Women in Translation Wrap-Up |August 2020|#WITMonth

Each year, August celebrates translated literature written by Women authors in a language other than English (and then translated into English) from around the world. Started six years ago by Maytal Tadzinkski, a blogger and scholar, the month aims to support emerging voices and is now a global movement.

I managed to read 5 books for the #WITMonth and I am pretty happy with the diversity of literature I read.

📍After Kurukshetra by Mahasweta Devi (Translated from Bengali by Anjum Katyal)– ‘Devi’ creates a distinction between the royals and the common folks as the women gather after the battle of Kurukshetra. She points out the differences in upbringing, traditions and rituals after the death of one’s husband asserting the fact that the royals live in perpetual unhappiness as they are bound by rules and custom of an intractable nature. Her writing might take a while to make sense, but the messages won’t fail to hit its mark.

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As the warriors are cremated, the skies above Kurukshetra are dark with circling birds of prey. Reek of rotting flesh. Row upon row of oil-soaked wood pyres piled high with decomposing bodies. They are set alight. The pyres burn for days.

With the ancient epic Mahabharat as her source, and the battle of Kurukshetra as a central motif, Mahasweta Devi weaves three stories in which we visit unexpected alleys and by-lanes of the traditional epic saga, and look at events from the eyes of women—marginalized, dispossessed, dalit. Their eyes condemn the wanton waste and inhumanity of war. This Kurukshetra is not the legendary Dharmayuddha of the popular imagination but rather a cold-blooded power game sacrificing countless human lives.

📍A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti (Translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell)– Sobti, hailing from Gujrat (now in Pakistan), moves to the princely state of Sirohi as a preschool teacher post Partition. Sirohi is still coming to terms with Independence and that the Government has all the power now. Amidst this, Sobti serves as a mentor but her presence is questioned repeatedly due to the ingrained misogyny into our very fabric. Sobti writed down memories and hence the narration might not look linear at all times. There are bits and pieces of other people’s lives strewn in, making this a bumpy ride. As Daisy Rockwell complains about the difficulty level of the text, I wonder if I should read this in the original language too.

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Delhi, 1947. The city surges with Partition refugees. Eager to escape the welter of pain and confusion that surrounds her, young Krishna applies on a whim to a position at a preschool in the princely state of Sirohi, itself on the cusp of transitioning into the republic of India. She is greeted on arrival with condescension for her refugee status, and treated with sexist disdain by Zutshi Sahib, the man charged with hiring for the position. Undaunted, Krishna fights back. But when an opportunity to become governess to the child maharaja Tej Singh Bahadur presents itself-and with it a chance to make Sirohi her new home once and for all-there is no telling how long this idyll will last.
Part novel, part memoir, part feminist anthem, A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There is not only a powerful tale of Partition loss and dislocation but also charts the odyssey of a spirited young woman determined to build a new identity for herself on her own terms.

📍Lajja by Taslima Nasrin (Translated from Bengali by Anchita Ghatak)– The Babri Masjid Demolition and the massacre of innocent Hindus didn’t just lay destruction within India. In Bangladesh- a muslim dominated country, a mass exodus took place, killing thousands of Hindu who were a citizen of that country, people who helped Bangladesh gain it’s freedom from Pakistan. Nasrin doesn’t leave a single stone unturned as she gives us the story through a broken family and a barrage of numbers so as to understand and evaluate the kind of damage this particular event caused. Nasrin’s writing shows a certain obsession for facts and details while simultaneously capturing the emotions of her characters.

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The Duttas – Sudhamoy, Kironmoyee, and their two children, Suranjan and Maya – have lived in Bangladesh all their lives. Despite being part of the country’s small Hindu community, that is terrorized at every opportunity by Muslim fundamentalists, they refuse to leave their country, as most of their friends and relatives have done. Sudhamoy, an atheist, believes with a naive mix of optimism and idealism that his motherland will not let him down…

And then, on 6 December 1992, the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in India is demolished by a mob of Hindu fundamentalists. The world condemns the incident but its fallout is felt most acutely in Bangladesh, where Muslim mobs begin to seek out and attack the Hindus… The nightmare inevitably arrives at the Duttas’ doorstep – and their world begins to fall apart.

📍The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang (Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim)– The life of a parent (or someone who wants to be a parent) summed up in 90 odd pages (illustration and all). This short story is an allegory, for misfits who are bullied by the society for having different ideologies and appearances. Sprout, initially kept in a coop, rebels to find her way into the barn and then fosters a duck egg. Her journey from a hen with big dreams to an outcast and then a mother is incredibly powerful and inspiring.

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This is the story of a hen named Sprout. No longer content to lay eggs on command, only to have them carted off to the market, she glimpses her future every morning through the barn doors, where the other animals roam free, and comes up with a plan to escape into the wild—and to hatch an egg of her own.

An anthem for freedom, individuality and motherhood featuring a plucky, spirited heroine who rebels against the tradition-bound world of the barnyard, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a novel of universal resonance that also opens a window on Korea, where it has captivated millions of readers. And with its array of animal characters—the hen, the duck, the rooster, the dog, the weasel—it calls to mind such classics in English as Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web.

Featuring specially-commissioned illustrations, this first English-language edition of Sun-mi Hwang’s fable for our times beautifully captures the journey of an unforgettable character in world literature.

📍Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Translated from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)– The life of a 30-something woman, working in a convenience store is dismantled and re-assembled only to find that her life has a singular purpose- to work at a convenience store. Keiko doesn’t understand why she doesn’t fit into the society. People want her to be ‘normal’. If only life came with a handbook. With obnoxious but nuanced characters, ‘Convenience Store Woman’ is an eye-opener. While it’s easy to relate to the prejudices of the society we live in, what’s difficult is to read about someone who is confortable in her own skin (very few people are, to be honest).

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Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction ― many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual ― and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…
A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

Other posts you might like:

I’d love to hear from you!

  • Did you read any books for #WITMonth?
  • Any bookish goals for September?

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