11 whitefox Book Picks for Women in Translation Month

By   Hannah Bickerton 9 min read

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This August we’re celebrating the work of phenomenal female writers from all over the world for Women in Translation Month. Did you know that less than three per cent of books published in English are translated titles, and only a third of those are authored by women?

Women in Translation Month offers the chance to showcase the translated work of women writers and inspire readers to diversify and explore a vast variety of brilliant books from different cultures. If you’re not sure where to start, or you’re simply looking to discover some new #WITMonth reads, here are eleven book recommendations from the whitefox team:

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 (82년생 김지영) | Cho Nam-Joo, translated by Jamie Chang

‘While offenders were in fear of losing a small part of their privilege, the victims were running the risk of losing everything.’

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is the life story of one young woman born in South Korea at the end of the twentieth century, though it raises questions about endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that are relevant to everyone. Translated from Korean by Jamie Chang, this is a truly compelling, provocative and powerful book from start to finish, exploring themes and issues surrounding motherhood, mental health, autonomy, family and work. Cho Nam-Joo holds a mirror up to a world dominated by men, examining the plight of all women and revealing the daily discriminations, unfair burden of expectations, and societal mistreatment women are forced to endure.

Lullaby (Chanson douce) | Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

‘Solitude was like a drug that she wasn’t sure she wanted to do without.’

International bestseller Lullaby is a dark novel that investigates themes of motherhood, class division and power. Translated from French, this thriller tells the tale of Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, her husband, Paul, a successful music producer, and their two beautiful children. When Myriam decides to return to work, the couple can’t quite believe their luck in finding Louise, the perfect nanny; she’s quiet, polite, experienced and deeply devoted to her work. However, as the couple and Louise grow more dependent on each other, jealousy and resentment begin to seep into their perfectly crafted idyll. The result is every parent’s worst nightmare. An incredible book that is sure to keep you on your toes and send shivers down your spine.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (人生がときめく片づけの魔法) | Marie Kondō, translated by Cathy Hirano

‘But when we really delve into the reasons  why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.’

Japan’s ultimate expert declutterer and professional cleaner Marie Kondō helps transform readers’ lives with her inspirational step-by-step guide to tidying your home so that it is forever clear and clutter-free. She shares the key to successful tidying and offers advice on how to choose which items to discard, revealing the impact orderly surroundings can have on the quality of your life. The KonMari Method is designed to help you develop the confidence, energy and motivation needed to create a life of productivity and success, and to detach yourself from items that hold negative connotations, spark bad memories or trigger anxiety. It’s a simple, effective and compelling read for those looking to make a change to their daily lives.

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The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus) | Isabel Allende, translated by Magda Bogin

‘Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown. But the fear is something from within us that has nothing to do with reality. Dying is like being born: just a change.’

Translated from Spanish, Chilean author Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits explores the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the proud and passionate Trueba family. The patriarch, Esteban, is a volatile landowner whose voracious pursuit of political power is tempered only by his love for his wife, Clara, a mysterious and delicate woman with a peculiar connection to the spirit world. When the couple’s daughter, Blanca, pursues a secret love affair in defiance of her father, the unexpected result is his beautiful and strong-willed granddaughter, Alba, who will change the course of their lives forever. This enthralling epic spans decades and weaves the personal and the political into a story of love, magic and fate that will speak to everyone.

Please Look After Mother (엄마를 부탁해) | Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Chi-Young Kim

‘Either a mother and daughter know each other very well or they are strangers.’

Please Look After Mother is a magnificent novel about sacrifice, guilt and the ties of family love. Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim, the book chronicles the life of a loving, selfless mother, So-nyo, who has lived a life of sacrifice, poverty, loneliness and compromise. When travelling from the Korean countryside to the capital of Seoul to visit her grown-up children, So-nyo is separated from her husband and disappears. As her family desperately tries to find her, memories trigger each of them to recall So-nyo’s life and who she really is. Four different perspectives take readers on a journey to unearth the pieces once lost in the past, conjuring the formation of an intricate puzzle that reminds them of the ones they hold dear. Universally adored, Kyung-Sook Shin’s novel is compassionate, melancholic and powerful, offering readers the chance to reflect on forgotten sacrifices and what family truly means to them.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (Время секонд хэнд) | Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Bela Shayevich

‘Let time be the judge. Time is just, but only in the long term – not in the short term. The time we won’t live to see, which will be free of our prejudices.’

Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time chronicles the decline and fall of Soviet communism and the rise of oligarchic capitalism. It is an oral history of this transition, told through a complex tapestry of voices collected from a multitude of interviews between 1991 and 2012. Translated from Russian, Secondhand Time is an explosively profound and intimate rendering of the collective memory of the region, sharing people’s darkest traumas and greatest regrets. Every voice tells a story of a nation abandoned by the Kremlin, presenting a polyphony of perspectives on a socierts that always presented itself as homogenous and monolithic. It is no surprise, then, that Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015, her writing recognised as developing its own unique genre – history for the soul.

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Chéri | Colette, translated by Roger Senhouse

‘I love my past. I love my present. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve had, and I’m not sad because I have it no longer.’

Infamous French author Colette is known for both her writing and her fascinating life, having had an affair with Napoleon’s niece and been indentured as a ghostwriter for her devious husband. Set in the Paris suburbs, Chéri is a witty melodrama about an attractive and privileged young man, Fred Peloux – known as Chéri – and the chaos he causes in the lives of the women around him. His love affair with the magnificent courtesan Léa de Lonval, who is twice his age, leads to feelings of intense attachment that neither lover quite realises until they are forced to part ways. Filled with spectacular characters, stunning prose and captivating descriptions, Chéri is a masterful must-read.

Convenience Store Woman (コンビニ人間) | Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

‘When you work in a convenience store, people often look down on you for working there. I find this fascinating, and I like to look them in the face when they do this to me. And as I do so I always think: that’s what a human is.’

Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is a quirky novella translated from Japanese, telling the tale of Keiko, a woman who has never really fitted in and isn’t sure she wants to. It is in her job at the newly opened convenience store that she finally finds peace and purpose, content with the simplicity of daily routines and tasks. But still, the people in her life feel she must find a better job, or, more importantly, a husband. Weird, wonderful and at times sad, Murata’s novella explores the expectations and pressures placed on women in Japanese society and provides a voice to those with differing desires and aspirations from the norm.

The Second Sex (Le deuxième sexe) | Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Constance Borde

‘The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project.’

A landmark in feminist history, French existentialist novelist Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex presents a groundbreaking study of women through the lenses of biology, history, sociology, literature, anthropology, psychoanalysis and mythology. She examines the limits of female freedom and challenges the deeply ingrained societal beliefs surrounding femininity, all her observations being as relevant today as they were when the book was first published in 1949. The premise that runs throughout the study is that there is no valid reason for the age-old phenomenon of a male-dominated world, that it was men who created the prejudices that have resulted in the debased position of women in society. Although it’s a dense and lengthy read, it is undoubtedly a rewarding experience that will for decades to come open the eyes of readers to the societal inequalities of the sexes.

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The White Book (흰) | Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

‘Is it because of some billowing whiteness within us, unsullied, inviolate, that our encounters with objects so pristine never fail to leave us moved?’

Translated from Korean by the extraordinarily talented Deborah Smith, Han Kang’s The White Book is an unconventional elegy, memoir and meditation on morality and meaning. The colour white symbolises purity, light, sanctity, fragility and, in Korea, mourning, remembrance and the clarity of the passage to a less troubling world. At the centre of the book is Han’s own reflection on the baby sister she never knew, who passed away only two hours after birth, white representing her feelings of despair, hope and pain about a life taken too soon and a chance that was never granted. The White Book is a powerful evocation of human spirit and suffering that allows readers to discover the sparse intimacies of the narrator’s life, chapters varying from fragments of verse to brilliant gasps of narrative, heightened further by Smith’s eloquent, sensitive and expertly crafted translation.

Moonbath (Bain de lune) | Yanick Lahens, translated by Emily Gogolak

‘In spite of its poverty, its political upheavals, its lack of resources, Haiti is not a peripheral place. Its history has made it a center.’

Moonbath by Haitian author Yanick Lahens is an award-winning novel and intimate family saga that spans four generations of women while exploring and reflecting on the complex history and cultural traditions of Haiti. The narrative shifts lyrically between the voices of the women, interweaving their lives and revealing their shared struggles with poverty and violence, and their deepest moments of hope and despair. It is by no means an easy read, in both its historical and political complexity and its haunting themes, but a necessary one? Most definitely.

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Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.