August is Women in Translation month, an event started by Meytal Radzinski of Biblibio to encourage reading more of the too-few books written by women that are translated into English each year (statistics are a bit hard to come by, but women writers only account for around a third of what’s translated.) You can learn more about it here. There are various happenings around literary sites and blogs, plus bookstore and literary events and discounts from publishers.
This year they’re also asking for readers’ votes on the 100 best books by women in translation. Send your posts and picks to @Read_WIT and use #WITMonth and #100BestWIT.
Nonfiction is an even smaller slice of what gets translated into English, let alone by women, so all the more reason to highlight it. I’m sharing reviews this month of books I’ve read recently by women in translation, plus the titles I’ve read over the past year listed below. And here’s last year’s list of recent reads and favorites if you want a little more translated nonfiction inspiration. What nonfiction in translation by women do you love?
I’m Writing You From Tehran: A Granddaughter’s Search For Her Family’s Past and Their Country’s Future, by Delphine Minoui, translated from French by Emma Ramadan — A journalist moves from France to her family’s native Iran to research her grandfather’s life and examine it in the context of the country’s current turbulent state.
Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II, by Svetlana Alexievich, translated from Russian by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky — Alexievich’s most recent work translated into English is a collection of harrowing but powerful oral histories from people who survived the Second World War as children, many in the Soviet Union, looking back on their experiences and sifting through memories.
But You Did Not Come Back, by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, translated from French by Sandra Smith — Loridan-Ivens and her father were captured as Jews in Vichy France and shipped to Auschwitz; she survived and returned, he didn’t. This gorgeous memoir written near the end of her long life is loosely structured as a letter to him about the life she lived after coming back and how his absence was felt.
Rasputin and Other Ironies, by Teffi, translated from Russian by Robert Chandler — Beloved Russian satirist Teffi’s memoir-in-essays of moments in her life and people she’s known, including major figures in recent Russian history (Lenin, Rasputin). It’s a good introduction to what a quirky, significant figure she was herself, especially in the Russian émigré literary world.
The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, translated from Dutch by Jane Brown — Activist and former Dutch parliamentarian Ali’s first book (and the only one not originally written in English) is a collections of essays around women’s issues (and much more, really) in Islam. She touches on some of the autobiographical stories and events she would later expand on brilliantly in her memoir Infidel. (review)
Within the Whirlwind, by Eugenia Ginzburg, translated from Russian by Ian Boland– Ginzburg’s flawless Journey Into the Whirlwind ended with her en route to the Gulag for alleged political crimes during Stalin’s Terror. This second memoir recalls the years she spent in Siberia, working as a medical assistant, and the life she built upon her release. She’s an extraordinary writer and storyteller, and here describes focusing intently on retaining events and details in order to write about them. (review coming!)
Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, by Svetlana Alexievich, translated from Russian by Bela Shayevich — The period around the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition into a new Russia is endlessly fascinating to me. This oral history collection draws from Alexievich’s talks with ordinary people who lived through this time as they reflect on the changes with a wide and often unexpected range of reactions. Nothing has ever helped me understand Communism and the former Soviet Union more. (review coming!)
The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, by Dunya Mikhail, translated from Arabic by Max Weiss — Poet and journalist Mikhail tells, through the lens of heroic Iraqi beekeeper Abdullah Shrem, the terrifying stories of the women brutalized by ISIS who managed to escape with his help. He organized escape networks at his own peril. Many of the women were Yazidis, an ethnic minority heavily targeted and enslaved by ISIS. (review coming!)
Have you read any of these? What nonfiction in translation by women do you recommend?