My 10 Favorite Books for Women in Translation Month #WITmonth

There’s no time like the present to consider reading a book or two by a woman in translation. August is Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), an annual initiative to raise awareness of and promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. With international travel limited due to the pandemic and the Olympics going on in Tokyo, why not do some armchair traveling to countries of interest through books by women in translation?

Every year I set aside August to read women in translation from outside Scandinavia (since I read plenty of them regularly). I create a stack of books I’m interested in reading and see what piques my interest most when the time comes for a new book. On my TBR pile for August are books that will transport me to Spain (Basque Country), France, Italy, Iran, Rwanda, and Thailand through the voices of female authors from the region. I usually get a head start in July and continue into the fall.

Are you interested in joining this year? Here are my 10 current favorite books by women in translation. As you might expect, the list is heavy on Scandinavian female authors, but there are some other gems tucked in there as well. Please share in the comments any books in translation by women that you’ve enjoyed. I’m especially looking for female authors from South America.


Kristin Lavransdatter 1: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally, published by Penguin Classics)

This is the first in an historical fiction trilogy set in medieval Norway.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It was nothing like what I expected. Kristin is quite the rebel and the book seems quite risqué for its time (first published in 1920). Broken betrothals, premarital rendezvous, poison, suicide, and coverups – so unexpected. It was interesting to learn about life in medieval Norway, and the descriptions of the setting are especially beautiful. This first book is the story of how Kristin met and was wooed by the handsome Erlend, breaking up her betrothal to another man. The series continues with her marriage to Erlend and follows her as she raises seven sons. I enjoyed this book so much that I completed the trilogy in the next couple of years, but this was my favorite of the three. Make sure to read the translation by Tiina Nunnally.


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata 🇯🇵
(Tr. from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, published by Grove Press)

This is contemporary fiction set in Tokyo, Japan.

This book was a little gem — small, short, and heartwarming. I took a great liking to Keiko, a somewhat peculiar 36-year-old woman who’s been working part time at a convenience store in Tokyo for 18 years. Her whole being, both at the store and at home, is so attuned to the rhythms and needs of the store. Keiko thrives following the directives of the store manual and absorbing others’ dress, mannerisms, and speech. Despite her quirkiness, she has friends and is accepted and valued at her job. Also, I loved getting a glimpse into the Japanese culture through this convenience store and its workers.


Waiting for Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah 🇫🇷
(Tr. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan, published by Graywolf Press)

This is contemporary fiction set in France by a Mauritian-French author.

Anita and Adam meet as students in Paris. She’s an immigrant from Mauritius and he’s from the French provinces. They both feel out of place but find comfort and love with each other. They move to the provinces, get married, and have a daughter. Life happens. She freelances for a local paper instead of writing the next great novel. He works at an architecture firm instead of devoting his life to painting. And then Adèle enters their life, resetting it in an unexpected way. It’s a short novel that packs a lot into its pages. It explores immigration, including undocumented immigrants; cultural differences in society and within a marriage; family and motherhood (stay-at-home vs working mothers), and ambitions. It’s a tragic story but beautifully written.


Love by Hanne Ørstavik 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken, published by Archipelago)

This is contemporary fiction set in northern Norway.

This is the story of an 8-year-old boy and his mother who have recently moved to a remote village in northern Norway. They live together but lead totally separate lives. The story takes place one very cold winter night in the space of only a few hours. The boy is eagerly anticipating his birthday the next day, but his mother is wrapped up in her own world and desires. It alternates between the boy’s and the mother’s separate outings during the evening. What I thought might happen didn’t, and what I didn’t anticipate happened. It was a sad but beautiful story. At times it actually felt somewhat surreal.


The History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley, published by Atria Books)

This is historical fiction set in England, contemporary fiction set in the USA, and dystopian fiction set in China all rolled into in one novel.

This is such an interestingly structured and thought-provoking book about humans’ relationship to bees as well as relationships and expectations between family members. It’s a look at the role of bees in the past, present, and future from the perspective of a family in each of those time periods, and over time their stories intersect. The first storyline takes place in England in the mid-1850s when beehives are being improved, the second one in the USA in 2007 when there is an increase in the number of colony collapse disorders happening, and the last one in China in 2098 when humans must hand-pollinate due to the total collapse of bees. As the book progresses, the reader begins to see how the three families’ stories intersect.

