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Women in Translation Month 2023

By Jane Bentham, Lucy Clark and Rob Tomlinson


Women in Translation Month takes place every August and is part of the Women in Translation project that began in 2013. The project aims to promote female authors from around the world who write in languages other than English; hence, this month is dedicated to celebrating and sharing such authors. This initiative is not only a fun way to explore a range of women writers, but also an essential project to highlight a demographic that is underrepresented in the global book market. Research based on both the Three Percent database and other sources shows that women writers account for around 30% of new releases of fiction and poetry titles in translation in the US per year. However, the actual rate of women in translation is even lower. It is important to highlight these writers not merely because they are talented women writers, but also because an author’s culture, language and experiences shape their art. Through reading translated works, we have the opportunity to see the world through a lens different to our own and, therefore, are able to explore whole new stories and cultures from a different perspective.


To engage in this month of celebrating women writers in translation you can read, review or discuss translated works written by women. Otherwise, you can engage online with the initiative by following #WITMonth on Twitter, Instagram or Booktube or even posting your own content using the hashtag WITMonth.


Recommendations from Around the World


Japan: Out by Natsuo Kirino


Kirino, often described as the “queen of Japanese crime,” pulls no punches in this fast-paced, gutsy crime novel. The story follows four Japanese women who work the dreary night shift in a lunchbox factory. Faced with money struggles and unreliable husbands, they become increasingly desperate for an escape from their unsatisfactory lives. Events quickly spiral out of control when one of the women accidentally kills her husband, attracting the attention of the police and the organised crime groups that reside in the gritty underbelly of Japanese society.


Kirino primarily emphasises the crippling social expectations that many Japanese women face on a daily basis, but the book also forces us to question the convention of feminine solidarity and strength – the women involved are ultimately back-stabbing and jealous characters. This is a fascinating tale of desperation and alienation that will appeal to fans of the crime and thriller genres.


France: A Frozen Woman by Annie Ernaux


Ernaux was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature and is well-known for her autobiographical works that focus on feminism, class and sociology. One of her earlier novels, A Frozen Woman, mainly deals with Ernaux’s childhood, adolescence and early experiences of motherhood, emphasising society’s power to influence one’s personal choices. Ernaux recalls her experience growing up in a working-class household where her parents did not conform to traditional gender norms and encouraged her to pursue her academic studies. Although as an adult she attempts to cling onto her notions of gender equality, the protagonist feels incapable of resisting the overwhelmingly powerful societal expectations that force her into the roles of mother and wife. A bleak yet very moving portrait of womanhood, this thought-provoking novel is a great starting point for the rest of Ernaux’s literary work.


Brazil: The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector


The Hour of the Star is a text whose comparative brevity belies the complexity of its ideas and construction, and the scope of its interrogation of humanity, identity and fate. The novel revolves around Rodrigo, an unreliable narrator-author as he tells the story of Macabéa, a lonely and impoverished office worker who emigrated from the rural Northeast of Brazil to its urban centre, and who is searching for self-understanding. Alongside this primary narrative, Rodrigo’s voice enters constantly, questioning his influence, the power of the written word to shape reality and his own identity.


Regarded as a masterpiece of Brazilian literature by one of its outstanding 20th century writers, The Hour of the Star is often seen as the culmination of Lispector’s remarkable career. Benjamin Moser’s 2011 translation was the first book in his English translation of Lispector’s entire body of work.


Argentina: Urgent Matters by Paula Rodríguez


From one of the iconic women of Latin American literature, we now turn our attention to a newer voice. With Urgent Matters, Argentina’s Paula Rodríguez delivers a tightly plotted noir bristling with gangs, family drama and the desire to escape. The novel’s opening is as arresting as it is innovative, as the protagonist finds himself in a catastrophic train accident from which the narrative’s events unfurl, while also serving as a critique of Argentina’s austere politics.


In a pulsating translation by Sarah Moses, Urgent Matters announces the arrival of an exciting new talent in crime writing, as Rodríguez embarks on a career as a novelist after twenty-five years in journalism.


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