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.
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.
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 fascinating and eye-opening books by women in translation
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 assault and other sexual content.) More info →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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. This would make an excellent pairing with Kate Quinn's The Alice Network or The Huntress. More info →
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.