This is the first in Maja Lunde’s Climate Quartet. Next is The End of the Ocean which I also enjoyed, followed by The Last Wild Horses: A Novel (to be released in English February 15, 2022). The fourth book is still a work in progress.


Human Acts by Han Kang 🇰🇷
(Tr. from the Korean by Deborah Smith, published by Hogarth)

This is historical fiction set in South Korea.

This novel was about a horrific historical event I had never heard of before, the violent 1980 student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea. The story is told through chapters that are interconnected short stories. In the first chapter, which takes place in 1980, readers are introduced to several characters who then reappear in the next chapters over a period of 30 years. Interestingly, the chapters are either in first or second person with one chapter in third person. Be aware, Han Kang does not shy away from the gruesome details of this violent time, but at the same time, she shares examples of kindness and compassion too. (I have also read and enjoyed The Vegetarian, but I liked Human Acts better.)


The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami 🇯🇵
(Tr. from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, published by Europa Editions)

This is contemporary fiction set in Tokyo, Japan.

I thought this was going to contain some magical realism (since the cover I had originally seen has a woman flying into a subway train), but no, it was a down-to-earth look at the happenings and people in a neighborhood thrift shop in the suburbs of Tokyo. The main character, Hitomi, works the cash register. Her boss and the owner of the thrift shop is Mr. Nakano, a somewhat odd and mysterious person. His sister Masayo, an unmarried artist, is a regular presence in the store. And then there’s Takeo, the shy part-time co-worker who helps with pick-ups and on whom Hitomi has a crush. It’s an eclectic group of people, and I love a story with unlikely friendships. I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of everyday life in Japan.


Knots: Stories by Gunnhild Øyehaug 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This a collection of short stories set in Norway.

This collection of short stories is the author’s English language debut — 13 years after its initial Norwegian publication. The book is an eclectic collection of stories all of which explore the mind and thoughts of people in a variety of situations. Many are surreal; others are realistic. There is little action. They mostly deal with the characters’ consciousness. I was oddly transfixed by the stories. The book is small and slim, and the stories are short so I just kept turning the pages to see what creative and unique story would come next.

 


Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito 🇸🇪
(Tr. from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles, published by Other Press)

This is contemporary fiction/crime fiction set in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden.

The author takes us into the mind of 18-year-old Maja who’s on trial for her involvement in a school shooting in a wealthy suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, that left her boyfriend and best friend dead, along with others. We alternate between her time in the jail cell and in the courtroom along with flashbacks to her life leading up to the shooting. The book started a little slow, but as I got further into it, it was a page-turner that had me very eager to find out how it all could have come to this. Many timely issues to consider: school shootings, mental health, immigration, gun violence, wealth, class, parenting.

 


The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia 🇲🇽
(Tr. from the Spanish by Simon Bruni, published by Amazon Crossing)

This is historical fiction with a touch of magical realism set in Mexico.

This is about an established landowning family in a small northern Mexican town in the early 1900s during the Mexican Revolution. An abandoned child covered in bees is discovered and then adopted by the family. This child, who is deformed and cannot speak and always accompanied by a swarm of bees, turns out to be a blessing for the family as they endure life in their little town with its human and natural challenges. It was a little slow to get going, but suddenly I was very absorbed in the story.

 

 


Special Mentions

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
(Tr. from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth, published by Catapult)

This is a uniquely structured novel that follows three sisters who live in a village outside the capital city of Muscat in Oman. One sister marries after realizing she’ll never have the one she truly desires. Another sister marries out of obligation. And the third sister refuses to marry and instead waits for her beloved to return from Canada. The chapters jump between the first person perspective of the first sister’s husband and the third person perspective of various family and community members. It was hard to keep track of characters (grateful for the family tree at the beginning!) and time, but I was fascinated by the lives of these women in contemporary Oman, so different from what I’m used to or been exposed to in reading before. And I learned a bit about the history of the region which was interesting as well. This author has the special distinction of being the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English. The book won the International Booker Prize in 2019.


Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah
(Tr. from the French by Geoffrey Strachen, published by Graywolf Press)

This book took me to a place in the world I’ve never been in my reading life, Department of Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and Madagascar. When Marie suddenly dies, her 14-year-old adopted son Moïse is left to fend for himself. He ends up involved with a gang in the largest slum on the island. The book explores hard issues – illegal immigration, poverty, race, class, youth gangs, and violence – through the perspectives of not only Marie and Moïse, but also the gang leader, a police officer, and an aid worker. This was a tough read, not a feel good book at all, but definitely an eye-opening and thought-provoking reading experience about a new-to-me part of the world, exactly why I like participating in #WITMonth.


Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer) by Sara Omar
(Tr. from the Danish to the Norwegian by Hilde Rød-Larsen, published by Aschehoug)

This book is unfortunately not translated into English yet, but I include it on this list for anyone who can read Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, French, or any other language it might already be translated into. It’s an amazing and heartbreaking novel dealing with the oppression of Muslim women, in particular in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The book is about a girl named Frmesk born in Kurdistan in 1986. She is unwanted by her father because she’s a girl. She is sent to live with her mother’s parents because the mother is afraid for the baby’s life if she stays at home. Her grandparents are very kind, loving, open-minded “parents” to Frmesk in a world where the Koran rules and women’s rights and freedoms are non-existent. The story moves between Frmesk’s life as a young child in her grandparents’ household and Frmesk’s life in Denmark 30 years later when she’s alone in a hospital bed for unidentified procedures. Real events, such as the 1988 Halabja chemical attack, are included in the story. It was an extremely engrossing and engaging story despite the difficult subject material. Sara Omar’s second book, Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer), a follow-up to the first, also made a very strong impression on me.


Have I persuaded you to pick up a book by a woman in translation?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, many by Scandinavian female authors, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (February 2021)

This was a niche reading month for me! All the books were in translation from Scandinavia. They did at least represent a variety of sub-genres — refugee and immigration fiction, folktales and legends, and crime fiction. And very fulfilling for me was that I finally checked off the last prompt for my 2020 Scandinavian Reading Challenge. Now I can focus fully on the 2021 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and other reads.

What have you been reading lately?


Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer) by Sara Omar
(Translated to the Norwegian from the Danish by Inge Ulrik Gundersen)

This is the follow-up to a book I read a year ago, Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer). This duology is about Frmesk, a Kurdish woman who immigrates to Denmark at a young age, and the abuse and struggles she had to endure as a female in a Muslim community, both in Kurdistan and Denmark. The structure of the two books combined was very unique and interesting. Book #1 alternated between Frmesk’s life as a young child in her grandparents’ household in Kurdistan and her life in Denmark 30 years later when she was alone in a hospital bed for unidentified reasons. Book #2 filled in many blanks in Frmesk’s life. It alternated between the next years with her grandparents in Kurdistan and her young adult years in Denmark when she was a university student and then married a Kurdish man. Frmesk lived a difficult, hard, and painful life. The only shining light for her was her grandparents. Everyone else failed her. It was an extremely tough read with much abuse happening at all ages in her life, but it was eye-opening to see what girls and women in certain parts of the world have to endure even when they emigrate to supposedly more open-minded societies. The story of Frmesk has made a deep impact on me.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2020: A book by or about refugees to Scandinavia


By the Fire: Sámi Folktales and Legends, Collected and Illustrated by Emilie Demant Hatt (Translated from the Danish by Barbara Sjoholm)

This is another book that’s been on my radar for a while and that I finally read when an opportunity arose to join a virtual book club meeting to discuss it in honor of Sámi National Day which was February 6. I’m not normally interested in folk tales and legends, but I am intrigued by Sámi history and culture. I did enjoy reading these stories collected by a Danish artist and ethnographer during her travels among the Sámi in the 1920s. This collection of stories with accompanying linoleum prints and “Field Notes and Commentary” by the author as well as an “Afterword” by the translator which featured photos of the storytellers and more background information provided a very unique and enlightening look at Sámi culture.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021:

