12 books to read for Women in Translation Month

12 books to read for Women in Translation Month

Here on Modern Mrs Darcy, we’re longtime advocates of reading works in translation as a way to experience the vast and varied types of storytelling from around the world. Works in translation take readers beyond armchair travel and immerse us in cultures that are different from our own.

In 2014, Meytal Radzinski established Women in Translation month in August, dedicated to reading and promoting the works of women in translation, and the works of women whose work has not yet been translated.

One of the categories for the 2020 Reading Challenge  is to read a book in translation, and August is the perfect month to check that box.

12 books to read for Women in Translation Month

Today I’m sharing a list of favorite and to-be-read books in translation by women. We have a wide variety here, so whether you love mystery novels, sweeping family sagas, or historical nonfiction—I hope you find a book on this list that sparks your interest and helps you complete your reading challenge.

12 books to read for Women in Translation Month

12 fascinating and eye-opening books by women in translation

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Author:
Readers, this novel has been languishing on my TBR list for years. Maybe this year's Women in Translation month is finally the time to pick it up? It was first published in the United States in 2008 as a gorgeous Europa edition. My readerly friends are split: some love it, some hate it, some say it's over their heads. I intend to read it for myself. (I've been warned to not give up until Mr. Ozu shows up.) Originally written in French and translated by Alison Anderson. More info →
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Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman

Author:
This quirky little book from the 2018 Summer Reading Guide is unlike anything I've ever read. Keiko was an uncommon child with worried parents until she takes on a job in a convenience store. They relax, seeing she's found a good-enough job for her university days. But eighteen years later, she is still working her low-level job, and doesn't understand why society expects more from her than that. In fact, she doesn't seem to understand society's expectations—or how to conform to them—at all. Hot tip: critics compare Keiko to French heroine Amélie, although the two live different lives in different worlds. Originally written in Japanese and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. More info →
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The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka Book 1)

The Ice Princess (Fjällbacka Book 1)

Readers with great taste have been telling me to read Lackberg for years, because of my love of Tana French. (She's also frequently compared to Stieg Larsson.) The story in this novel, Lackberg's U.S. debut, centers around Erica, a writer who returns to her hometown to bury her parents and begin work on her next book. But when Erica's best friend dies in an apparent suicide, she slowly realizes that this no longer the same town she grew up in, and its secrets are now dark, and deep. More info →
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Daughter of Fortune

Daughter of Fortune

Author:
Orphaned at a young age and raised by a Victorian spinster and her brother in Valparaíso, Chile—Eliza Sommers falls in love with Joaquín Andieta against her family's wishes. When Joaquín disappears during the Gold Rush, Eliza leaves Chile to search for him. Her dangerous adventure results in newfound freedom and love she never expected, with plenty of history, drama, and intriguing characters along the way. Written in 1998, this sweeping novel is seamlessly translated by Margaret Sayers Peded. Although this novel stands on its own, readers may be interested in Allende's related works: the sequel, A Portrait in Sepia, and The House of the Spirits. More info →
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Strange Weather in Tokyo

Strange Weather in Tokyo

Author:
Lucy Tan put this book on my radar when she called it one of her favorites following this episode of What Should I Read Next. Elegant and spare, simple and poignant, this story of loneliness and love unfolds as a series of vignettes. Fun fact: this was originally published as The Briefcase; read it and you'll see why. I loved this one; we read it as a flight pick in the MMD Book Club. Allison Markin Powell's translation has been much-praised. More info →
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The Governesses

The Governesses

Author:
Mel Joulwan convinced me to read this super-short French novel when she described it as a "naughty fairy tale" in WSIRN Episode 219, called "Required reading revisited." This novel was published in France in 1992 but not translated into English until 2018. In this lush story with Gothic vibes, three mysterious sisters dwell in an isolated mansion behind a golden gate, ever-watchful that an unsuspecting man will stumble upon the garden path, that they may first bewitch and then devour him. Smart, magical, playful—and also A LOT darker than I expected; "naughty" doesn't begin to cover it. (Content warnings for sexual content.) More info →
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Disoriental

Disoriental

Author:
A National Book Award finalist and Winner of the 2019 Albertine Prize and Lambda Literary Award, and countless other literary awards (this checks a lot of boxes for the 2020 MMD Reading Challenge). At the age of ten, Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran with her mother and sisters to join their father in France. Now 25, Kimiâ sits in the waiting room of a Paris fertility clinic while generations of Sadr ancestors visit her, flooding her with memories, history, and stories. Merging a sweeping family story with factual Iranian history, this semi-biographical novel explores cultural and sexual identity, family tradition, and storytelling as a means of finding oneself. More info →
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The End of the Ocean

