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Must-Read Books in Translation by Women

IWD 3.8.24
It was International Women’s Day this month, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.At Fable, it’s also an excuse to feature a few of our favorite works in translation by female authors.

Great women authors from around the world

From Poland to Colombia to Korea, here are a handful of books from international women worth celebrating.“Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk: I had to start the list with Tokarczuk, whose novels—translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft—defy genres as well as borders. “Flights” is filled with insights and oddities about travel, time, and what it means to be foreign, and it includes one of my favorite quotes. The narrator is thinking about the use of English as a lingua franca in increasingly large portions of the world, when she stops to consider those who speak English as a native language, as an only language, and pities them: “There are countries out there where people speak English. But not like us — we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people. It's hard to imagine, but English is the real language! Oftentimes their only language. They don't have anything to fall back on or to turn to in moments of doubt. How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures — even the buttons in the lift! — are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them — they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for them.”This may be an odd sentiment with which to begin a list of books that have been translated into English, but I found it fascinating. It makes me strangely jealous of the ability to be misunderstood. “The Story of My Teeth” by Valeria Luiselli: Luiselli’s absurdist comedy, translated from the Spanish by Christina Macsweeney, has an origin story almost worthy of inclusion in the strange, playful novel: it was written as a collaboration between Luiselli and the workers of a Jumex juice factory outside Mexico City. It primarily tells the story of Highway, a late-in-life world traveller, yarn spinner, collector, and legendary auctioneer, who travels through Mexico, auctioning off the teeth of the “notorious infamous,” like Plato, Petrarch, Virginia Woolf—and, most notably, Marilyn Monroe. “Greek Lessons” by Han Kang: Boy, does Han Kang—and her translators, Deborah Smith and Emily Tae Won—know how to craft a sentence. This book fits perfectly into one of my favorite genres: books you want to read alone at a wine bar, periodically pausing to stare pensively out a window or scribble out some idea into your notes tab. The story of two strangers who are both in the midst of great loss—a language teacher who is losing his sight, and his student, who has lost her ability to speak—and the quiet understanding between them, it’s at once perceptive, elegiac, and evocative. “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata: This slim novel was a sensation upon publication in Japan, and its translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori continues to turn heads. The story of a 36-year-old woman who is perfectly—in fact, strangely perfectly—content with her job of over 18 years in a convenience store, it’s a charmingly eccentric novel about what it really means to be fulfilled and “normal.” “Abyss” by Pilar Quintana: Shortlisted for last year’s National Book Award in Translated Literature, Pilar Quintana’s “Abyss,” translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, is the story of Claudia, a lonely 8-year-old girl living in Cali, Colombia. While her father works and her mother slowly transforms their apartment into a jungle—the first chapter of this book made me desperate for more houseplants—Claudia observes the world around her. It’s a beautifully written story that reminds you of both the innocence and wisdom of children. 
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk digital book - Fable

Flights

By Olga Tokarczuk

From the incomparably original Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, Flights interweaves reflections on travel with an in-depth exploration of the human body, broaching life, death, motion, and migration.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli digital book - Fable

The Story of My Teeth

By Valeria Luiselli

Written in collaboration with the workers at a Jumex juice factory, Teeth is an elegant, witty, exhilarating romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli’s own literary influences.

Greek Lessons by Han Kang digital book - Fable

Greek Lessons

By Han Kang

A dazzling novel about the saving grace of language and human connection, from the “visionary” (New York Times Book Review) author of the International Booker Prize winner The Vegetarian

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata digital book - Fable

Convenience Store Woman

By Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman is a bewitching portrayal of contemporary Japan through the eyes of a single woman who fits in to the rigidity of its work culture only too well.

Abyss by Pilar Quintana digital book - Fable

Abyss

By Pilar Quintana

“An eight-year-old girl takes in a series of troubling events in this luminous and transfixing account of fractured family life from Colombian writer Quintana (The Bitch). Readers will be dazzled.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

 

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