  • A buddy read or group read (in real life or virtually) of a Nordic book
  • Bonus 1: A prompt from a previous year’s challenge (2020: A book by, about, or involving the Sámi indigenous people)

Smoke Screen (Alexander Blix & Emma Ramm #2) by Jørn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger (Translated from the Norwegian by Megan Turney)

I don’t usually read the next installment in a series this quickly (I read #1, Death Deserved, in November 2020), but I wanted to read #2 in advance of a virtual event with the authors and a favorite bookstagrammer which took place this month. I really enjoyed the first in the series, so it wasn’t hard to pick this one up. Just like in the first book, online news journalist Emma Ramm and police investigator Alexander Blix inadvertently join forces to solve a mystery. In this case, there’s an explosion in Oslo on New Year’s Eve and one of the victims is the mother of a girl who was kidnapped 10 years earlier and never found. What ensues is a dual investigation as the cold case of the kidnapping is reopened and the explosion is investigated. I like smart police procedurals with likeable investigators, and the setting being Oslo is certainly a plus. This was a very engaging read which I may have liked even better than the first one. For those wondering, book #2 can be read without having read #1.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021:

  • An unplanned or impromptu Scandinavian read
  • Bonus 2: A book by a Nordic author you’ve enjoyed before

Pakkis by Khalid Hussain
(Translated from the Norwegian by Claudia Berguson and Ingeborg Kongslien)

This book has been on my radar for many years, and I finally seized the opportunity to read it when I learned that it was the pick for Vesterheim’s monthly reading group in February. Written by the author when he was 16 years old, it’s a short account exploring a slice of life of a teenage Pakistani immigrant and his family in Oslo. It’s based on his own experiences as an immigrant in the 1970s. The book’s character, Sajjad, arrived in Norway at the age of 4 and learned the language easily. His parents, however, had more trouble assimilating. The book tackles the difficulty Sajjad has of navigating his two conflicting identities, that of his family and religion and the other of his assimilated Norwegian identity. It also explores conflicts that arise relating to the father’s expectations and the son’s wishes. Originally published in 1986, it seemed like it could have been written recently. The only things missing were cell phones and social media. It was an interesting look at an immigrant family’s experiences which most likely shares many similarities with immigrant experiences elsewhere and in contemporary times.

Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021:

  • A Scandinavian book you’ve been meaning to read
  • A buddy read or group read (in real life or virtually) of a Nordic book
  • Bonus 1: A prompt from a previous year’s challenge (2018: An immigrant story)

What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Currently, the first book in the Alexander Blix & Emma Ramm series, Death Deserved, is free!

Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Reading Lately (February 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

February was a productive, varied, and very enjoyable month of reading for me. First of all, I finally completed my 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge at the beginning of the month. I have compiled all my reads at What I Read for the 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge. Secondly, I continued strong with my reading intentions for 2020. And considering what’s going on this month, it looks like March will be a good reading month, too.

Here are my latest reads. What have you been reading lately?


North Wild Kitchen: Home Cooking from the Heart of Norway
by Nevada Berg

I was already a fan of the author’s blog North Wild Kitchen so when she published a cookbook I knew I would buy it. The author is from Utah, and in the introduction, she explains how she ended up buying a mountain farm “deep in the belly of Norway” and began exploring the country’s cuisine. I enjoy how the cookbook is organized thematically by source reflecting Norwegian food culture: foraging, fishing, farming (“Seteren”), harvesting, hunting, storing (“Stabburet”), camping, and baking. It includes both traditional Norwegian meals as well as Norwegian-inspired recipes. I was happy to see many favorite foods, such as “boller” (sweet buns with cardamom), “grovbrød” (multigrain bread) and “bløtkake” (layered cream cake with fresh berries), as well as some new-to-me dishes like “plukkfisk” (fish and mashed potatoes with roasted carrots, sauteed leeks, and bacon) which seemed reasonable to attempt at home. The commentary on Norwegian food culture is insightful, the recipes manageable (I appreciate the tips on substitutions for some of the more “exotic” ingredients like moose and grouse), and the photos are delightful. It’s a beautiful addition to any kitchen, but especially to one with a cook with Norwegian roots.