The End of the Ocean

Author:
Told in alternating perspectives, this Norwegian novel weaves two stories together to form an apocalyptic story about family and survival. In 2019, seventy-year-old Signe takes to the ocean on a harrowing mission to cross in a sailboat, driven by lost love. Years later, following a worldwide water shortage in 2041, David and his daughter Lou flee drought-ravaged Southern Europe on a mission to reunite with their family. Along their journey, they find artifacts and belongings from Signe's adventure, and their stories merge. More info →
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Celestial Bodies

Celestial Bodies

Author:
Set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, this prize-winning family saga is the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English. The story follows three sisters who take different paths, marrying in heartbreak, marrying for duty, and refusing to marry. Through their stories, every part of Oman society is revealed along with family histories. Told in alternating perspectives with a wide array of characters, the finely-woven stories require attentive reading. More info →
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The Story of My Teeth

The Story of My Teeth

Gustavo "Highway" Sanchez Sanchez is a traveler, story-teller, and auctioneer who proudly possesses the teeth of "notorious infamous" people like Plato, Marilyn Monroe, or Virginia Woolf. In what Luiselli calls a "novel-essay," she takes the reader on Highway's journey through Mexico City with literary references, stories, and a unique creative collaboration. She wrote this short book with the help of workers at the Jumex Juice Factory, sharing each piece with them book-club-style and shaping the story based on their comments and reactions. More info →
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Madame Victoria

Madame Victoria

Catherine Leroux watched the story unfold on the nightly news. A woman's skeleton had been found in the woods near Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital. Even though authorities tried everything to identify the body: auditing hospital records, forensic facial reconstruction, DNA testing—she remains a mystery. They named her Madame Victoria and placed her bones in an evidence room. Leroux, fascinated by the possibilities of this woman's life, constructs several possible life stories for her in this unique collection of re-imaginings. More info →
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The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in WWII

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in WWII

Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich shares stories of women's experiences in WWII "on the front lines, on the home front, and in occupied territories" in this oral history. A powerful collection of untold true stories of sacrifice, patriotism, and danger. Sensitive readers take note: these accounts include gruesome war stories and violence in detail. Readers of Kate Quinn's The Alice Network or The Huntress will find this to be an excellent nonfiction supplement to their historical fiction reading. More info →
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Do you have a book in translation on your TBR list this month? Tell us what you’re reading—or what you recommend—in the comments.

P.S. Expand your literary horizons with 20 books in translation or 7 of my favorite books in translation from 2015.

12 books to read for Women in Translation Month

66 comments | Comment

66 comments

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  1. Tracie says:

    So far this month I’ve read two books in translation: “The Housekeeper and the Professor,” by Yogo Ogawa. Translated from Japanese. It is a beautiful story that involves numbers, baseball, and found family.

    Also “Autopsy of a Boring Wife,” by Mare-Renee Lavoie. Translated from French. I was hoping to read a book with a strong sense of place in Quebec, but that’s not the case. I still loved this funny story of a woman who comes a bit unraveled after her husband suddenly announces he’s leaving her because he’s in love with another woman. It’s told from the perspective of the main character and her thoughts (and often actions) are hilarious.

    The Ice Princess is on my list — I should get it any day now from my library holds. Also planning to read “Three Apples Fell from the Sky” by Narine Abgaryan.

    I have read and enjoyed Convenience Store Woman. I started to listen to Strange Weather in Tokyo but haven’t been able to get into it. I also started to read Celestial Bodies earlier this year but put it down. I would like to try that one again.

    “The Big Green Tent,” “The Eight Life,” and “All the Rivers” are also on my holds list at the library.

    • Rachel says:

      I loved The Housekeeper and the Professor! And even though Convenience Store Woman as a reading experience was just okay for me, I think of the scenes in the story all the time and have talked about the themes in the book many times to other people. So I guess it was better than I thought!

    • Christina says:

      I LOVE the Housekeeper and the Professor! That’s one I would probably reread. I listened to the audio version which was great, other than trying to track with the mathy discussion could be hard that way (I’m visual). So glad you enjoyed it too!

  2. oh my gosh, you have to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog! When I first read it, and I fnished the last page, I flipped right back to the first page and began reading it again- I just didn’t want to leave that world. It is easilyone of my faovurite novels ever.

