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In Translation

7 Summer 2020 New Releases by Women in Translation

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Pierce Alquist

Senior Contributor

Pierce Alquist is a transplanted New Yorker living and working in the publishing scene in Boston. Don’t worry if she fooled you, the red hair is misleading. She’s a literature in translation devotee and reviewer and lover of small, independent presses. A voracious traveler and foodie, you can find her in her kitchen making borscht or covered in red pepper paste as she perfects her kimchi recipe.

Women in Translation Month has ended but the joy of celebrating and reading women in translation doesn’t have to. With great summer 2020 releases like these, you’ll be able to stock up well into next year.

Vernon Subutex 2 by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne

Vernon Subutex 1 was a wild, provocative, rock and roll romp around Paris and its people and I’m so thrilled to see this next part in writer and filmmaker Virginie Despentes’s trilogy arrive in the U.S. In this second novel, we continue to follow former record shop owner Vernon Subutex as all of Paris (or so it feels) swirls around him, searching for answers that only he can provide. Despentes’s satire—expertly translated by the great Frank Wynne—is tongue in cheek if you’re biting your cheek so hard it bleeds, oh and with a cigarette thrown in for good measure. 

The Sky is Blue With a Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita, translated by Ryan Holmberg 

Drawn & Quarterly has the most fantastic offerings of literature in translation and so I was thrilled to hear about The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud, the first collection of stories by the “visionary and iconoclastic feminist cartoonist” Kuniko Tsurita to be available in English. Tsurita was the first and only regular female contributor in the legendary alt-manga monthly Garo and this collection reclaims her historical and literary importance. I particularly loved Gabrielle Bellot’s piece in The Atlantic about the collection—in her thoughtful review, Bellot discusses the ways in which Tsurita broke both gender and genre norms in her art.

Disaster Tourist Yun Ko-eun cover

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler

Jungle is a travel agency that specializes in disaster tourism and as one of its top top employees, Yona crafts travel packages to places wrecked by disasters ranging from tsunamis and earthquakes to nuclear disasters and war. Until, that is, she tries to stop her supervisor from sexually harassing her and ends up with a paid “vacation” to assess a poorly reviewed and unprofitable vacation package. The Disaster Tourist is a clever and darkly compelling eco-thriller and satire of the exploitation—of people, nations, and the natural world—inherent in tourism and our society generally.

The Frightened Ones by Dima Wannous, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette

Dima Wannous’s English-language debut The Frightened Ones is a haunting novel of present-day Syria and collective trauma, told through alternating chapters from the point of view of Suleima, the novel’s protagonist, and a woman in an unfinished manuscript that feels eerily similar. I’d recommend this radical and disorienting psychological novel to fans of the The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz, also translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, and Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price—specifically if you’re looking for more novels sets in contemporary Syria. This book was a Finalist for the 2018 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Bezoar: And Other Unsettling Stories by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine

If you’ve been dying for more Guadalupe Nettel after reading the sharp and stunning After the Winter, translated by Rosalind Harvey, then you’re in luck. In the vein of Silvina Ocampo, Cristina Rivera Garza, and Samanta Schweblin, each story in this collection is beautifully crafted and uniquely unsettling. The stories are varied—a medical photographer is infatuated with the eyelid of a young woman, a man comes to a new understanding of the natural world and his own marriage after meeting a gardener, a woman’s odor in an unlikely place drives a man to search for her—but feel connected by Nettel’s elusive prose and their strange, sensory, and obsessive nature.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, translated by Morgan Giles

Kazu is a ghost that haunts Ueno Park—where he had previously lived in one of its homeless villages until the time of his death—but when you’ve finished this elusive and devastating novel, Kazu will begin to haunt you too. Described as a work of “post-tsunami literature and a protest against the 2020 Tokyo Olympics” and a novel of our times for its scathing critiques of the imperialist and capitalist systems, Tokyo Ueno Station hits even harder in the wake of the pandemic as vulnerable populations worldwide have been impacted disproportionately and the gulf between rich and poor grows at alarming rates.

Bluebeard's First Wife cover

Bluebeard’s First Wife by Ha Seong-nan, translated by Janet Hong

In this hotly anticipated follow up to Flowers of Mold, Ha Seong-nan and translator Janet Hong return with another unnerving collection of stories that proves to be even more psychologically chilling than the first. It’s Ha Seong-nan’s subject matter that surprises, it all feels so normal, so possible. There is no haunted house in Ha Seong-nan’s stories—it’s your own house, your own neighbor, your own life where Ha Seong-nan’s horror lies. And what could be more truly terrifying?

Looking for even more great new releases? Check out the Indie Press Roundup: 10 Great New Releases for Summer, featuring more Women in Translation recommendations like Grove by Esther Kinsky, translated by Caroline Schmidt!