Women Writing the World
By Oisin Harris, Toby Smollett, and Kate Williams
In celebration of August being Women in Translation Month, here are some of our favourite women writers from around the world.
Esther Kinsky – Germany
Author, literary translator and poet, Esther Kinsky hails from Germany. She has lived in Berlin and London and two of her novels, River and Grove have been translated into English (published by Fitzcarraldo Editions with Rombo on 5 October 2022). In River, she beautifully narrates one unnamed woman’s meandering walks along the Thames’ easternmost tributary, the river Lea. Kinsky uses these seemingly discombobulated walks around industrial zones, derelict wastelands and quaint canal paths almost like a sound mirror to bounce off reflections on decay, memory, migration and people’s relationship with places and non-places. Having drawn comparisons to WG Sebald, Iain Sinclair and Rebecca Solnit, her writing is psycho-geographical, yet imbued heavily with people and their movements through discarded and liminal landscapes rarely explored in novels.
Olga Tokarczuk – Poland
Nobel prize winner and International Booker Prize winner, Olga Tokarczuk (published by Fitzcarraldo Editions) is a Polish author and trained psychiatrist who writes in what she’s termed a constellation-style that space-hops genres and topics. One of the key themes of her 2018 Booker International winning novel Flights, was humans’ relationship to themselves across space and time, whereas Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead remains staged in one place. Janina, the protagonist, feels a deep sense of injustice committed against animals. A reclusive former bridge engineer, ex-athlete now turned teacher, Janina is the trusted caretaker of various holiday residences in a remote Polish village. Her tale recounts the mysterious disappearance of her dogs, an event which sets in motion a spate of murders all involving the members of the local hunting club. A whodunit of cosmological proportion ensues as Janina and her acolytes become engaged in the quest to unmask the killer or killers.
Balaraba Ramat Yakubu – Nigeria
Writing in Hausa, an Afroasiatic language spoken by the Hausa people in Nigeria, Balaraba Ramat Yakubu is one of the few Hausa writers to have had her work translated to English. She is a writer of littattafan soyayya, which roughly translates as “love literature,”[CG1] a genre of writing mostly dominated by female writers and readers and which is often centred around the lives of women. Having been removed from education aged twelve for marriage, Balaraba Ramat Yakubu now fiercely defends her right to express her opinion and share it with others, and she often challenges women’s submissive role in her community through her novels. She is also a successful screenwriter and director in Kannywood, the Nigerian Hausa-language film industry.
Available in English Translation[CG2] – Sin is a Puppy That Follows you Home, translated from the Hausa by Aliyu Kamal and published by Blaft Publications in 2012.
Camila Sosa Villada – Argentina
Camila Sosa Villada is best known for Bad Girls, which is based on her own experiences as a transgender woman working as a prostitute. The book won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prize, an award for women writing in the Spanish language, in 2020. In addition to her writing career, she started out as a successful actress when she starred in an autobiographical play, Carnes tolendas, retrato escénico de un travesti, inspired by her own anonymous blog. She is a multi-hyphenated talent, and beautifully captures both the joys and the difficulties of her life as a transgender woman in Argentina in her work.
Available in English Translation – Bad Girls, translated from the Spanish by Kit Mauda and published by Other Press in 2022.
Mieko Kawakami – Japan
Winner of the Akutagawa Prize in 2008 and the Tanizaki prize in 2013, Mieko Kawakami first became famous in the literary world for her novella Chichi to ran, which explored the intolerable situation of working-class women in contemporary Japan, and specifically the agency of these women regarding their own bodies. Chichi to ran is an unapologetically anti-patriarchal work, and Mieko Kawakami’s other novels rotate around the question of power: those who have it, and especially those who don’t. The bullied children in Hevun struggle against the power of their bullies; the lost souls in Subete mayonaka no koibito tachi struggle against something less immediate, but are downtrodden nonetheless.
Available in English translation – Breasts and Eggs, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd and published by Europa Editions in 2020; Heaven, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd and published by Europa Editions in 2021; All the Lovers in the Night, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd and published by Europa Editions in 2022.
Nana Ekvtimishvili – Georgia
Nana Ekvtimishvili is an outlier in this list, for the fact that she may perhaps be more famous for her work outside of literature. A prolific film director, her most famous film may be Grzeli nateli dgeebi, which won the C.I.C.A.E. Award at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival. Grzeli nateli dgeebi follows two Georgian teenagers looking for their own freedom following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Nana Ekvtimishvili’s only novel, mskhlebis mindori, has a similar premise – an eighteen-year[CG3] -old Lela, abandoned by her parents and inadequately supported by those entrusted with caring for her, as the fall of the USSR provides the backdrop.
Available in English translation – The Pear Field, translated by Elizabeth Heighway and published by Peirene Press in 2021.