  3. Cb says:

    Ooh, I’ve been reading loads in translation as part of my effort to read a book from every country over the next decade. Some recommendations:
    Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Japan) is whimsical, heartbreaking, and lovely
    White Hunger (Finland) is bleak and spare
    My Sister the Serial Killer (Nigeria) was a slow burn for me but I’m thinking about it months later
    The Girl with the Louding Voice (Nigeria) beautiful and moving
    How We Disappeared (Singapore), gorgeous, reminiscent of Pachinko for me
    Estoril (Portugal) whimsical, sad, lovely.
    No Longer at Ease (Nigeria), an African classic
    In Diamond Square (Catalonia), so, so beautiful, set at the time of the Spanish revolution
    North Road Toll (Sri Lanka), a random pick from the library pre-lockdown and I really enjoyed it
    Johannesburg (South Africa), weird and wonderful, set in a single day, the day of Mandela’s death
    The Woman (Italy), a feminist classic
    The Missing of Clairedelune (France) French Harry Potter
    The Girl in the Tree (Turkey), a Turkish Bell Jar, really evocative and sad.

  4. Katy Picken says:

    I recently read The Memory Police by Yoko Agawa, translated from the Japanese. It’s a wonderful slightly surreal novel, which draws you in with its gentle slow pace, and about halfway through you realise how totally devastating it is.

  5. Sofia says:

    This is such a great selection!
    I have ‘Disoriental’ and ‘The unwomanly face of the war’ in my TBR 🙂
    I absolutely love Isabel Allende and ‘Daughter of fortune’ is one of her best books. I also suggest reading ‘The house of spirits’ and her latest book ‘A long petal of the sea’.
    If you’re looking for more suggestions (and if you like books set in Italy) I highly recommend Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child).
    I recently read ‘The german house’ by Anette Hess, first published in german. It’s a historical fiction story based on the Frankfurt Trials following WWII. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Me too! I’m only part way through, but I’m loving. It checks all my boxes for relatable characters, beautiful writing, and satisfying plot.

  6. Emily Murphy says:

    I’m looking forward to reading The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt as my book in translation. Everything I’ve heard of her work is encouraging, so I have really high hopes (fingers crossed they aren’t dashed!).

  7. Debbie says:

    I would highly recommend The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segoria and translated by Simon Bruni. This was one of my favorite books from 2019 and I still think about the characters and their story.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I loved The Murmur of Bees, the writing was so lyrical. It was fascinating to have the 1918 Pandemic in the background during our current Pandemic. Surprising how 100 years apart, some things are the same!

  8. Vickie Curtis says:

    Nice to see Svetlana Alexievich on your list. I’m doing the 2020 reading challenge and read ‘Boys in Zinc’ where she documents experiences of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. It’s utterly heartbreaking but beautifully relayed.

  9. Gina says:

    I recommend The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia, an interesting story with a Mexican historical perspective. The flu epidemic of 1918 details are sadly parallel to current time but is also just another speed bump in this generational family saga.

  10. Gwen says:

    It’s August! It’s time for the silliness and intrigue that is all things “Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio”! This is the third in her series of mysteries set in Sicily and is translated from German. Grab a summer beverage and enjoy.

  11. Sylvia says:

    I have been trying to find more books in translation to read, so I’m excited to check out the ones you recommended.
    One of my favorite books in translation is called Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook and translated by Chi-Young Kim. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of family and what the mom means to each of the three children and her husband. The story is told from each persons perspective, concluding with the mom’s and you definitely need a box of Kleenex handy when reading it.

  12. Anne says:

    I read a trilogy translated from German by Petra Durst-Bennington: The Glassblower; The American Lady; and The Paradise of Glass. They were recommended by a friend, and I enjoyed them very much.

  13. Cathey Avery says:

    You should add Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by the Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk. An interesting mystery – Flights by her is also very good.

  14. Myrthe says:

    “The Eighth Life” by Nino Haratischwili is one of my favorite books ever. It’s a family saga spanning several generations set in Georgia in the fomer Soviet Union.

    The Ice Princess is the first in a great crime series. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a series to binge-read. Another good crime series is the Thora Gudmundsdottir series by Yrsa Sigurdadottir (translated from Icelandic). Start with the first book, Last Rituals, and best read in order.

  15. Maria Ontiveros says:

    I’m reading the Viveca Sten mysteries for my three by same author, but I found her because I thought she’d be my translation pick! The House of Spirits by Allende is one of my favorite all time books.

  16. Sara T. says:

    This quite a list. You included Camilla Lackberg. I just finished The Golden Cage. WOW. It shows the length Faye will go to get revenge on her cheating husband. Simply delicious.

