10 books in translation for Women in Translation month

Here on Modern Mrs Darcy, we’re longtime advocated of reading works in translation. When you read works that weren’t written in your native language, you get out of your own head—or, more specifically, your own culture.

In 2014, Meytal Radzinski established Women in Translation month. We’re wrapping up the fifth 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 2018 Reading Challenge is to read a book in translation. Would you consider one of the following titles for your list, and add your suggestions for other works by women that might fulfill this category in the comments section?

This year there’s more good information than ever available about Women in Translation month. Click here to visit its home on the web, and make sure to check out the other good resources and social media info available there.

Women in Translation
The Time in Between

The Time in Between

If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war about fashion, romance, and espionage. 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. Originally written in Spanish and translated by Daniel Hahn. The dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. More info →
The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

This novel has been languishing on my TBR list for years. 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 →
Suite Française

Suite Française

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. More info →
My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Novels Book 1)

My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Novels Book 1)

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.) More info →
The Diary of a Young Girl

The Diary of a Young Girl

This classic needs no introduction. In 1942, in occupied Holland, Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis in a tiny attic for two years. After an informer gave them away to the Gestapo, they were discovered and sent to the concentration camps. Anne kept this diary during that time; it was discovered in the attic, after her death. The work has been translated into English twice, both by women, in 1950 by Barbara Mooyaart-Doubleday and in 1995 by Susan Massotty. The original translation included an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt. More info →
The Big Green Tent

The Big Green Tent

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, Kirkus calls this "Worthy of shelving alongside Doctor Zhivago." Originally written in Russian and translated by Polly Gannon. More info →
Daughter of Fortune

Daughter of Fortune

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. More info →
Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman

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, 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. Originally written in Japanese and translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. More info →
The Perfect Nanny

The Perfect Nanny

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. More info →
Strange Weather in Tokyo

Strange Weather in Tokyo

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. Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Asian Literary Prize. Originally written in Japanese and translated by Allison Markin Powell. More info →

Honorable Mention: Women in Translation
The Iliad

The Iliad

Not BY a woman (or was it?), but the first translation of The Iliad ever into English by a woman, by classicist Caroline Alexander, got lots of attention a couple of years ago. Since then, Emily Wilson has translated The Odyssey. You may know Alexander as the author of several books, including The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. More info →

Have you read any of these books? Tell us about your experience in comments, and please share more works by women in translation that you’ve read and loved or are looking forward to reading. 

10 books in translation for Women in Translation month

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  1. Carrie says:

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of my all time favorite books. I absolutely love philosophy-specifically existentialism-so this book was totally up my alley. I can totally see why many people don’t like this book, or perhaps feel it is over their head. I was a total “philosophy nerd” in college..so, I loved it. I have also read the Diary of Anne Frank. (years and years ago) Convenience Store Woman is on my library hold list and I am really interested to see how I feel about it since I have heard the main character has her own “existential crisis.”

  2. Suzy says:

    I loved Convenience Store Woman – very unusual but left you thinking. Also the Isabel Allende – such a great family saga – her earlier books included Spanish mysticism (think that’s the right term).

  3. Nik says:

    I have read and continue to read a lot of books in translation, so this was an easy category for me. This year I have read Nesbo’s “The Bat” (translated from Norwegian), Coelho’s “The Alchemist” (from Portuguese), Jonasson’s “The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden” (from Swedish), and Simenon’s “Pietr the Latvian” (from French.) I liked all these books, laughing out loud throughout the Jonasson book. And, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” is on my to-read-this-year list.

  4. Carol says:

    The Neapolitan Novels: I read all four books in a little more than a month which is a big deal for me since I’m not a super fast reader. Simply impossible to put down (specially after I read the last sentences of the books before I got to the end). 😮 I still miss Lila and Lenu!
    Just finished another of Elena Ferrante’s book yesterday (“Troubling love”) but not as good as the Neapolitan Novels.

    • YES!! My Brilliant Friend is one of my favourite, favourite, favourite books of all time (not something I say lightly), it is absolutely my #1 pick every time someone mentions Women in Translation. Ferrante’s prose is just breathtaking – and the translator was a woman too (Ann Goldstein), she did a FANTASTIC job retaining the lyricism of the original Italian, it was breathtaking.

  5. Lisa White says:

    The Time in Between is absolutely lovely! It was also the first book in translation I read when I thought, ” Do book editors in other countries not bother as much about editing for length?” Currently reading the beautiful The Shadow of the Wind and the thought has returned.

  6. Jean says:

    At bunch of these are on my tbr, but I didn’t know about Women in Translation month until today. If I had known, I’d have worked on getting more of them read this month. I did happen read my book in translation this month, though and it was by a woman, but it was pure coincidence. I read I’m Still Here (Je Suis La) by Clelie Avit which was very good!

  7. Jess says:

    Currently reading Kristin Lavransdatter, (Norwegian). I’ve been reading it on my kindle, and just recently realized that it must be a million pages long! I read super fast, have been reading it for quite some time, and am only 34% of the way through it!

