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 – Revolution, Archaeology and Pain

First of all, August is coming – and August is #WITmonth. That’s #womenintranslation for the uninitiated, and I’m planning to participate and to read translated books by female authors. Of course, I’ll try to choose books from places which #WorldBookProject hasn’t covered yet.

On matters closer at hand, this post deals with more books from or about dependent territories and issues stemming from colonialism. Since I’m probably not the only one who is mildly geographically challenged, here’s the quick explainer: the Cocos Islands are a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean, Guam is a territory of the USA in the Pacific Ocean, and the Republic of Guinea is a West-African country and not to be confused with Guinea-Bisseau or Equatorial Guinea.

138  Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Pat Linford – The Coconut Revolution

I found this book a typical self-published oddity. It dealt with the author and her husband’s experience during the transfer of the islands from a British colonial system to Australia. The self-proclaimed king and his dynasty of Scottish-Malay ancestry, the family Clunies-Ross, featured heavily. There were lots of typos and grammatical errors which took the joy out of reading.

139 Guam: Mike T. Carson – Guam’s hidden gem: archaeological and historical studies at Ritidian

Yes, this was a gem. Imagine you’re the poor sod who has to shift excavated soil from 77 holes, each at least 1m³, through a 1mm mesh. Reading academic articles can actually be fascinating (or a bit masochistic) when you come to the methodology. I learned about Near and Remote Oceania, the brutal deaths of missionaries and how the archaeologists work together with environmental agencies to protect the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.

140 Guinea: Tierno Monénembo – The Bush Toads

This is in all likelihood one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, but it’s also very well crafted. The pain, anger, fear and hate the characters felt came truly to live. That made it also rather difficult to read, but then I didn’t set out to read around the world to make life easier. It’s definitely an author I’d love to explore further (this was his first book, published almost 40 years ago), and if you want to read it – there’s a ray of sunshine at the end.

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 – For the Love of Libraries

If you want to read a book from every country and dependent territory, you not only need a lot of stamina, but also resources to get the books. So far, I had already had dozens of countries on my own shelf or got them from my husband. I also got some books as presents. On top of that, colleagues lent my some of theirs, and there was a small library in a former work place. But quite a number of books I bought myself. I have a subscription for a monthly audiobook, and luckily, there are many second-hand bookshops on the internet. All in all, it is still not cheap, and for some places there just doesn’t seem to be any kind of book available. So, I’m very happy that for the time being I got a reader’s card of one of the most amazing libraries ever. What’s more, this also allows access to some rather rare books, as you can see below. All hail Bodleian Libraries!

107 Cook Islands: Te Ariki Tara ‘Are – History and Traditions of Rarotonga

Reading this story by one of the last High Priests of the islands was truly captivating. It was a mix of genealogy, myths, recipes, poem, song, description of rites and much more. Several people had translated what had been an oral account dictated over a period of time and published it in short instalments in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, where it appeared alongside the original version. The first bit was published in 1898, so just touching and smelling this book was so rewarding. There is apparently a new edition of this History available, but I loved reading it with all the translators’ remarks like [I have no idea what that means].

108 Solomon Islands: John Selwyn Saunana – Cruising Through the Reverie

As far as I could find out, this book is out of print and only available second-hand at a hefty sum. That means, it is another reason to be eternally grateful for the existence of libraries. The poem is also called Cruising Through the Riverie; in fact, I found both versions in the book I read. It was a kind of dialogue between Ambition and Expectation, and also quite political – several world leaders of the day like Nyerere, Nixon or Sukarno were mentioned. I found it a rather refreshing read.

WorldBookProject – Argentina, Luxembourg and Thailand

Yes, I’m still reading happily away until I’ve read at least one book from each country or territory on my 257 places long list. You might have noticed though that at the moment, there are a number of books appearing on the list which are labelled ‘non-project reads’. The reason for that is that we’re moving, and are not taking all of our printed books with us. So I’m trying to finish some of those before we say goodbye to them.

The one book that recently stood out from this non-project crowd was Petinah Gappah’s The Book of Memory which I listened to. Not printed, but …! The narrator was Robin Miles, who had also narrated my book of choice for Somalia, and she did a brilliant job. I especially loved how she portrayed all the different characters by giving each of them an identifiable voice. The story itself was equally gripping, in particular when it came to the relationship between Memory and Lloyd.

Now, here are the project books I read of late:

101 Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges – Collected Fictions

That one needed a lot of stamina. It’s a collection of short story collections, and yes, that’s as demanding as it sounds, but also quite fulfilling to look back on each finished collection.  Well, I had to go quite slowly, because even a rather short story by this author needs plenty of thinking time, but this is something which I enjoy. I have to admit that I haven’t quite finished the whole book yet, but have completed A Universal History Of Iniquity (1935), The Garden Of Forking Paths (1941), Artifices (1944), and The Aleph (1949).

102 Luxembourg: Margret Steckel – Nachttage 

This book, Night Days in English, left me in a rather melancholic state of mind. I enjoyed reading it, but didn’t like the characters. They came to life on the page wonderfully. However, they were not the kind of people I’d like to hang out with in real life, especially Margit. What I particularly enjoyed was how the Irish landscape, in which most of the story is set, grew out of the pages. Magic realism!

103 Thailand: Thongchai Winichakul – Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation 

Now, here’s a book that was something I had not expected. It was a piece of academic writing which explored how the ideas of nation and landscape influence identity, and also how the fact that humans perceive themselves as parts of an ‘us’ influences maps, and what they show, and how. The style of writing was rather dry, but the content more than made up for that. I’ve got this feeling however, that someone who wouldn’t have to think too much about Thailand’s lese majesté laws might have made some different points about historic royal participation in map-making. But that’s just a guess.

Venice – The Signs

Last December, we went to Venice for a handful of days. Being a language teacher, I suffer from that Berufskrankheit to look for odd bits and bobs of language, and I certainly found them.

For instance, weird places to live in:

sign-8Ok, I admit, my ignorance of Italian is probably the biggest issue here.

But there were also some surprises when it came to the inhabitants of such places.

sign-7A family of Jedi, fine. A family of galaxies? Or robots? Or …? Hm. Anyway, they have their day-to-day struggles to deal with and to make them visible to the many tourists.

sign-6 sign-5I hope their protests are successful. And I also hope, that all those numpties with their selfie-sticks will find their [heavily censored].sign-4

On a slightly more mundane note, there are also the usual lost-in-translation signs. This is something I’m not keen on trying:

sign-3And those two inside a museum and quite far away from any bathroom left me completely baffled. Please leave a comment if you can figure out what the unsuspecting visitor is supposed to be doing.sign-1 sign-2

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.