    • Melissa says:

      You should also pick up Bivald’s newest: Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins! It, too, is translated, and I am loving it more than Broken Wheel! 🙂

  17. Erica says:

    I’m waiting for my order of the French book Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin. It sounds like a lovely book about a woman who lives in a small town as the caretaker of a cemetery. It would seem that she is just as much a caretaker of the grave sites as she is of the various people who come to visit. Sounds like a very different kind of story than I’ve read before!

  18. Melissa says:

    I inadvertently am reading a translated book this month: Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins — and it is WONDERFUL! I am savoring the last 50 pages because I just don’t want my time with Henny and her friends to end.

  19. Susan says:

    Almost all sound fantastic. I went back a few years for for my book in translation (Swedish), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was fantastic!

  20. Rebecca Merrell says:

    I have been reading books in translations for some time- Readers try these!

    10 Minutes,38 Seconds, in this Strange World- Elif Shafak- Turkey, short listed for the Booker Prize
    Not My Time To Die- Yoland Mukagasana- riveting true story of a woman’s survival during the Rwandan genocide
    Arid Dreams- Duanwad Pimwana curious stories from Thailand
    Shanghai Baby-Wei Hui- sex, drugs and women in cultural transition in Shanghai

    The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao- 1940’s Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

  21. Karen Parnell says:

    Madame Bovary is on my list. I bought a copy at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris (it is so pretty), but I haven’t read it yet.

  22. Linda O'Donnell says:

    I know this is women in translation and I read a lot of them, but my latest is one of Fredik Bachman’s. I listened to the audio book narrated by David Morse who has the perfect voice for this book. It is a novella and not for the faint-hearted. I bawled like a baby through the last half of the book. Fortunately was alone at the time with no one but a horse in the pasture with me. I highly recommend the book, probably good in print, but Morse’s narration is wonderful.

  23. Tracy says:

    I’m one who didn’t like The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It started ok. Then, the main characters were too puffed up about how good they were because they read a lot, and I couldn’t figure out the reason for the story or even the conflict. I finished it, wouldn’t say I hated it, but wouldn’t read it again.

  24. Sheryl Esau says:

    I’m reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa right now! Perfect for this month! It’s definitely unusual, but good. Difficult to explain. I loved Convenience Store Woman, so I’m checking out more from this list.

  25. Kara Middleton says:

    I ADORE Svetlana Alexievich. Russian lit and history are my jam, so I am all over this. I don’t know which of her books I’ll read next. Voices of Chernobyl was a ten star read for me. It broke my heart, and I read it twice back to back. I highly recommend her.

  26. Ashley says:

    I haven’t read my book in translation yet but last year I read The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist translated from Swedish. It’s a dystopian story with a premise I found really fascinating. It would be an interesting one to discuss with a book club.

  27. Kate says:

    Hao Jingfang wrote The Vagabonds, which I have just started reading. She was the first Chinese woman to win a Hugo Award (2016) for her novella Folding Beijing. Folding Beijing is available to read for free on the website for Uncanny Magazine (published 2015). I have read the novella and found it fascinating!

  28. Diane C says:

    I just finished The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (audio). Not translated from French, but German. I didn’t really have any expectations (I finished my last audiobook and my holds had not come in yet so I found it while browsing through Libby). I loved it. I did finish the last hour or do sitting on my deck and having a good cry. Bittersweet but happy ending. I liked it so much, I just checked out The Little French Bistro.

  29. teresa says:

    The Neopolitan Trilogy by Elena Ferrante – an absolute masterpiece of feminist fiction. Small Country (Petit Pays) by Gaelle Faye were two recent favorites of mine in translation. I liked the first Aunti Poldi (Aunt Poldi and the Lions of Sicily ) but the translation on the second one has me not thrilled.

  30. Heather says:

    I’m halfway through The Murmur of Bees and am enjoying it. The first part of the novel is set during the Spanish Influenza pandemic… so interesting timing.

  31. Denise Amos says:

    When our group read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, we realized maybe American’s are not ver sophisticated readers anymore. We liked it, and I think I will reread it, but it was a harder read than most books we had read or have read since. It is beautifully written!

  32. Charity says:

    I read Strange Weather in Tokyo earlier this year and found it depressing. I assume something got lost in the cultural translation for me. All the heavy drinking and depression. Very little character growth. It felt so heavy.

    One of my favorite Women in Translation books I read last year – a surprise to me – The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia was amazing. Rich in characters and setting, it also spanned decades of family dynamics and historical events with the plot, and a touch of magical realism for good measure. Loved it!

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