Does reading translated novels put a twist on #readwomen2014?

I’m only reading books by women this year, and today I was wondering: How is this resolution affected by my other focus, reading translated novels?

Is it okay, that is, does it “count” as a book by a woman if the original author is a woman, but the translator is a man? And if I were to read a book translated by a woman, but the original author was a man, would that mean I’ve broken my resolution?

The answer to that for me is yes in both cases. Thus far, I’ve just been focused on the original author’s gender when choosing books by women to read. And I’m not really worried in any way, or looking for an “out” to try and read a book by a male author.

The question of this twist on my #readwomen2014 resolution is for me partly about the build-up to the reading experience. How a book is recommended: the channels it goes through to reach me, my interpretation of a book’s possibilities during the selection process, all the things I hear on Twitter, or from a publicist–these things all affect the experience before I begin to read.

Considering the translator’s gender could be another factor in the thinking that comes before we start reading a book. It’s also a way to read critically and look for bias. Though I’ve yet to concentrate on this while reading, wondering if the translator’s gender alone affects the overall quality of a translation. Though it must, in a way, when we really get down to matters of word choice and interpretations. Translators who work closely with the author can of course make sure they’re getting it as right as possible (as “right” as any translation can be), but author and translator can’t confer on every choice (or any choice, if the author is dead).

It’s interesting to consider what these things might mean to me as a reader. And there must be people out there who have fine-tuned their #readowomen2014 resolution to include, where translations are concerned, only books where both the author and the translator are women.

2 thoughts on “Does reading translated novels put a twist on #readwomen2014?

  1. Claire — Thanks so much for this thoughtful response, and mentions of these books. I’m a fan of Tove Jansson and was thrilled when True Deceiver won the Best Translated Book Award. I also have Baobab Tree on the TBR list, and will order Nada very soon.
    Looking forward to reading your post about What Do We Read, and continuing to follow #WITMonth as it continues. Some of my favorite translators include Susan Bernofsky, Shelley Frisch, Katy Derbyshire, Edith Grossman (of course), Alison Anderson, and David Williams (who translates Dubravka Ugresic). Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment here!


  2. Yes indeed. I already read a significant number of women writers and wrote a little about it in a post earlier this year What Do We Read? That made me realise how much I like to read across cultures and need to read more translated work to do so.

    I’ve just read three books in a row by women that were translated into English, Carmen Laforet’s Nada, Tove Jansson’s True Deceiver and Wilma Stockenström’s The Expedition to the Baobab Tree which coincided with a twitter discussion about the lack of women in translation and thus #WITMonth was born.

    Interesting comments about translators as well, those who read a lot of translated fiction begin to have their favourite translators, so there is definitely something of a reputation gained and some have even questioned that they seem to enjoy all the books translated by one particular translator, making one wonder just how much influence they have on the book.

    Insightful post!


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