6 Novels to Celebrate Women in Translation Month #WIT2023
August 2023 is Women in Translation Month. Here are six internationally acclaimed novels in translation written by French women: Maud Ventura’s hilariously funny debut, My Husband (HarperCollins), Maylis de Kerangal’s spellbinding Eastbound (read and approved by SJP herself!, Archipelago), Anne Berest’s family investigation The Postcard (Europa), and Constance Debré’s magnificent address to her son Love Me Tender (Semiotext(s)), and Lola Lafon’s unforgettable Reeling which is also the first great post #Metoo French novel.
In other words, you now have no excuse not to celebrate #WIT with us!
Beneath the surface of a seemingly perfect life (think Bree from Desperate Housewives), the protagonist of My Husband – English translator, mother of two, and married for 15 years – secretly holds an exclusive, all-consuming, and guilty passion for her husband. Like Phèdre and Marguerite Duras’ heroines, her love is beyond excessive. Convinced that her life is hell (since she loves and is loved in return) our narrator doesn’t know “a single novel, film, or poem, that could serve as an example and show [her] how to love better and less intensely.” Read more.
My Husband, a debut novel by Maud Ventura, trans from the French by Emma Ramadan, HarperCollins
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In Eastbound, Maylis de Kerangal delivers the story of a tangent to Europe’s most easterly point aboard the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Set against a backdrop of wild landscapes – from the snowy forests of Siberia to Lake Baikal – Alyosha’s adventure is sublimated by the beauty that flashes through the train’s windows. The young Russian is forced to board the convoy to do his military service at the other end of the Russian steppe but his only desire is to escape his destiny. In a vain attempt to flee Krasnoyarsk station, he meets Hélène, a young French woman on a quest to cross the taiga to the Far East. But there is nothing innocent about her boarding the train, as this western woman is fleeing from her Russian lover. Despite their ignorance of each other, she helps him to escape from the sold.iers before desertion reaches the point of no return. Read more.
Eastbound by Maylis de Kerangal, trans from the French by Jessica Moore, Archipelago Books
On January 6, 2003, a mysterious postcard makes its way to Anne and her mother, Lélia. The unsigned card includes just four names in the message – Eprhaïm, Emma, Noémie, Jacques – relatives of the narrator who were executed in Auschwitz in 1942. Who could have sent such a chilling message? This postcard, which depicts the Paris Opera Garnier on the front, haunts Anne and leads her on an investigation to track down the sender. On her quest, she traces her family lineage, and discovers untold stories from Paris of the 1930s and 1940s. Read more.
The Postcard by Anne Berest, trans from the French by Tina Kover
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Embrace the summer with Leila Slimani and the first two books of her trilogy, In the Country of Others and Watch us Dance!
Slimani immerses us in the Morocco of the 1950’s through extraordinary encounters and destinies. When Mathilde decides to follow Amine, a soldier she met in Alsace, she wouldn’t have guessed the life that was waiting for her in Morocco.
From young lovers to parents, Mathilde and Amine’s story is gradually overcome by their children, Aïcha, and Selim. The second book follows their children in the “electric” Morocco of the 1960’s, as they find their identity far from their parents.
As Aïcha finds her way through her studies, Selim escapes his past on the road with some hippies. Far from the atmosphere of The Perfect Nanny, for which Leila Slimani won the Prix Goncourt in 2016, In the Country of Others is also a political tale about Morocco and the woman’s place in traditional families.
It was hard to put aside this story as the characters’ evolution was endearing and full of sincerity. A beautifully written and sensitive family epic! – Anna
One should not misjudge the title of Debré’s book, Love Me Tender, since it depicts a fight against an untender injustice : The fight of a mother deprived of justice to see her son. But Love Me Tender is also a story about love : The unconditional love of a mother for her son, the libertine and unattached love of everyday life and the modest love for her aging father. You won’t want to put down the book because you’ll be rooting for Debré to win this battle or even to find out if the last girl she was seeing is the good one. The raw and frank style that one appreciates in Constance Debré is carried out here with a fierce elegance.
Love Me Tender, Constance Debré, translated from the french by Holly James, Semiotext(e).
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After The Little Communist Who Never Smiled (Seven Stories Press, Actes Sud) and Mercy Mary Patty (Actes Sud), Lola Lafon continues her exploration of the psyches of young girls–their fragility, their resilience–with Chavirer. Just like Nadia Comaneci and Patty Hearst, Chloé is a young girl whose destiny bears witness to the violence inflicted on women in our societies. Novels after novels, Lola Lafon has successively reflected on the failures of communist (Ceausescu’s Romania), capitalist (Nixon/Ford’s America), and social-democratic (Mitterand’s France) governments to protect their most vulnerable citizens. Read more.
Reeling by Lola Lafon, trans. from the French by Hildegarde Serle,Europa
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