolitan Quartet (starting with My Brilliant Friend) in many stacks. Though I’d consider Ferrante’s scorching series an all-time favorite, I always tell people who’ve never read Ferrante to read The Days of Abandonment first. It’s about 200 pages (compared to the thousands of pages of the Quartet!) and really gives you a taste of Ferrante’s trademark writing, with a woman at the center who is brimming with anger. A truly thrilling introduction to one of the best writers today.

188 pages. 2005.


Optic Nerve

by María Gainza

Translated from the Spanish

by Thomas Bunstead

I picked up this slim novel earlier this year, knowing little except that it had been picked by many as the best book of 2019. The Argentinean writer María Gainza is an art critic, and her fictional tale pairs each chapter of her main character’s life with a focus on a piece of art or an artist. Gainza uses that art as a prism into her character’s life and history; or even Argentinean history, world history. She treads on topics of how people choose to present themselves, the arc of a friendship, motherhood, family, marriage, and death. It's about how perception of art can shape lives; I mean, what do we do on this site but share how we perceive art (books)? It seems plotless, but it culminates in a particularly poignant last chapter. It welled my eyes with tears.

208 pages. 2019.


The Vegetarian

by Han Kang

Translated from the Korean

by Deborah Smith

This novel has three parts and each is filled with a sense of unease, like there’s something lurking between the lines that you’re trying to coax from the shadows. It’s beautiful and terrifying, and leaves you unsure of what you just read, but knowing that you’d like to dive deeper into the enigma of the main character, Yeong-hye.

208 pages. 2016.


Fever Dream

by Samanta Schweblin

Translated from the Spanish

by Megan McDowell

A good pairing with The Vegetarian, another seemingly otherworldly book that speaks on an almost ethereal level to the troubles of our world today. The Spanish title of the Argentinean novel is ‘Distancia de rescate,’ or, The Rescue Distance—a concept that was explained in the book and one that still makes me shiver whenever I think of it, especially as a mom. Let Schweblin take hold of you in this eerie, and yes, feverish, tale.

192 pages. 2018.


The Book of Anna

By Carmen Boullosa

Translated from the Spanish

by Samantha Schnee

The characters from Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina live on in The Book of Anna, but... they know they are characters written by someone else. I mean: to try to explain the mechanics would not do the book justice. There's a bomb-planting political activist named Clementine! 🕵🏻‍♀️ Tolstoy fans approach Anna's son Sergei at the opera because they know he's fictional! 📝 Critics calling a painting of Anna 'better than the book!' 🖼 What if Anna Karenina wrote a feminist fairytale? Read it here! 📜 I wrote so many notes and marginalia throughout my reading, so many aspects that I was unable to include in my final review but love so much (the treatment of dress and clothing, the Russian political history, Vronsky). All this to say: I highly recommend this playful and thoughtful novel.

200 pages. 2020.


The Story of My Teeth

by Valeria Luiselli

Translated from the Spanish

by Christina MacSweeney

In the spirit of Translation! (capital T, exclamation point), I bring you The Story of My Teeth. Luiselli not only wrote this experimental novel with the help of some juice factory workers in Mexico while she was living in New York, but in the spirit and philosophy of a translator being part of the novel, MacSweeney also provides some words to the story, and process. A weird and awesome delight.

184 pages. 2015.


The Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yōko Ogawa

Translated from the Japanese

by Stephen Snyder

If you’re in the mood for something heartwarming with just a twinge of sad, but a good heap of adorable, read this. I was utterly charmed by this story of a former math professor who has short-term memory due to an accident, and the connection he forms with his new housekeeper and her young son. I was surprised to feel my heart warm to these characters and the love they find for each other despite situational circumstances (money, class, Japanese culture also play into the dynamics). I smiled when they were happy, and despaired when they were sad; I was endeared to them in every sense. And though I guessed as to some of the revelations near the end, I still felt like I was 'with them,' and wistful to have to say goodbye at the close. The novel is a quick and affectionate read. You probably recognize Yōko Ogawa’s name from her most recently translated book, The Memory Police, which was shortlisted for this year’s Booker International Prize.

180 pages. 2009.



by Rita Indiana

Translated from the Spanish

by Achy Obejas

And now for something completely different! It’s hard to describe Tentacle; Dominican writer Rita Indiana traverses so much territory and experiments with several mechanisms of storytelling and art. I’ll try though: the story flits through time, not only for its main character, Acilde, from a future after a devastating environmental disaster to the years leading up to it, but also from a personal journey in the body they are inhabiting. Their body, told in a mesmerizing passage (I think my mouth was agape), is transformed and a mission bestowed upon them: travel in time, prevent disaster. The way in which Indiana approaches time travel was new to me, like so much of the way this book works. Indiana mines colonial history, queerness, modern art. It can certainly be confusing at times, but it’s also thought-provoking.

160 pages. 2019.


Wait, Blink

by Gunnhild Øyehaug

Translated from the Norwegian

by Kari Dickson

The title with tagline is Wait, Blink: A Perfect Picture of Inner Life. The omniscient narrator introduces several characters scattered across Scandinavia, mostly women, and traces their inner lives professionally, personally, and pop culturally. I really admire the way Øyehaug crafted the narrative voice; I found it clever and at times I laughed out loud. A little weird, but I love being surprised by playfulness in writing.

288 pages. 2019.


On Lighthouses

by Jazmina Barrera

Translated from the Spanish

by Christina MacSweeney

If fiction doesn’t mesmerize you the way it does me, try this short group of essays about lighthouses. Look at these buildings in brand new ways, and learn something on your journey with Mexican writer Jazmina Barrera. (Plus, Christina MacSweeney, after her translation and contribution to The Story of My Teeth, is a translator I keep my eye on!) On Lighthouses is a beautiful perspective on collection and obsession. My full review is here.

174 pages. 2020.


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