It’s the end of Women in Translation Month and so to celebrate, this post is dedicated to three of my favourite texts by women authors which I’ve read in translation. The aim of the month-long celebration is to draw attention to the fact that women authors are not often translated into English.
I’ve chosen three classic novels and novellas written over 30-50 years ago but I believe that they are not read or talked about enough, which is why I’m highlighting them here. Each one deeply affected me and stands out in my memory. Nawal El Saadawi and Latifa Al-Zayyat’s novels were introduced to me during my Master’s module on Arabic literature (with primarily an Egyptian focus). I found Banana Yoshimoto when I was looking for Japanese authors to read as a teenager.
Woman At Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
The tale of a writer interviewing women in prison in Egypt, first published in Arabic in 1975. The narrator meets one magnetic woman in particular and is so fascinated by her that she needs to record her story – Firdaus is a murderer who faces her execution with utter tranquility, and finally allows the writer to hear her life story, a hauntingly beautiful tale of a Firdaus navigating the patriarchal structures of the world. Based on El Saadawi’s visits to Qanatir Prison, Woman at Point Zero is elegantly descriptive, and wonderful storytelling.
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
This edition contains two short stories by the Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto, ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Moonlight Shadow’. First published in Japanese in 1987, Kitchen muses upon themes of memory, grief, and familial relationships. ‘Kitchen’ features a young protagonist Mikage whose grandmother has passed away, leaving her feeling entirely alone in ways that she cannot express. She befriends Yuichi who works at a flower shop and eventually stays with him and his mother, Eriko, a transgender woman. Kitchen was influential in drawing attention to the violent injustices and social ostracisation which trans people were facing in Japanese society in the 1980s (and like everywhere else in the world, this is ongoing today). In ‘Moonlight Shadow’, Satsuki has tragically lost her boyfriend and becomes close friends with his brother who lost his girlfriend that same night, too. Together, the short collection is powerful and moving. Yoshimoto’s voice is uniquely serene and yet compelling.
The Open Door by Latifa Al-Zayyat
This novel was first published in Arabic in 1960 and won the inaugural Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. The young protagonist, Layla, becomes involved in student activism in the 1940s and early 1950s, and juggles her education with the pressures of marriage. The coming-of-age novel explores the challenges which a young generation experienced when trying to juggle their own aspirations and their family’s traditional expectations, and in some ways, Layla can be read as a metaphor for a new, young Egypt.
If you’re looking for stimulating reads, I’d recommend them all. Unfortunately this is a short post because I’m in the middle of finishing off my dissertation. I’ll write again soon!
直美 | Naomi