Honouring Black Authors in Translation
On the occasion of the Black History Month, we decided to create a list of books in translation written by Black authors in order to make space for their voices. This list is not a ranking, but an opportunity to bring book lovers closer to new titles. We have also reviewed some of our favorite titles. From novels to academic articles, the titles in this list are wide-ranging and there is something for all tastes.
The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart, translated by Barbara Bray
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated by Lawrence Schimel
The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins, translated by Julia Sanches
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie, translated by James Kirkup
Beyond the Rice Field by Naivo, translated by Allison M. Charette
The World is Moving Around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake by Dany Laferrière, translated by David Homel
Abandoned Baobab: The Autobiography of a Senegalese Woman by Ken Bugul, translated by Marjolijn De Jager
The Other Side of the Sea by Louis-Philippe Dalembert, translated by Robert H. McCormick Jr.
The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945) by Suzanne Cesaire, edited by Daniel Maximin and translated by Keith L. Walker.
Selected Poems by Corsino Fortes, translated by Daniel Hahn and Sean O'Brien
The Old Slave and the Mastiff by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Linda Coverdale
Patrick Chamoiseau’s The Old Slave and the Mastiff recounts the escape of an old slave wildly hunted by a ferociously unrelenting hound through the forests of Martinique. The deeper the man and beast foray into the forest, the more both lose their tenacious holds on what it means to live and how language structures coral the world they inhabit. Through hallucinatory episodes that recall Odysseus’ underworld or Rushdie’s Sundarbans swamps in Midnight’s Children, the old slave enters into communion with the long decimated indigenous populations of the island. Invested in vestiges of the self and of how Creole H(h)istory(ies) influence Caribbean perspectives, Chamoiseau’s writing is highly sensual and incantatory. At the heart of creolite theory lies the notion of multiple identities for the self, a multiplicity echoed in Linda Coverdale’s wonderful translation where French and Creole words are maintained next to English ones, highlighting that this is a translation. Chamoiseau’s tale of retraced footsteps through bloody ferns is a dizzying flight for freedom across woods capable of providing total immersion for all your senses and selves.
That Hair by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, translated by Eric M. B. Becker
That Hair, as the protagonist Mila says herself, is the story of “at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” When she is just three years old, Mila, the daughter of an Angolan mother and Portuguese father, and moves to Lisbon. The novel starts with Mila in a hair salon, having her first haircut at 6 months old. Throughout the novel, the reader witnesses Mila’s life through her haircuts. As the author recounts Mila’s grandparents’ lives, an element of transgenerational fiction offers a look into the results of colonialism, tracing the protagonist’s ancestor’s voyages from Africa to Europe in an attempt to clarify what place Mila occupies in her world. Using her hair, Mila gains consciousness of herself and what it means to be a Black Portuguese woman living in an everchanging Europe, and world.
By Night The Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, translated by Jethro Soutar
Believe it or not, By Night the Mountain Burns marks the second time a book from Equatorial Guinea has been translated into English, a hardly surprising figure given the dictatorial hold the country’s government has on local media outlets. In spite of that, native author Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel has refused to be silenced, repeatedly resisting and protesting his country’s repressive regime. In 2011, he made headlines due to his anti-government hunger strike. As it recounts the author’s loosely autobiographical memories of growing up on the remote island of Annobón, Ávila Laurel’s novel is determined to see that his country’s voice is not stifled by beautifully drawing upon its oral tradition. Centred around the narrator’s mysterious grandfather — a hermit who refuses to participate in the island’s traditions — By Night, at times, recalls the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez. Yet while Márquez’s writings inserted the fantastical directly into the everyday, Ávila Laurel evokes the magical indirectly through the eyes of his child narrator who struggles to understand the superstitious beliefs of the island’s inhabitants, and the various trials the island itself suffers.