August was declared Women in Translation Month by Meytal Radzinski, a scholar who took up the task of asking why there were so few women-identified authors published in translation. A study soon revealed that only 26% of books in translation were written by women.
Women in Translation Month, then, had two simple goals: 1. Increase the dialogue and discussion about women writers in translation 2. Read more books by women in translation
At Champaca, we believe in reading widely and thoughtfully, and take care to stock translations from across regional languages from India and literature and non-fiction by women-identified authors. The books we have chosen here highlight the work of women translators of women authors from India and elsewhere, including novels, short stories, poetry and memoir.
Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shookofeh Azar, translated from Farsi
The novel is set in the decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini. The story is about a family of five: Hushang, Roza, Beeta, Sohrab and Bahar. The family’s home is burnt down by a zealous mob, and with it their books, precious objects and aspirations. They leave Tehran and arrive at a small remote village called Razan, away from the tyranny of the new regime. They live in a small grove beside a forest and a greengage tree (a fruit tree with green plums local to Iran). We hear of the passing of the years from Bahar, the chronicler of the family’s misfortunes and Iran’s brutal destruction of its heritage and culture. Watch our conversation with the author, Shokoofeh Azar.
Hellfire by Leesa Gazi, translated from Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya
Two young girls, Lovely and Beauty, go to play on the roof of their house without permission from their mother, Farida Khanam. Farida is deeply upset, and forces them to live indoors for decades, only interacting with servants and an indifferent father. When Lovely turns forty, her mother allows her to venture out on her birthday. The novel is about this sudden outing, and Lovely’s recollections of her past and experience of the present in a noisy world outside home. Lovely’s bright birthday morning full of possibilities turns into a night full of foreboding and secrets. You can hear Leesa Gazi speak to Shabnam Nadiya here.
Shabari by Vibhavari Shirurkar, translated from Marathi by Yashodhara Deshpande Maitra
Shabari is from a middle-class savarna family in Pune of the mid-1950s. She chooses the rebellious act of marrying Abhiram of her own choosing while continuing to support her parents with her job. Shabari faces daily humiliation from her husband, who is unsupportive of her parenting approach, and her parents, who are resentful of her working lifestyle. She eventually finds a break from her life by deciding to go on a pilgrimage even though she is an atheist. On this journey, Shabari struggles to reflect on her decisions, whether her marriage, her children, work and travel and decides that her moves in life are largely driven by her own self-interest. The novel is an insightful piece of literature on the transitions and shifting gender equations of the time after Independence.
Baby Doll by Gracy, translated from Malayalam by Fathima E V
This book is a carefully chosen set of 36 short stories from a lifetime of writing by the famed writer Gracy. The characters and storylines often revolve around the inner world of women, and their desires and encounters with the machinations and gaze of the world of men. In Cat, the narrator is convinced that his wife who has ‘cat-eyes’, is actually a cat who is pregnant by a tabby cat who lurks around the house. The story is full of striking imagery and sudden turns of narrative. In Illusory Visions, a woman encounters coffins, opens them and speaks with her deceased parents, bickering and fighting with them, until she is chastised by her dead mother for disrespecting them. Gracy’s writing is full of the uncanny, relentless in her questions about contemporary society in Kerala.
Season of the Shadow by Leonora Miano, translated from French by Gila Walker
One night, a village is ravaged by fire and twelve men disappear. The elders restrain the village chief from sending out a search party, and he finds himself unable to fulfill his duties as leader, even as his brother’s plans to usurp power are underway. The elderly village midwife contemplates whether the community’s response to the tragedy has disregarded their long-cherished ideals. Soon, a mysterious, dark shadow appears over the dwelling of the mothers of the vanished men who are banished to grieve by themselves. What follows is a complex web of personal struggles to make sense of the calamity, and to protect the community, and what it holds dear. Set in what is present-day Cameroon, the story renders how the lives of a small community are indelibly altered by early intrusions of the transatlantic slave trade into sub-Saharan Africa. Season of the Shadow was our pick for the translation-themed Champaca Book Subscription edition focused on Africa.
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Olga descends into chaos when her marriage ends with suddenness and violence. As she tries to hold her life together, with a faltering career and two children, she dwells on her past and memories, seeking signposts of abandonment. She grows indifferent to the happenings around her, discovering in herself a frank tiredness. It takes a significant event involving a dog and a neighbour’s cello to jolt her into reality and look again to gather herself for the future.
Wild Words: Four Tamil Poets by Malathi Maitri, Salma, Kunti Revathi and Sukhirtharani and translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström
These poems by modern poets from Tamil are about everyday lives and emotions, sexuality and a rejection of patriarchy. Here are poems about feminism, gender roles, and the intersections of gender and caste. Challenging a conception of Tamil woman as “modest” and “fearful”, these poems showcase an outspokenness and questioning of so-called societal “rules”. The poets are deeply reflective, categorical and chastising, giving us an easy flowing poetry.
The Soul of A Woman by Isabel Allende, translated from Spanish by the author
In this memoir, Isabel Allende translates her own book from Spanish to English. She recounts her journey as a feminist, a journey that she says started at the age of five in Chile, where she and her siblings were raised by a single mother. She looks back at her experience growing up in the first wave of feminism, the women she looks up to, her three marriages, and her encounters with patriarchy in large and small ways: in her every day, and in the world at large. Conversational, reflective, and warm, Allende writes of the personal and political.