Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

August is Women in Translation month – which was originally started by Meytal Radzinski and a fantastic initiative to highlight the issue of how few books by women authors are translated into English. This is something close to my heart, as both a devoted reader of ‘foreign fiction’ and as a translator.

I’m happy to finally report that a Swiss writer I’ve been championing for some time (and having a hard time placing anywhere) will see a first English translation publication later this fall. The writer is Clarisse Francillon – whom, for reasons of expediency, I tend to describe as the Mavis Gallant of Switzerland — and my translation of one of her short stories will be published in Mayday Magazine in a few months. I’ll be shouting about it when it comes out.

I have a very busy month of reading for Le Livre sur les Quais – a Swiss literary festival that takes place each September. This year the country of honor will be Ireland and a great number of interesting writers will be here. I’ll be moderating several panels for the English-speaking authors program, so most of my month has an imposed and diverse reading list: Ruth Ware, Kevin Barry, Emanuel Bergmann, Claire Vaye Watkins and Rachel Joyce. The small “in English” part of the festival has a healthy-sized list, not to mention the full French-speaking program! If you’re interested you can see more here.

Nonetheless, I’d still like to read a selection of women in translation this month and here is a small stack from my shelves, books I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to yet. I am only picking four – but this seems ambitious enough with everything else going on. Here they are, and I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these…

  • Stone in a Landslide, Maria Barbal, translated from the Catalan by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell (Peirene, 2010)
  • Sun Alley, Cecilia Ştefănescu, translated from the Romanian by Alexandra Coliban & Andreea Höfer (Istros Books, 2013)
  • Baba Dunja’s Last Love, Alina Bronsky, translated from the German by Tim Mohr (Europa Editions, 2016)
  • Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, Dorthe Nors, translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra (Pushkin Press, 2017)

Because I feel that list is woefully short, I’ll include here a list of some of my very favorite books by non-Anglophone women writers, available in English translation. Many of these books I’ve written about here or elsewhere, I’ll include a link if I have one:

  • The Wall, Marlen Haushofer, tr. Shaun Whiteside
  • Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector, tr. Giovanni Pontiero
  • Agua Viva, Clarice Lispector, tr. Stefan Tobler
  • Juletane, Myriam Warner-Vieyra, tr. Betty Wilson
  • Building Waves, Taeko Tomioka, tr. Louise Heal Kawai
  • The Summer Book, Tove Janssen, tr. Thomas Teal
  • Mildew, Paulette Jonguitud, tr. by the author
  • Farewell, Cowboy, Olja Savičević, tr. Celia Hawkesworth
  • Masks, Enchi Fumiko, tr. Juliet Winters Carpentr
  • The Waiting Years, Enchi Fumiko, tr. John Bester
  • Trilogy, Agota Kristof, tr. Alan Sheridan, David Watson, Marc Romano
  • Commentary, Marcelle Sauvageot, tr. Christine Schwartz Hartley, Anna Moschovakis

Just making this list, I can see so many of my blind spots. I feel decently well-read in Japanese and Francophone women’s fiction, but I’ve been meaning to search out and make a list of more diverse women’s voices: Asian and African writing, and Spanish-language writers, for example, that I know I’ve overlooked. Suggestions are always welcome…

To finish I’ll mention one book that I think SHOULD BE translated into English. Douchinka by the Swiss writer Dominique de Rivaz. This is a tiny little book set in a dystopian Russian future. It involves dubious art practices and institutionalized murder, and it is also one of the strangest love stories I’ve ever read. I read the book a few months ago and cannot stop thinking about it.




4 Responses to “Women in Translation month”

  1. orientikate

    I just recently read, for the first time, Bae Suah (A Greater Music), who, according to the blurbs, is something of a phenom in Korea. I was most taken by it. Picked up another (Recitation) & looking forward to getting to it. Also on my shelf is Yoko Tawada’s ‘Memoirs of a Polar Bear’ – translated, not from Japanese, but from German.

    • Michelle

      I have become increasingly interested in Korean literature. I read The Vegetarian and also Please Look After Mom, and found both extremely thought-provoking and somehow different from other literature. I will look for Bae Suah, which I’ve heard of but had not yet added to my list.

      I read a different Yoko Tawada – The Bridegroom was a dog – and really enjoyed it. I’ve heard good things about Memoirs of a Polar Bear, will look forward to your thoughts.

  2. smithereens

    When I read your posts (and FB posts) I wanted to add my 2c on Chinese female writers. Wang Anyi, Eileen Chang are 2 writers I like but of the older generations. I have tried young scandalous writers Mian Mian and Wei Hui but I don’t care for them much. You really made me want to look for more and discover a few I don’t know about.

    • Michelle

      Thank you for this – I will mark both writers down and look for their work. One thing I’ve noticed (and am grateful for) is that there are more Chinese and Japanese and Korean writers available in French, than there are in English. I just recently picked up a book called Bienvenue by Kim Yi-seol that looks really interesting. I will let you know how it is!

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