A world map in the background with featured book covers by women in translation

Recommended Reads

7 books to discover by women in translation


Aug 14, 2023

I can still remember very clearly my best reading day ever. It was August 31, 2021, and as I usually do, I was listening to one audiobook while commuting and reading another at home. Because of a fluke of timing, I finished both books that day, and they were both beyond a doubt “5-star” reads. They are two books I will run around talking about to anyone who will listen—about the characters and subverted expectations and beautiful writing—and I will talk about these things for ridiculous amounts of time, because I just love both books so much.

So, what are these two books, and how did I come to be reading them on the same day a couple of years ago?

Let’s start with the why I was reading them at the same time. The occasion was Women in Translation Month, an event now in its 10th year. The idea behind #WITMonth is that every August, folks read books written by women from around the world that have been translated into other languages. The hope is to bring more light to the amazing stories being written around the globe by women, whose works have traditionally been less likely to receive translations.

And those two magical books?

Abigail and Three Summers

The audiobook was Abigail by Magda Szabó, translated by Len Rix, and read by Samantha Desz. And the ebook was Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki, translated by Karen Van Dyck. Both are coming-of-age stories about young women, Three Summers set just before WWII in Greece, while Abigail happens during WWII in Hungary.

The heroines of both are as unforgettable as the book hangover I had from finishing them the same day. I genuinely can’t think of a better way to celebrate #WITMonth than picking up one or both of these novels.

But maybe mid-century European fiction isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s fine. I’ve included a few more of my very favorite #WITMonth reads available on the Libby app to give you the best reading day of your life.

The Unwomanly Face of War

The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Nobel Prize winner Alexievich is a remarkable oral historian, with books about the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chernobyl and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But I wanted to confine myself to just one of her extraordinary works, so I went with this book about Soviet women in WWII. Some were snipers, others were nurses, or even civilian rebels hiding from Nazis. Alexievich’s magic lies in her ability to encourage her subjects to speak honestly about some of the most significant moments of their lives, then weave these accounts into unputdownable narrative. Sometimes, The Unwomanly Face of War can be a hard read, but it’s entirely worth it.

Half a Lifelong Romance

Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang, translated by Karen S. Kingsbury

Sweeping romance and heartbreak feature in Chang’s gorgeously written novel. It’s so easy for the reader to be caught up in the love between Manzhen and Shijun, but nothing else is easy in 1930s Shanghai. Society and their families conspire to keep these two apart, and when I say conspire, I mean there’s violence, lies, kidnapping, drugs and more. Will this love story that started as an office romance triumph? Well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ride.


Paradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes

This compact novel is an examination of poverty and violence in a gated community in Mexico. Two teenage boys—one a resident of this wealthy community, the other a gardener there—spend most of their time together drinking and discussing the women and things they want and believe they deserve. But then one day talk turns into action in this brilliant, if horrifying, whirlwind of a novel.

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

The audiobook of this novel is less than 3.5 hours, but I think I’ve spent more time than that thinking about this book. The heroine, Keiko, doesn’t interact with society in a way most people she knows would consider normal. She’s happy working at a convenience store for 18 years with no ambition to a better job or career, or to have a boyfriend. When she makes some attempts to adapt, Keiko’s quirky nature allows Murata to examine ideas of conformity, gender roles and happiness more deeply than you would think possible in so slim a book.

Kristin Lavransdatter

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tiina Nunnally

Undset was one of the earliest winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1928), and a large part of her reputation is tied to this saga about the life of a woman in 14th century Norway. The book opens with Kristin as a young girl in her village, and then follows her through falling in love, marriage, children and a great spiritual awakening, all with exquisite period detail. There are plenty of novels that take a character from cradle to grave, but few are as compelling as Undset’s masterpiece, especially in this updated translation from Nunnally, who is one of the best in the business.

And now you’re ready for #WITMonth! But I could definitely talk about it more, so you should still be sure to ask me about if we ever meet (and subscribe to Libby Life for more book recs!).


About the Author

Shelia Mawdsley did everything from answering questions at the Reference Desk to tech training to running a classic lit book club in her 17 years in public libraries. Now she helps other public libraries make the most of their OverDrive collections. In her spare time, she’s either writing or reading, usually with an opera playing in the background. If you ever run into her, ask Shelia about #WITMonth.


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