In August 2020, we celebrated Women in Translation month with a myriad of literary reviews of novels written by remarkable women. This year we’d also like to remind you of the importance of both translating and reading works written by women in an international scope. The month of August has been regarded as Women in Translation Month since 2014, when the event was established by Meytal Radzinski with the idea of honoring women writers and translators from around the world while focusing on the importance of women in terms of shaping the international exchange of literature. To celebrate this wonderful event, we’re highlighting 10 brilliant women whose writing has shaped the international literary scene.
- Tove Ditlevsen: Childhood, Youth, Dependency (the Serbian translation was published by Booka)
Ditlevsen’s work has been going through a revival for a while, with the English edition being re-issued, and the books being translated into various other languages including the recent Rados Kosovic’s wonderful translation into the Serbian language. Ditlevsen’s account of her growing up in Copenhagen is a stellar take on the form of autofiction, as well as a dissection of Danish society, a poetics similar to Annie Ernaux’s autosociobiographie, which will be discussed in more detail at the end of the list. Ditlevsen’s work is astonishing and is without doubt one of the best and most important books our editorial team has recommended so far.
- Anna Seghers: Transit (the Serbian translation was published by Radni sto)
Seghers’s masterful work was written in German and is set in France after the country fell to Nazi Germany. It follows a 27-year-old unnamed narrator as he escapes the Nazi concentration camp and attempts to flee via Marseille. During his journey, the protagonist meets a myriad of characters and these conversations delve into the experiences of refugees drawing heavily on Seghers’s own experience in wartime France. This complex work minutely narrates the havoc characteristic of wartime and implies the vitality of storytelling in face of all obstacles. We also recommend you watch the 2018 film Transit based on the novel and directed by Christian Petzold.
- Amalie Smith: Marble (the English translation was published by Lolli Editions)
Amalie Smith’s novel represents a remarkable interplay of two strands of text, one following the protagonist Marble, who leaves her lover Daniel in Copenhagen and travels to Athens to trace a pivotal figure in Denmark’s art scene: the sculptor Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, and the elaboration on her life and work constitutes the second strand. Carl-Nielsen traveled to Greece 110 years before our protagonist Marble embarks on the same journey, in order to work on reconstruction, and she showed that Archaic sculptures were not white, but were originally painted in bright colors, an act which helped shed a different light on whiteness of surfaces as actually being a construct, and not a fact, and thereby also defied gender roles as they were constituted in the Victorian era.
- Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye (the Serbian translation was published by Darma)
The Bluest Eye is Morrison’s first novel, and makes for a very interesting piece of fiction. It was published in 1970, and we could claim that the author has already had a clear vision of her future path, for this novel introduces the readers with topics she was to explore all her life: blackness, standards of whiteness, internalized racism, and identity, just to name a few. The protagonist, Pecola, is depicted by Morrison as a female who fails to develop her own identity in the face of the oppressive society surrounding her confirming the viewpoint of many academics and critics who see in Morrison a writer of astounding grandeur who always strived to create characters who defy the standard orderings of a bildungsroman, for there is no linear growth or maturity to their character, which would be the result of undergoing a certain experience in life; instead, the characters get conquered by the sexist and racist mindsets that make their historic time period. The novel is indeed a pillar of African-American writing, which we highly recommend.
- Nina Lykke: Natural Causes (the Serbian translation was published by Geopoetika)
Natural Causes was the winner of the Norwegian Book Award (The Brage Prize) and was termed the best book of 2019 by numerous Scandinavian literary magazines. It follows Elin, a doctor stuck in her office, where her patients march in day in day out with their ailments and little infirmities. The daily mundane gets turned upside down when her ex is back in the picture. Natural Causes is an exploration of the curse of self-knowledge and it dissects all the blessings of living in denial, if it can be considered as such. It also explores the multiple facets of Norwegian society and is a portrayal of attempting to find oneself when all else seems to fail.
- Tove Jansson: The Summer Book (the Serbian translation was published by Odiseja)
Jansson’s novel recounts a summer which an elderly artist spends with her six-year old granddaughter on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. By learning to adjust to each other’s whims and yearnings for independence, the two develop a relationship as strong as the unpredictable seas which surround the island and its mossy rocks. This life-affirming story not only deals with family ties, but is also full of brusque humor and sharp wisdom which captures much of Tove Jansson’s own spirit. We wholeheartedly recommend this literary gem – a fresh, authentic and deeply humane summer classic.
- On Being Ill (the English translation was published by Uitgeverij HetMoet)
Uitgeverij HetMoet’s outstanding collection titled On Being Ill was published in 2021 taking its name from Virginia Woolf’s essay from 1926. Apart from Woolf and Audre Lorde’s writings, the title includes works by Deryn Rees-Jones, Lieke Marsman, Lucia Osborne-Crowley, Mieke van Zonneveld, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Nadia de Vries, Jameisha Prescod and Sinead Gleeson.The anthology provides stellar insight into what suffering from an illness entails, as well as into what it means to be a writer with an illness, topics which both Woolf and Lorde discuss in their works included in the anthology. Not only does the collection tie past with current elaborations on illness, but it was also published in a time of a global health crisis. Finding ourselves caught up amidst the Covid 19 pandemic, we all came to realize how acutely tuned to one’s own inwardness we get once our health gets threatened from the outside. These authors discuss what having illness entails in the modern world and problematize the way society and health institutions deal with the matter at hand.
- Edna O’Brien: Lantern Slides (the Serbian translation was published by Strik)
This remarkable selection from Edna O’Brien’s literary work includes twelve stories that minutely dissect the experiences of women in Ireland. The collection opens with a story that at first glance depicts an idyllic rural scene in Ireland, until it becomes clear to the reader that a variety of claustrophobic events will take place, as is often the case in small communities. All protagonists fight within themselves, because they fail to identify with the expectations that are imposed on them. In an environment that is oriented towards the patriarchal collective and not towards the individual, the rules are initially set in such a way that nothing which differs from the normatively prescribed values is allowed, and anyone who deviates in any way from what’s expected is immediately condemned by the society. O’Brien masterfully examines the institutions that are crucial in Ireland: the family, the church and the state, and points out the dangers of a system that does not create space for the constellation of different experiences which are part and parcel of an individual’s consciousness.
- Annie Ernaux: A Woman’s Story (the English translation was published by Seven Stores Press)
A Woman’s Story is without doubt one of Ernaux’s pivotal works. In it, the author tries to deal with the loss of her mother who died suffering from Alzheimer’s disease by writing extensively over a period of ten months about their mutual past. Ernaux analyses their relationship by placing her mother’s character in a sociological and historical context. Moreover, she deals with the topics of loss and grief in an unprecedented manner, which might be one of the work’s strongest facets. Ernaux’s poetics has been described as autosociobiographie, being somewhere between biography, literature, sociology, history and autofiction, which is also the case in this book.
- Olga Tokarczuk: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (the Serbian translation was published by Kulturni centar Novog Sada)
The novel’s title takes from William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell and is a remarkable feat of writing by the Nobel-prize-winning Polish author Olga Tokarczuk. Her protagonist is the eccentric Janina – an aging astrologist who lived in a secluded Polish village and spends her time pontificating in capitalization and translating works by Blake. No wonder she thinks all the dead bodies that turn up around her are acts of revenge performed by animals on local hunters. But is she right? Anything I say would spoil the plot, so it’s on you to grab the book by the horns and see for yourself.
We invite you to join us in celebrating this event pivotal for the international literary scene.