    • Denise says:

      Kristin Lavransdatter is dear to my heart. It was a wonderful reading experience two winters ago and I look forward to enjoying it again. It is three novels in one and speaks to women of all ages. I don’t know that I have ever read anything so transporting to another time.

  8. Moray says:

    For something totally original and off the wall I have to recommend The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan. One of my favourite translated books this year

  9. Sharon says:

    Suite Francaise is wonderful, I read and enjoyed Diary of a Young Girl as a teen. I guess I’m one who was over my head with The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I slogged through it for a book club and have never had to look up so many words in a book.

  10. Lydia says:

    I agree with most of the books in this category except for Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. This is Allende’s worst book and doesn’t show her imagination or storytelling ability at all. I would replace it with Allende’s House of Blessed Spirits or Eva Luna.

    • Charlynn says:

      I liked Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, as well as many of her others, but I think her worst book was The Japanese Lover.

  11. Sarah says:

    I loved the Elena Frerrente series, but I also hated it. Lol. Currently, we are broken up until I can forgive the main charcter for being human. I related heavily to the charcter, having grown up poor myself, and fighting so hard out of poverty. I loved seeing what Italy looked liked post WWII. And I recommend this book to my friends, even though we are not on speaking terms. 😉

  12. Kathlee says:

    I also loved reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I found it to be fascinating. I plan on reading The Perfect Nanny soon.

  13. Lee Ann says:

    I hated, hated, hated The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The two main characters were insufferable and, just when I thought maybe something redemptive would happen…it didn’t. Ugh.

    • Rachel says:

      I read it as part of a book club and what I think is interesting is that the four sections of the book tend to bring out very different reactions from people (some people couldn’t stand it, some only liked two out of the four parts, others reread the whole book for fun). It was fantastic for conversation because opinions were so split but also because it gave us insights into each other. Personally, the bathroom/toilet scene is still one of my favorites.

  14. Anne says:

    I read Daughter of Fortune years ago but still think of it and the incredible story. All of Allende’s book are good but DOF is my favorite.

    The Big Green Tent was on my list after watching The Americans (on FX) and wanting to understand more of the background. It is quite the novel and also recommended by Kendra Winchester & Autumn Privett when they were on WSIRN. I’m following it up with A Gentleman in Moscow which is very complimentary of course.

  15. Debi Morton says:

    I read The Diary of Anne Frank many years ago and thought it was amazing. My 13-year-old granddaughter read it this year, so we were able to talk about it. I have Convenience Store Woman waiting on my Kindle, so I hope to get to it soon. Another book in translation I read this year, and highly recommend is a The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe. It is translated from the Spanish.

  16. Andrea says:

    I’ve read the first chapter of The Elegance of the Hedgehog twice! Third times a charm? I still have it so I’ll give it another try at some point since it has been recommended to me so many times and I do love philosophy.
    Also, Women in Translation month!!! I had no idea this was a thing but I love it!

  17. Liz Erdmer says:

    The Lover by Marguerite Duras. Short. Poetic. Poignant. And highly autobiographical. Duras rewrote it, slightly modified decades later. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. The movie is lovely. Steamy Vietnam.

  18. Halie says:

    I already have a few of these on my TBR, but I added another two 🙂 I read “Convenience Store Woman” earlier this summer (at Anne’s suggestion), and it was such a good, quirky little book!

  19. Page says:

    I read (listened to) the Time In Between per your recommendation and LOVED it. I recently learned that it’s a Netflix series and I can’t wait to watch. I thought it was called El tiempo entre costuras but I just looked it up and it’s also the Time in Between (2013).

  20. Rebekah says:

    “The Awakening of Miss Prim” is a novel by Natalia Sanmartín Fenollera, translated from Spanish to English by Sonia Soto. While I thought it would simply be a light read, there are layers to the story, making it more complex (like good chocolate or wine). Themes touch on education, marriage, women, independence, religion, the classics (and not just those from 200 years ago). Bonus: a large home library and books play a big part in the setting and conversations.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this great list! Always good to broaden our horizons and learn new perspectives. So important given the current climate .

  22. Didiey says:

    I read Please Look after Mom by Kyung-sook Shin recently.
    About how little you know about your own mother. And you only realized it when it’s too late. Highly recommend it 🙂

  23. Diane says:

    I read Suite Francaise a few years ago and went on to read a few other books by Irene. Her daughter wrote two books that are part bio/fiction. Heartbreaking. She was a great story teller like her mother.

  24. Celeste says:

    I picked up The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George at a library book sale. The title sounded familiar (was it on a past MMD summer reading list?). I read it this summer and it won a place in my heart on my favorites list. It is wise, lovely, heartbreaking, hopeful, and beautifully written – I was surprised that it was a translation.

  25. Lisa Mahi says:

    Last year I found The House by the River, by Lena Manta, translated from Greek. It’s about 5 sisters who venture far from the family home to find love and big lives, only to eventually find their way home again. I loved it.

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