As some of you may already know, August is Women in Translation Month (founded by book blogger Meytal at Biblibio in 2014) which aims to increase readership of translated books by female authors and raise awareness of the gender imbalance in publishing (estimates vary but currently only around 25-30% of books translated into English are by female authors). The three titles I have been reading this month from authors based in Israel, Austria and Mexico showcase the variety of fiction written by women around the world and championed by independent publishers Pushkin Press, Peirene Press and Granta.
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston) tells the story of Dr Eitan Green, a neurosurgeon who has recently relocated to the Israeli city of Beersheba and is involved in a collision with an illegal Eritrean immigrant while he is driving home from work through the desert. In a panic, Eitan leaves him to die at the side of the road, but the dead man’s widow shows up the next day on his doorstep holding his wallet which he left at the scene and blackmails him into providing medical assistance to other illegal immigrants in the area. To complicate matters even further, Eitan’s wife Liat is the police detective tasked with uncovering the identity of the driver who left the scene of the hit-and-run.
Despite the thriller set-up, the pace is very slow and introspective throughout, particularly in the first half as the intensity of Eitan’s guilt and shame builds up, but events take an unexpected turn towards the end as the true consequences of the hit-and-run become clear. There is a good balance between Eitan’s domestic troubles at home as he attempts to lead a double life hiding his secret from his family and his moral dilemma concerning his perception of the experience of Bedouin migrants in Israel. It is a unique and thought-provoking book about a perspective of immigration rarely explored in fiction in the English-speaking world. ‘Waking Lions’ is Gundar-Goshen’s second novel to be translated into English and I will definitely seek out more of her work in the future.
The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift (translated from the Austrian German by Jamie Bulloch) is one of Peirene Press’s titles from last year’s Fairy Tale series. Don’t be fooled by the attractive cover and twee title – this is a book you won’t want to read if you are feeling remotely queasy. The novella opens with the unnamed narrator agreeing to share a cake with Frau Hohenembs, a sinister and highly manipulative woman who lives with her housekeeper Ida and collects momentos of Empress Sissi of Austria. Frau Hohenembs gradually gains control over the narrator who is revealed to have had an eating disorder in the past and subsequently suffers a relapse. I’ve read quite a few Peirene books since I started this blog and while they have all been powerful and unsettling in distinctive ways, the gruesome and graphic prose in ‘The Empress and the Cake’ is probably the most disturbing and nightmarish I’ve come across so far. Like most fairy tales, ‘The Empress and the Cake’ is therefore much darker than it first appears and only one I would recommend to those with strong stomachs.
The profile of contemporary Latin American fiction in translation has been rising steadily and Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli (translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney) is a short debut novel by one of Mexico’s rising stars which features three overlapping narratives. An unnamed author in Mexico City is writing a novel about Gilberto Owen, an obscure Mexican poet and peripheral figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, while she also reflects on her past in New York. Her professional interest with Owen intertwines with Owen’s own narrative about his obsession with Ezra Pound (the apt title is taken from one of his poems). ‘Faces in the Crowd’ is told in sparse prose consisting of short passages and often reads like a collection of flash fiction. Overall, it is probably a bit too abstract for my taste and the fragmented style results in a string of interesting ideas and images without much overall coherence, but I would recommend it to those looking for something more experimental.
What have you been reading for Women in Translation Month?