WorldBookProject – Read Women and Women in Translation

About a year and a half ago, when I started my project to read the world, I had no idea about the imbalance in the translation of non-anglophone female/male writers.  Or indeed the imbalance between published male/female anglophone authors. Then I came across this blog post https://womenintranslation.com/ 58 and decided to look into my own reading habits. Since then I’ve tried to read an equal number of books by male and female authors (I have yet to find an author who identifies as non-binary).

So, how am I doing? Out of the 143 books I’ve read so far there were 58 books written by women (40%), 10 have mixed authorship (6%), and there was one book were the authors were unknown. That makes me look a lot better than the anglophone publishing industry, but there’s still some room for improvement.

141 Guadeloupe: Maryse Condé – I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem

This.Is.Mindblowingly.Good. It is also brutal, painful, and violent. The main themes are misogyny, racism, and religious hypocrisy. Still, I was drawn into the main character’s life and it was difficult to let go. I’ve since read another short story by the same author, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading much more by her.

142 Philippines: Jessica Hagedorn (ed) – Manila Noir

I listened to these short stories as an audiobook. They were read by Tez Bois and Ramon De Ocampo. Both did a good job and made the gruesome stories come to life. Again, this was a book with a lot of (sexual) violence in it. However, and I think this is a hallmark of good short stories, they mostly had a really surprising twist. Quite a number also figured transgender characters, which was interesting.

143 Swaziland: Sarah Mkhonza – What the Future Holds

I really like a character in a story who does something not in line with tradition and gets away with it. This is not giving away the denouement – we as readers know this from the first chapter of this book. Which also might have not been the best idea on the part of the writer, but maybe this is because it’s a debut novel. Anyway, seeing the main character grow and grow up and fight for her identity and place in life made me really root for her. Again, this is another writer to explore further.

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WorldBookProject – Burundi, Jersey and Nicaragua

WorldBookProject continues, and if you’re like me looking forward to #WITmonth – women in translation month – then here you find two very good suggestions of what you could read. Out of the 114 books I’ve read so far 48 were written by women and 6 have mixed authorship.

112 Burundi: Esther Kamatari – Prinzessin der  Waisen

This autobiography has not been translated into English, as far as I could find out, but there’s a translation into Dutch. It was fascinating to follow the author’s life from court to fields, from a school run by nuns to catwalks to being a philanthropist. She seems a remarkable woman.

113 Jersey: Gerald Durrell – Birds, Beasts and Relatives

This audiobook narrated by Nigel Davenport told stories about the writer’s childhood on Corfu in the 1930s. It’s very much of its time, but in a way also extremely modern and open, e.g. when introducing a gay character. A rather graphic account of a woman giving birth was also very funny. Many thanks to writer Jane Alexander for recommending the author. I really want to read more by him and also visit the zoo he founded on Jersey.

114 Nicaragua: Gioconda Belli – The Country under my Skin: a memoir of love and war

Of all the books I’ve read so far for this project, this one and its author are possibly the most intense and diverse. It kicks off with shooting lessons under the watchful eyes of Fidel Castro, continues with poems about menstruation, a career in advertising and as a resistance fighter, mother and accomplished writer, and so much more. I also learned a lot about Nicaragua, and the appalling role the USA played in its history. What I particularly liked was the sensuality of the writing with a focus on sounds and smells.

 

WorldBookProject – Up to 100

In my quest (and at times it really feels like one), I’ve reached a first big milestone. So far, I’ve read books from 100 countries or territories. 43 were written by female authors, 5 had mixed authors, and 52 were written by men.

I’ve also read some books from countries which I’ve already covered. Most notable here is Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice. Even if you’re only vaguely interested in books, how to produce them and the history behind it, this one is for you. And if not, it’s still a great read as a piece of historical fiction.

98 Antigua and Barbuda: Jamaica Kincaid – The Autobiography of My Mother

Great to be back in the Caribbean. And also great to listen to another audiobook read by Robin Miles (the first one was my choice for Somalia). I found the story engrossing and at times enchanting. The main character was very sensual, at times quite saucy, and her descriptions of the physical world made her surroundings really come to life. The bitter-sweet denouement made for a perfect ending.

99 Lebanon: Hanan al-Shayk – Beirut Blues

Firstly, many thanks to my Arabic teacher Zuzka for recommending me the author. I’m just afraid I chose the wrong book here. It sounded intriguing to read a book of letters from war-torn Lebanon to different people, to the Country or to the War. But I couldn’t connect with the writer of those letters, the addressees or any other character, for that matter. I think I’ll try one of the non-fiction/autobiographical books by the author. They seem to be quite different.

100 Macedonia: Lidija Dimkovska – Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers

And it was time for some poetry. What I enjoyed most about the poems was the author’s sense of humor, which was at times quite cynical. It left me with the reassuring feeling that I’m not the only one who finds modern life a bit confusing every now and then.

WorldBookProject – Madagascar, Malawi & Northern Ireland

The year started off with some very good books for my undertaking of reading a book from each country/dependent place on this planet. Many thanks to Shona Potts for recommending Lucy Caldwell.

88 Madagascar: Michèle Rakotoson – Dadabé

This was a short but powerful book. It contained a novella and two short stories, one of which dealt with the plight of people who lived in a refugee shelter. Where and how do you get clothes, food, privacy, education, work, hygiene …?

89 Malawi: Tiyambe Zeleza – Smouldering Charcoal

Another rather political book which I found immensely gripping. Dealing with corrupt people in power (morally and otherwise), getting by when living below the poverty threshold or having to live with ill family members were just some of the topics explored.

90 Northern Ireland: Lucy Caldwell – All the Beggars Riding

This was my audiobook of the month, and it was wonderfully narrated by Catherine Harvey. At first I found the stream of memories of the main character quite confusing, especially since she didn’t remember the facts and eventually made up things that could have happened. In the end, however, all of this came neatly together as an intriguing example of how we create stories, professionally or just the every day ones. Like the other two books, I can definitely recommend this one.