Again in the spirit of women-in-translation month, here are four books in translation, of women writers, which I had the pleasure to review over the last few years.
The first is Swiss even! Noelle Revaz’s With the Animals, translated by W. Donald Wilson. Here is a part of my review which can be seen here at The Rumpus:
The book involves an element of the grotesque that rises up from time to time as a bizarre form of comedy. Paul is so ridiculously out-of-touch, so pathetically calculating and selfish. And so he can only lose, no matter his stubborn violence and wretched attempts to assert his power. Watching his downward spiral would be more thrilling if the reader wasn’t so certain he will cause plenty of damage in his descent. The book isn’t interested in revenge or balance or catharsis – despite a gentle movement in those directions.
If Rousseau, a Swiss writer of an altogether different generation, wanted to convince us of primitive man’s inherent nobility, than Revaz is calling out his theory in the plainest terms. There is nothing ennobling about Paul’s love of dirt and cow shit. Nothing but cruel freedom in his disassociation from other members of his species. But that very challenge makes the book a thoughtful and provocative read. And Revaz’s writing is both daring and defiant.
The second is Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall and translated by Philip Boehm, published by the wonderful Peirene Press:
This premise—that something as intangible and fragile as the connection and love between Shayek and Izolda should trump all impossible distances and insane governmental decrees and genocidal rules—is where the novella hinges. It is not so much that Izolda believes that within the context of the war she still deserves the success of her life and love, but rather despite it. On a purely psychological level, Izolda operates as if the war simply does not touch her. While her actions and movements are all prescribed and countered by what is happening in the Polish ghetto, in various prison camps, in Vienna, even in the Guben labor camp, her mindset remains firmly beyond these prescriptions. And this is this novella’s most remarkable offering.
The entire review can be seen here.
The third I want to mention is Taeko Tomioka’s Building Waves, translated by Louise Heal Kawai. Much has been said about another of Dalkey’s Japanese list (and for good reason!), Hiromi Kawakami’s The Briefcase. But Tomioka’s novel is wonderful and interesting and bizarre and deserves to be more widely read. Here is part of what I said about it, and the whole review can be read here:
Tomioka wanders through this socio-economic context using a feminist lens. Kyoko and the other women in the book—Kumiko (who becomes Katsumi’s lover after Kyoko), Ayako (Katsumi’s wife), Yoko (one of Kyoko’s friends whose husband leaves her), Amiko (a young mother), and Misawa (an older woman and artist)—are all bumping up against these expectations of what it means to be a woman, a mother, a wife. Kyoko sits at the farthest end of the spectrum, the woman who has mostly decided to reject traditional roles, and the other women fall in an untidy line somewhere along the range. What binds them all, to Tomioka’s credit, is that each is more searching than resolute, more hesitant than decided. And the book’s ultimate tragedy—although represented through a single and sad event—is a kind of despair at the paradox of refusing the superficiality of an unexamined life but knowing, at the same, that there are no easy answers, if there are answers at all, to any of your questions.
And the fourth is an old favorite of mine, always worth revisiting. Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet, translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur. I so wish more of Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s work would be translated. Her novel Fille d’Haiti is incredible and powerful and deserves to be read widely. I reviewed the book at The Quarterly Conversation, here is part of what I had to say:
Love, Anger, and Madness also demonstrates Vieux-Chauvet’s impressive stylistic range. The diary technique in Love renders Claire, an otherwise despicable and dangerous woman, sympathetic. Granting the reader such unfiltered access to her thoughts reveals the complex nature of her situation and the influence of her troubled past. Vieux-Chauvet’s confident use of the third-person omniscient in Anger places each family member within the reader’s confidence. Yet suddenly, halfway through this second novella, Vieux-Chauvet switches into two back-to-back monologues by siblings Paul and Rose. These two narratives are powerful laments, swan songs about the dashed hopes and disillusionment of a generation of Haitian youth. And finally, Madnessreads much like a play, with clear echoes of Greek drama, a technique which highlights the “staged” or “forced” quality of the very violence the story seeks to indict.