To mark International Women’s Day 2016, the founder of #readwomen gives her top recommendations of women writers in translation.
The doorstop collected short stories of Clarice Lispector (Brazil), a giant of 20th-century Latin American – and world – letters, were collected in an English-language edition for the first time last year, translated by Katrina Dodson. If you think it’s important to read Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner, add Lispector to the list of essential modernist voices. Start with Complete Stories, The Hour of the Star (novella, trans. Benjamin Moser) or Agua Viva (lyric essay, trans. Stefan Tobler). Or you could read her journalism – including newspaper advice columns! – Selected Cronicas (trans. Giovanni Pontiero).
Michèle Audin and Anne Garréta (France) are two of the (few) women members of the French experimental group The Oulipo, which applies mathematical principles to create ‘constraints’ in writing in order to produce ‘potential’ literatures. They were both published for the first time in English within the last year: Garréta’s gender-bending and erotic Sphinx is a narrative which refuses to identify the sex of the two principle characters (a feat of translation by Emma Ramadan), and Audin’s One Hundred Twenty-One Days (trans. Christiana Hills) follows the lives of French mathematicians over several generations during the early twentieth century, using an exhilarating range of styles that vary from fiction to diary to myth.
Marlen Haushofer and Elfriede Jelinek (Austria) are two writers who deal expertly with the moral fallout of a society created in the wake of Austria’s mid-twentieth-century history. Nobel Prize-winner Jelinek is most famous for her bitter and brilliant The Piano Teacher (trans. Joachim Neugroschel), which became a Michael Haneke film starring Isabelle Huppert. My favourite of her books is the stark Women As Lovers (trans. Martin Chalmers), the tale of the fates of two women factory workers in a society in which sexism is embedded and endemic, told in a style somewhere between Marxist dialectic and fairy-tale. Her Nobel Prize acceptance speech is well worth checking out too. Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (trans. Shaun Whiteside) is an existential dystopian fable for grown-ups: a woman finds herself the only living survivor of a mysterious event. Trapped in a survival bubble in a remote mountain meadow, she must learn not only to keep herself alive but, with only animals for company, both examine her identity as a woman, and redefine what it means to be human.
Lina Wolff (Sweden)’s Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (trans. Frank Perry) is a novel constructed from a number of jigsaw pieces, including the story prostitutes at a run-down brothel in Caudal, Spain, who adopt a collection of stray dogs, naming each after a famous male writer – Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis – all centred around the mysterious Alba Cambó, herself a writer. An absurd, funny and fiercely feminist exploration of a hard and dry physical and emotional landscape.
The novelist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (Bangladesh) has been called ‘India’s Ferrante’. The delightfully surreal and wickedly subversive Panty (trans. Arunava Sinha) is the first title, out in June, from new UK publisher Tilted Axis Press.
Bae Suah (South Korean)’s first novel to be translated from Korean into English, Nowhere To Be Found (trans. Sora Kim-Russell and published last year), was a slip of highly addictive poison, addressing the alienation of post-war Korean society through the dissolving and fragmented story of a young woman, a subject also expertly dealt with by Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith) in The Vegetarian.
With one tiny book of delightfully sharp and disturbing fables – Picnic of the Virtues (trans. Katy Derbyshire) – available in English, I’d like to see more in translation by the inventive and very funny Felicitas Hoppe (Germany). I particularly like the sound of her (as yet untranslated) fictional ‘autobiography’, Hoppe.
Dubravka Ugrešić (Croatia)’s mammoth output includes essays, novels, creative non-fiction, and fairy tales for adults. A true post-modernist, she not only writes from her culture but embodies it, sampling classic literature, folk tales and gossip magazines, reworking her post-Soviet heritage in ways that allow both for celebration and criticism. Ranging from polemic to eulogy and written from a position of exile, Ugrešić’s fierce and fizzing essays are highly critical of her homeland’s politics, and never without combative humour. I’m eagerly awaiting her forthcoming Story About How Stories Come to Be Told, a short extract from which was published in Music & Literature magazine, showing her incisive, playful, melancholy pertinence at its best. Start with The Museum of Unconditional Surrender (trans. Celia Hawkesworth), which covers all her bases.