Shoko’s Smile, Choi Eun-young, translated from the Korean by Sung Ryu

Choi Eun-young paints intimate portraits of the lives of young women in South Korea, balancing the personal with the political. In the title story, a fraught friendship between an exchange student and her host sister follows them from adolescence to adulthood. In “A Song from Afar”, a young woman grapples with the death of her lover, travelling to Russia to search for information about the deceased. In “Secret”, the parents of a teacher killed in the Sewol ferry sinking hide the news of her death from her grandmother.

Passage to the Plaza, Sahar Khalifeh, translated from the Arabic by Sawad Hussain

In Bab Al-Saha, a quarter of Nablus, Palestine, sits a house of ill-repute. In it lives Nuzha, a young woman ostracised from and shamed by her community. When the Intifada breaks out, Nuzha’s abode unexpectedly becomes a sanctuary for those in the quarter: Hussam, an injured resistance fighter; Samar, a university researcher exploring the impact of the Intifada on women’s lives; and Sitt Zakia, the pious midwife.

In the furnace of conflict at the heart of the 1987 Intifada, notions of freedom, love, respectability, nationhood, the rights of women and Palestinian identity – both among the reluctant residents of the house and the inhabitants of the quarter at large – will be melted and re-forged.

Bright, Duanwad Pimwana, translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul

When five-year-old Kampol is told by his father to wait for him in front of some run-down apartment buildings, the confused boy does as told – he waits and waits, and waits, until he realises his father isn’t coming back anytime soon. Adopted by the community, Kampol is soon being raised by figures like Chong the shopkeeper, who rents out calls on his telephone and goes into debt while extending his customers endless credit. Kampol also plays with local kids like Noi, whose shirt is so worn that it rips right in half, and the sweet, deceptively cute toddler Penporn.

Duelling flea markets, a search for a ten-baht coin lost in the sands of a beach, pet crickets that get eaten for dinner, bouncy ball fads in school, and loneliness so merciless that it kills a boy’s appetite all combine into Bright, the first-ever novel by a Thai woman to appear in English translation.

Ship Of Sorrows, Qurratulain Hyder, translated from the Urdu by Saleem Kidwai

At the heart of Ship of Sorrows is a group of young friends, men and women, Hindu and Muslim, living in Lucknow on the cusp of Indian Independence. Like the rest of the country, their lives are in turmoil. Qurratulain Hyder places the six friends in situations that reflect this changing context and reveal their complex relationships with each other and with their altered reality. As the partition of the country looms, and their separation from each other and from their known worlds becomes imminent, their cargo of sorrows gets heavier. Yet, the ship of sorrows is not a doomed ship – through a tangle of sounds, images and emotions, Hyder navigates it to a harbour that promises hope and renewal.

The Waiting Years, Fumiko Enchi, translated from the Japanese by John Bester

The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo’s real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another...and the
relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, shifting pattern in which they all played a part.

There was Suga, the innocent, introspective girl from a respectable but impoverished family; the outgoing, cheerful, almost boyish Yumi; the flirtatious, seductive Miya, who soon found her father-in-law more dependable as a man than his brutish son. And at the centre, rejected yet dominating them all, the near tragic figure of the wife Tomo, whose passionate heart was always, until that final day, held in check by an old-fashioned code.

The Last Lover, Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen

Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, the husbands, wives, and lovers step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes, wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.”

Among them are Joe, the sales manager of a clothing company in an unnamed Western country, and his wife, Maria, who conducts mystical experiments with the household’s cats and rosebushes. Joe’s customer Reagan is having an affair with Ida, a worker at his rubber plantation, while clothing-store owner Vincent runs away from his wife in pursuit of a woman in black who disappears over and over again. By the novel’s end, we have accompanied these characters on a long march, a naive, helpless, and forsaken search for love, because there are just some things that can’t be stopped – or helped.

Every Fire You Tend, Sema Kaygusuz, translated from the Turkish by Nicholas Glastonbury

In 1938, in the remote Dersim region of Eastern Anatolia, the Turkish Republic launched an operation to erase an entire community of Zaza-speaking Alevi Kurds. Inspired by those brutal events, and the survival of Kaygusuz’s own grandmother, this novel grapples with the various inheritances of genocide, gendered violence, and historical memory as they reverberate across time and place from within the unnamed protagonist’s home in contemporary Istanbul.

The Wandering, Intan Paramaditha, translated from the Indonesian by Stephen J Epstein

You’ve grown roots, you’re gathering moss. You’re desperate to escape your boring life teaching English in Jakarta, to go out and see the world. So you make a Faustian pact with a devil, who gives you a gift, and a warning. A pair of red shoes to take you wherever you want to go.

Turn the page and make your choice.

You may become a tourist or an undocumented migrant, a mother or a murderer, and you will meet other travellers with their own stories to tell. Freedom awaits but borders are real. And no story is ever new.

River of My Blood, Selina Hossain, translated from the Bengali by Jackie Kabir

The novel chronicles the life of Boori, a wild wisp of a girl as she hopscotches into adulthood and married life with an older relative, faces the stigma of being infertile, and then tries to come to terms with the birth of a deaf and dumb boy. Her personal wounds reflect national traumas as Haldi, her village in East Pakistan, is swept by the muktijuddho – the nine-month-long bloody war of independence from which Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign state in 1971. Caught in the spiral of violence, powerless against the brutality of the Pakistani army, the young widow faces the most momentous choice she has ever had to make.

Chinatown, Thuận, translated from Vietnamese by Nguyễn An Lý

The Métro shudders to a halt: an unattended bag has been found. For the narrator, a Vietnamese woman teaching in the Parisian suburbs, a fantastical interior monologue begins, looking back to her childhood in early ‘80s Hanoi, university studies in Leningrad, and the travails and ironies of life in France as an immigrant and single mother.

But most of all she thinks of Chinese-Vietnamese Thụy, who she married in the aftermath of the Sino-Vietnamese war, much to her parents’ disapproval, and whom she has not seen now for eleven years. The mystery around his disappearance feeds her memories, dreams and speculations, in which the idea of Saigon’s Chinatown looms large. There’s even a novel-in-progress, titled I’m Yellow, whose protagonist’s attempts to escape his circumstances mirror the author-narrator’s own.

Also read:

Women in Translation Month: Works of fiction by women authors from ten Indian languages