Fun fact: I first came across a book blog, which essentially propelled me to start my own, when I was searching for reactions to The Vegetarian by Han Kang after being absolutely blown away. Clearly, it was the first book I read after years of not touching fiction in the name of academic aspirations but it was also the first ever translated book I read — understandably, this title holds a special place and since then, I’ve been trying to read more and more translated works.
So when Hafsa first approached me to co-host a readathon centred around translated titles, I jumped with excitement because it was the perfect excuse for me to dive straight into a hunt for translated books and because I believe translated stories give you a chance to witness a culture that is bound to be seeping through the regional language that story was first written in.
Anyway, let me quickly give everyone all the important information around this readathon called Reading in Translation.
↣ It spans over ten days: from 21st December to 31st December.
↣ There are seven prompts to inspire your title selection.
↣ You can double up or triple up on the prompts but you must read at least three translated books from three different languages.
↣ Reading sprints shall be held on Twitter so if you’re a reader who needs added motivation or craves fun while turning those pages, make sure to save the sprint schedule once it goes up.
↣ For all those who want excellent recommendations to choose from, here’s a curated list of translated books from various languages around the world. Want to add a title to this list? Simply contact the host(s) and we’ll happily extend this non-exhaustive list.
↣ Make sure to follow and support the creator, Hafsa, and the co-hosts: Saajid, Tazmyn, Sandra, and me — Fanna! Though, this isn’t a necessity so don’t fret.
Reading in Translation Readathon Prompts:
1. Read a translated book from a language you would love to learn.
2. Read a translated book from a language you think is the hardest to learn.
3. Read a translated book from a language someone in your life speaks. (Bonus points if you read a book they recommend)
4. Read a translated book from a language that hardly gets translated.
5. Read a translated book from a language whose country of origin/the country it’s spoken in you wish to visit.
6. Read a translated book that has won a literary prize.
7. Read a translated book written and translated by a woman.
My TBR: Five books I will be reading for Reading in Translation readathon 2020.
An Apartment on Uranus by Paul B. Preciado, Translated by Charlotte Mandell [French]
Dreaming of an apartment on the coldest planet of the solar system, which was the inspiration for uranism — a concept to define the third sex and the rights of those who love differently — is a way to live beyond the existing confinements of power, gender, racial, and capitalistic structures. More than an account of gender transitioning, this collection of chronological essays reflects on socio-political issues, bullying of queer children, harassment of transgender kids, technological appropriation of the uterus, and an exploding anger from constant oppression and aggression.
I was particularly drawn to this title after reading a line quoted from one of the essays: ‘binary sex-gender-sexuality regime’ and the gravitational pull through this utterly realistic, yet unfortunately so exclusionary, description of the society is powerful.
Prompt: a language you would love to learn — French is definitely beautiful and it has a tone of effortless persuasion that I would surely love to flaunt.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo, Translated by Jamie Chang [Korean]
One of the most hyped books of the year, and one of Time’s 100 Must Read Books of 2020, this adult contemporary set in South Korea and sequenced in six divisions, from childhood to the ultimate drive into psychosis, is feministic resurgence against the multi-generational misogyny seeped in a culture — but not limited to a single geographical boundary. In addition to being a poignant and too realistic tale of a woman’s struggle against a society laid on sexism and gender inequality, this international bestseller also comments on gender pay gap, familial expectations, the triple burden, and a woman’s psychic deterioration.
I’ve heard a lot about the footnotes in this novella and seen all the surprised reactions of international readers to South Korea’s gender statistics because it’s surely a pin to the bubble of a nation perceived through music, dramas, and technological advances — and I’m here to be surprised, or maybe not because majority of the world is unfortunately similar, too.
Prompts: a language you think is the hardest to learn — I’ve always found East Asian languages to be the most difficult to learn and one language I haven’t even tried to learn yet is Korean because I once heard someone say it has the most number of words so I’m here, still scared to even attempt to learn it + a language whose country of origin/the country it’s spoken in you wish to visit — who doesn’t want to visit South Korea?
Women of Sand and Myrrh by Hanan Al-Shaykh, Translated by Catherine Cobham [Arabic]
Four contemporary women from different socio-cultural backgrounds tell their tales in an unnamed Middle Eastern city where every luxury is attainable except freedom from a gilded cage. First published in 1992, this fiction might seem an occurrence somewhere far away and yet so close that the contrast further deepens the clash of modernism and culture. Said to be a feministic storyline, it dives into the inescapable reality of many women who have to claw the walls amidst sexual restraints, marital expectations, gender stereotypes, and cultural stigmas.
To be honest, I’m a little weary of reading this book after coming across reviews that highlight considerable changes enforced through the translation — something I do expect from an English translation that is bound to, intentionally or not, perpetuate a particular idea of the Middle East and ‘women of the sand’ — but I’m hoping to look further in search of the meaning and weight that might’ve been lost during the translation.
Prompts: a language someone in your life speaks + written and translated by a woman — having born and lived majority of my life in a Middle Eastern country, I’ve made a few Arab friends and this particular title has been repeatedly recommended by one of them for years. Fun fact: one of the only two languages, apart from English, I can actually read and write.
Timeless Tales from Marwar by Vijaydan Detha, Translated by Vishes Kothari [Rajasthani]
A collection of oral folktales told and retold through multiple generations in the dunes of India’s North-Western state of Rajasthan, this fantastical selection is a creation of the Thar region and filled with handsome princes, demanding beauties, wicked witches, cunning ghosts, talking animals, and riddles. Said to be sensitively written with a care to keep the context, purpose, and metaphors of the stories intact, this mix of prose and poetry is as bright as the cover.
Prompt: a language that hardly gets translated — language of the land I’m currently residing in, and where I ancestrally belong, Rajasthani is easily one of the least translated languages. In the last two years of living in this state, I’ve heard more of it from folks who like to stay rooted in the culture but there’s certainly a huge shift in lingual pride with more and more people straying away from the regional language so I’m hoping to reconnect with these tales that were penned in such a nuanced tongue.
Moustache by S. Hareesh, Translated by Jayasree Kalathil [Malayalam]
Reviewed to be a realistic portrayal of casteism, this story set during a time of mid-twentieth century and in India’s southernmost state of Kerala, plays out the reaction of a society set on the hierarchy of caste to a man of the lower caste wearing a moustache — something unacceptable by the system. Dipped in magical realism with spirits and animals etched in the local ecology, it also comments on sexual assault, violent oppression, and bloodthirst.
Prompt: won a literary award — this novel won the coveted JCB Prize for Literature 2020 and has been described as “a fine work of Indian fiction by a highly regarded Malayalam author” by one of the juries. Plus, many Indian book bloggers have praised this translation so needless to say, I’m excited to pick it up.
What will you be picking up for this readathon? Have you read any of the books mentioned in this post? Recommend a translated book in the comments!
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