Reading Challenges:


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
(Audiobook narrated by Yareli Arizmendi)

This was high on my TBR list after I first heard about it in the fall of 2019, but then on the day of its release with all the surrounding controversy, I became uncertain as to whether I actually wanted to read it. However, before I had a chance to think much more about it, my audiobook hold became available so I decided to give it a try. At least I’d know specifically what the controversy related to. I did really enjoy it. I found it engaging and eye-opening. It’s the story of a mother and her young son on a journey to survive. They have to flee Acapulco after her journalist husband and many family members are killed by the cartel. They make their way north along with other migrants who are from different places and on the journey for various reasons. I was familiar with the general picture of migrants from Central America making their way north and the troubles at the border. I knew of El Bestia, the Mexican freight trains that carry migrants northward, and the dangers involved. However, the book gave me a closer and more personal look at what that journey is like – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I appreciated that. I always make an effort to read diverse authors and now I have added even more books by Latinx authors to my TBR, books exploring a variety of Latinx experiences.

Reading Challenges:


Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer) by Sara Omar
(Translated from the Danish to the Norwegian by Hilde Rød-Larsen)

This is an amazing and heartbreaking novel dealing with the oppression of Muslim women, in particular in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The author was born and raised in Kurdistan, but she had to flee as a young teenager in the late 1990s due to war. She eventually made her way to Denmark. I was very eager to read this book when I first learned about it from the Scandinavian bookstagram community. When it was published in Denmark in 2017, it was hailed as “the year’s most important book.” The author had to have police protection due to the backlash from the anti-Islam content.

The book is about a girl named Frmesk born in Kurdistan in 1986 (just like the author; I wonder how much of the novel is autobiographical). She is unwanted by her father because she’s a girl. She is sent to live with her mother’s parents because the mother is afraid for the baby’s life if she stays at home. Her grandparents are very kind, loving, open-minded “parents” to Frmesk in a world where the Koran rules and women’s rights and freedoms are non-existent. The story moves between Frmesk’s life as a young child in her grandparents’ household and Frmesk’s life in Denmark 30 years later when she’s alone in a hospital bed for unidentified procedures. Real events, such as the 1988 Halabja chemical attack, are included in the story. It was an extremely engrossing and engaging story despite the difficult subject material. I certainly hope it’s translated to English so it can engage many more readers. Sara Omar’s second book, Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer), a follow-up to the first, was published in Denmark in November 2019 and I’m very eager to read it when it’s released in Norwegian in May 2020.

Reading Challenges:


Beyond All Reasonable Doubt by Malin Persson Giolito
(Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

This was my second Malin Persson Giolito book. I really enjoyed Quicksand, her English language debut. There are many similarities between the two books. They are both legal thrillers in which the subject matter is heavy and discussion-worthy, and the narrative structure is one in which the story jumps back and forth in time. Quicksand was about a school shooting; this book explores a possibly wrongful murder conviction (of a man who happens to be hated by society for an unrelated alleged child molestation). This story alternates between contemporary times, when the criminal defense lawyer is looking through the case again, and 1997/1998, when the 15-year-old girl was killed and a 35-year-old man convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I felt the book lacked in certain areas, like character development of Sophia Weber, the lawyer, and advancement of the plot. I learned later that this book is actually the second book in a series featuring this lawyer (the first does not have an English translation) so that could explain the missing background information needed to understand some of the lawyer’s actions. Plot-wise, the lawyer didn’t agree to take the case until practically half way through the book which was frustrating. The book provided thought-provoking material, but unfortunately, I did not feel satisfied at the end.

Reading Challenges:


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
(Audiobook narrated by Jack Hawkins and Louise Brealey)

I’m confused by this book. I loved it while I was listening and couldn’t wait to return to it. It was extremely engaging and kept me wondering. But then when the pieces started falling into place, I became confused. I thought I had a handle on the timelines – the events leading up to the killing that took place years earlier and the therapist’s current life situation – but then it didn’t make sense to me. When I had finished, I felt like I needed to go back and reread to see where I had missed something. Did I listen too fast? I would have loved to discuss this with someone who had read it at the same time as me. Thinking back about it now I realize I’ve already started forgetting little details so it’s hard to attempt to clear up my confusion.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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