Women in Translation

This French novel has been languishing on my TBR list for a few years. It was first published in its home country in 2005 and in the United States in 2008 (as a gorgeous Europa edition). The critics love it: notably, it was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award for Fiction in 2009. 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.)
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This is the first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which revolves around the friendship between Elena and Lila. This book begins when the girls are in first grade and carries them through adolescence. I picked this up from my local bookstore's blind date with a book shelf: the bookseller had described it as "a masterpiece you probably haven’t read yet. (Three and a half years later, booksellers can no longer say that with confidence!) Originally written in Italian and beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein. (Hot tip: I LOVED this series on audio.)
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This sweeping family saga is set in Chile, China, and California. When Eliza Sommers' lover disappears during the Gold Rush, she leaves Chile to search for him. But things turn as she unexpectedly stumbles upon a life and love she never expected. I had to look up if Allende originally wrote this 1998 novel in Spanish and ... yep. The translation by Margaret Sayers Peden feels seamless.
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In this contemporary novel, three passionate and artistic boys—a poet, a pianist, and a photographer—meet in 1950s Moscow as schoolmates. As they grow, they come to embody the experiences that have filled Russian novels for centuries: love, exile, censorship, secrets, spies, and identity. Impressively, <em>Kirkus</em> calls this "Worthy of shelving alongside <em>Doctor Zhivago</em>."
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This quirky little book 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 that she's found a pleasant and predictable routine while at university. 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 are comparing Keiko to French heroine Amélie, although the two live different lives in different worlds.
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This book has gotten tons of buzz this year; I've heard it called a "guilty pleasure" more than once. Myriam and her husband find Louise, the perfect, mannerly, devoted nanny who cleans, sings to the kids, and is the envy of all. But as the couple become more and more dependent on her, jealousy and suspicion fester. Originally written in French and translated by Sam Taylor.
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This 2004 novel's backstory is fascinating and heartbreaking: novelist Irène Némirovsky, a French-Ukrainian, was arrested in 1942; her crime was being Jewish. The manuscript survived, unread and hidden in an old suitcase, even after she was captured and killed at Auschwitz. Her daughters had the manuscript for years, not knowing what they possessed, but in 1998 finally opened the manuscript, not finding the journals they expected, but the novellas that became Suite Français. This is possibly the earliest work of fiction about World War II. Translated by Sandra Smith.
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From the publisher: "Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, "Sensei," in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him "Sensei" ("Teacher"). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love. As Tsukiko and Sensei grow to know and love one another, time's passing is marked by Kawakami's gentle hints at the changing seasons: from warm sake to chilled beer, from the buds on the trees to the blooming of the cherry blossoms. Strange Weather in Tokyo is a moving, funny, and immersive tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance."
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Fashion, romance, and ... espionage. If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war. Sira Quiroga works her way from dressmaker's assistant to a premier couturier, putting her in contact with the wealthy and powerful. When the British government asks her to spy for them as World War II gears up, she agrees, stitching secret messages into the hems of dresses. Translated from the Spanish, and the dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. Is it perfect? No way. But engrossing? Definitely.
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