I devoted August along with September to reading women in translation (#WITmonth) from outside Scandinavia, thus unfortunately making little progress on my Scandinavian Reading Challenge these last couple of months. This year’s #WITmonth selections brought me all over the world — Basque Country in Spain, Gulf of Finland, Moroccan countryside, working class neighborhood in Thailand, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia — through the eyes of female authors intimately familiar with their regions. Their perspectives provided a deeper look at the history and culture of these countries, many of which I have little knowledge of.
What have you been reading lately?
The Silence of the White City (Trilogy of the White City #1) by Eva García Sáenz 🇪🇸📖 (Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor)
I loved how this crime fiction novel transported me to Basque Country in northern Spain. A police inspector and his partner are assigned to investigate a series of brutal, ritualistic murders that resemble ones from 20 years ago. However, the perpetrator of those murders is still behind bars. Is he involved from within or has he been wrongly imprisoned? The storyline was complex and layered, jumping back and forth in time, and incorporated elements of the region’s traditions and mythology, resulting in a very engaging read. I’m eager to read book 2 in the series!
Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Western Europe (Spain)
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson 🇫🇮📖
(Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal)
This was a very enjoyable book, a perfect quiet, summer read. It’s a series of vignettes about a very young girl and her elderly grandmother during summer time on a remote island in the Gulf of Finland. Their relationship is very sweet. The girl is at times temperamental and demanding, but the grandmother is always understanding and straightforward, at times playful and creative. They discuss and handle topics ranging from the inconsequential to the very significant. The island and nature play equally important roles in the story as the girl and her grandmother. Sometimes this is exactly the type of book you need.
I felt a special connection to the book because I grew up spending summers on an island along the eastern coast of Norway, not as remote as this one, but somewhat rustic. Reading this book brought back many warm memories from my island summers as a child.
Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Book Set on an Island (Finland)
In the Country of Others: A Novel by Leïla Slimani 🇲🇦📖
(Translated from the French by Sam Taylor)
This is the story of French woman Mathilde who falls in love with Amine, a Moroccan soldier fighting for France in World War II. They marry, move to an inherited farm in Morocco, and raise a family during the time when colonial Morocco is fighting for independence from France. Mathilda struggles with their isolated life on the rocky farm in a tough climate. Also, raising two interracial children is not easy in a community where she is not accepted fully by anyone. The story weaves seamlessly between the different characters’ perspectives making this a compelling look at colonial Morocco in the 1950s. This appears to be the first in a planned trilogy, and I look forward to seeing how Mathilda’s life and those of her children evolve in the future.
Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Africa (Morocco)
The Last Exiles: A Novel by Ann Shin 🇰🇵📖
This novel was a departure from my books by women in translation these last two months, but I was inspired by an upcoming author chat on Instagram hosted by @owlslittlelibrary. The story of a young university couple from very different backgrounds and their defection from North Korea to China was an intriguing one. I appreciated the insight into brokers, the black market, human trafficking, and the general plight of illegal immigrants in China. However, I felt the love story between the couple didn’t warrant the woman’s actions, and I felt their journeys were too easy and quick. Their experiences in China, however, were more descriptive and plausible, and that aspect of the book made a great impression on me.
Book Voyage: Read Around the World: North Asia (North Korea)
Bright by Duanwad Pimwana 🇹🇭📖
(Translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul)
This book has been on my TBR for #WITmonth for a couple of years now, and I’m so glad I finally checked it off. It reminded me a bit of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book that I recently read in that it also is a series of vignettes about a young child and their experiences with people around them. In this case, five-year-old Kampol, or Boy as he’s known to those around him, is abandoned by his parents outside their run-down apartment building in their working class neighborhood in Thailand. The community steps up and takes turns housing and feeding him. The reader meet all sorts of characters, young and old, who help Boy overcome his abandonment and sadness. It’s a heartwarming book that gives intriguing glimpses into the lives of a Thai working class neighborhood.
Book Voyage: Read Around the World: South Asia (Thailand)
The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili
(Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)
(Narrated by Tavia Gilbert)
I’m a little over half way through the book but that is the equivalent of about 2 books! This is a long one, 944 pages or 41 hours of listening, but it’s extremely engrossing and I’m always eager to return to it. I’m grateful that hoopla offers the audiobook because then I can just keep reborrowing it until I’m done. It’s the story of a Georgian family, in particular its women, beginning in the early 1900s. We get an insider’s view of the tumultuous history of Russian Empire/Union of Soviet Socialist Republics/Russia. Niza, born in 1974, is telling the family’s story to her niece Brilka starting with their great grandmother Stasia. If long books or audiobooks are your thing, I highly recommend this one even though I’m not done yet.
Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Eastern Europe & Russia
What have you been reading lately?
By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.
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Thank you once again for some interesting titles! I read “The Summer Book” a few years ago and did NOT care for it! However, I am glad you did. “In the Country of Others” is on my “to read” list and I look forward to reading it. I am currently reading “In Every Mirror She’s Black” by Lola Akinmade Åkerström (Nigerian-American author based in Stockholm). Have just gotten started but so far so good. Goodreads says: “A timely and arresting debut for anyone looking for insight into what it means to be a Black woman in the world. Three Black women are linked in unexpected ways to the same influential white man in Stockholm as they build their new lives in the most open society run by the most private people.”
I thoroughly enjoyed Swedish author Agneta Pleijel’s “Double Portrait.” I read it in Swedish and am not sure if it’s out in English yet. The book follows Oscar Kokoschka and Agatha Christi’s six sittings while Kokoschka paints a portrait of Christie. (I think they were both a bit whacky.)
During the summer, besides the “light” Louise Penny etc I did read 3 non-fiction Swedish books. My favorite being “Hon Kallades Daisy” (She was Called Daisy) written by the current Swedish King’s sister Princess Christina Magnusson. The book is about their Grandmother Crown Princess Margaret (called “Daisy”) who was the Granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Such an interesting book written with so much care and great photos. Daisy has always fascinated me and this book was NOT a disappointment.
I always enjoying hearing what you’ve been reading. Thanks for sharing!