August is Women in Translation Month, a month celebrating female authors from around the world whose work has been translated from other languages into English. Here, members of our Picador team recommend some of their favourite novels written by women in translation.
Acts of Infidelity by Lena Andersson, translated by Saskia Vogel - recommended by Sophie Jonathan, Senior Commissioning Editor
In this novel we meet Ester Nilsson, a sensible woman who employs logic where most use whim. Except when it comes to love. Ester gives way for love, sets it in motion and then holds onto it for dear life. When she meets actor, Olof Sten, she falls madly in love, and though he makes it clear that he never intends to leave his wife, he certainly doesn’t show any signs of ending the strange courtship he has begun with Ester. Olof is having far too much fun, and soon Ester must admit the truth: she has become a mistress.
To read Acts of Infidelity is to dive inside the mind of a brilliant, infuriating friend. Ester and Olof’s entanglements and arguments, his mercurial logic, are the stuff of relationship nightmares. I read this novel and found myself wanting to press it upon friends in aggravated recognition. First written in Swedish and translated to English by Saskia Vogel, Andersson’s writing is cutting, full of razor-sharp humour, but most of all it is perfectly, precisely true. She gets to the heart of the way men and women interact like no one else I’ve read.
Lullaby by Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor - recommended by Gillian Fitzgerald-Kelly, Assistant Editor
Lullaby has stayed with me since I first read it at the end of 2017. The novel is by Leïla Slimani, and is translated from the French by Sam Taylor. Tragic, violent and chilling, it is a powerful story hinging on obsession and power.
Myriam and Paul live in Paris with their two children and are in search of a nanny to instil some structure in their busy lives when they meet Louise. She seems like the perfect candidate: a modern day Mary Poppins who cooks cleans and adores their children. Louise’s effect is instant and this Parisian home is hastily transformed but as the new family unit grows closer and closer, we learn more of Louise’s past and soon the strange toxicity surrounding her begins to seep into the idyllic household. As Louise’s grip on the whole family tightens, the world she has created for them darkens. Lullaby is an exquisite distillation of the quotidian injected with absolute terror and I was gripped by its intensity, elegance, and horror. Slimani’s writing is tight, alluring and simultaneously loaded. Each page is heart-stoppingly good.
Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg, translated by Eliza Marciniak and Splithead by Julya Rabinowich, translated by Tess Lewis - recommended by Marta Dziurosz, Senior Contracts Executive
Wioletta Greg is a poet and it shows in every sentence of her lyrical, hazily autobiographic novel about growing up in Communist Poland. The reality of Wiolka's life is gritty, but her musings about it have a dreaminess to them; the young girl's encounters with the world encompass the mundane, the grotesque, and the hilarious, described in a unique, sensual language. Swallowing Mercury was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017.
Splithead is a raw yet poetic account of emigration. Mischka leaves USSR for Vienna with her parents as a child, and spends many years trying to square the identities, languages and countries that crowd within her. Mischka is a charismatic narrator, voracious about the the world, stumbling as best she can through a tumultuous youth.
Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha - recommended by Saba Ahmed, Editorial Manager
From ‘India’s Elena Ferrante’, Abandon is the beguiling story of Ishwari, a writer who has abandoned her former life to live on the margins in a seedy guesthouse in Kolkata. Hobbled by the practical and emotional demands of motherhood, Ishwari is destitute and desperate, increasingly a victim of the cruel circumstances of her fate. In prose that is at once sensuous and jagged in Arunava Sinha’s perfect translation, Bandyopadhyay spins a tense story of desire and abjection, and the monstrous instinct required to be an artist.
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy, translated by Tim Parks and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, translated by Ann Goldstein - recommended by Ansa Khan, Editor
I loved Fleur Jaeggy’s Sweet Days of Discipline, recently reissued by And Other Stories translated by Tim Parks: beautifully crafted and so wonderfully demonstrative of just how complicated relationships between young women can be – of how the terms love, friendship and enmity don’t really do justice to the different kinds of bonds we form. The writing has a wonderful haunting coolness to it, too.
In full awareness that I have come very late to this party, this was the year that I finally read Elena Ferrante translated by Ann Goldstein, whose work is exactly as good as I had been told. Brilliant on female friendship, I was also blown away by her demonstration of just how far our class origins shape us. In an interview with Deborah Orr, Ferrante described where we come from as ‘like the colour that inevitably rises to one’s cheeks after a strong emotion . . . I believe there is no story, however small, that can ignore that colouring.’ That she manages to explore this in her Neapolitan novels, while also engrossing us in the story of Lila and Elena, makes them something special indeed.
Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami, translated by Louise Heal Kawai - recommended by Kishani Widyaratna, Editor
Mieko Kawakami is one of the most promising young writers in Japan today, a winner of both the Akutagawa Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in Japan, and the Tsubouchi Shoyo Prize for Young Emerging Writers. Ms Ice Sandwich, translated by Louise Heal Kawai, is the first of her work to appear in the English language and this slim novella offers us a tantalising taste of Kawakami's imaginative world. It tells the story of an awkward, lonely boy who becomes fixated on a woman with bright blue eyeshadow who works at a supermarket sandwich counter. Her eyeshadow reminds him of the vivid blue popsicles on sale in the store and he dubs her 'Ms Ice Sandwich', visiting the store everyday so he might see her. What follows is a warm, funny and utterly unlikely coming of age story with an endearingly idiosyncratic young narrator you'll struggle to forget. A gem of a novella.