Why should we read translated fiction? The answer is quite simple. It opens us up to different cultures and allows us to see fresh perspectives. Last year alone the United States published over a million new titles. You would think that you have many opportunities to explore different worldviews. But alas, this is not the case.
“A book has far less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.“ When you consider that only 3% of published books are translations from other countries, you realize that the odds of you being able to steal a glimpse into these worlds is akin to a miracle.
Organizations like Words Without Borders strive to increase access to diverse narratives. Showcased in this article are some truly awesome titles that I suggest you check out. This year I have devoted myself to completing the 52 Weeks of Women of Color Challenge. Here are some translated works by women of color that have proven to be timeless and urgent. I encourage you to add some of these incredible authors to your shelves.
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza
Translated by Thomas Bunstead
Optic Nerve is an Argentine woman’s story told through the art that has inspired her. Thomas Bunstead is an author and editor. His works have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The Independent and Words Without Borders.
The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector
Translated by Elizabeth Lowe
Clarice Lispector is considered to be among the world’s greatest literary writers. Aqua Viva, a stream of consciousness meditation on life, is considered by some to be her masterpiece. Elizabeth Lowe is the founding director of the Center for Translation Studies at the University of Illinois and a contributor to Words Without Borders.
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
Translated by Magda Bogin
The House of Spirits has been hailed as “one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century”. It is a sweeping family saga that weaves magical realism into the tapestry of Chilean history. Magda Bogin has translated two other works by women of color:
- The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos edited by Cecilia Vicuna
- My Name is Victoria by Victoria Donda
Ladivine by Marie NDiaye
Translated by Jordan Stump
Ladivine is a searing portrait of family and the secrets that alienate them from one another. Jordan Stump has also translated for such literary greats as Patrick Modiano, Honore de Balzac and Jean-Phillipe Toussaint.
I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde
Translated by Richard Philcox
I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem is a bold and daring work that illuminates a forgotten and erased history. Her husband and translator Richard Philcox, is also responsible for bringing Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth to English language readers.
Disoriental by Negar Djavadi
Translated by Tina Kover
Disoriental is a moving narrative on exile. Djavadi examines the emotional trauma of being violently torn from one’s homeland and the disconnect migrants feel as they try to fit in to their new country. Other works translated by Tina Kover include Georges, a rediscovered novel by Alexandre Dumas and The Little Girl on the Ice Floe, a memoir by French actress Adelaide Bon.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Translated by Mattias Ripa
Persepolis is a personal account of a young girl coming of age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Told through a sequence of stunning graphic images it tells the horror of war through the eyes of the innocent people caught in its midst. Mattias Ripa is a Swedish national and actor. He is best known for his role as Satrapi’s husband.
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
Translated by Stephen Snyder
The Memory Police has been tagged Orwellian for its warnings against government control but many reviewers have found that its subtlety is what makes it more disquieting. In addition to translating several works by Yoko Ogawa, Stephen Snyder has an extensive bibliography that includes these women authors:
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Translated by Deborah Smith
In this award winning piece, Han Kong examines mental illness, gender roles in Korean society and abuse. The Vegetarian is the first of Han Kang’s novels to be translated into English. Among the texts that Deborah Smith has made accessible to the English speaking public is The Accusation, a smuggled manuscript from within North Korea’s regime.
Umami by Laia Jufresa
Translated by Sophie Hughes
Umami means savory. Like the flavors of the tongue this book encapsulates five distinct narratives on loss and the stages of grief. Sophie Hughes has also translated these critically acclaimed works by Latina women:
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
Translated by Marilyn Booth
Celestial Bodies is the first novel by an Omani woman to be published in English. This flash fiction tells the story of an ever-changing Oman through the experiences of two families. Marilyn Booth has authored several books on resistance and gender politics in the Middle East. She is also the translator for former political prisoner Nawal al Sadaawi’s autobiography Memoirs from the Women’s Prison.