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11 Translated Books by Asian Women Writers to Read This #WITMonth

By Words Without Borders

 Happy #WITMonth! To celebrate this special occasion, we've chosen eleven books you won't want to miss by some of our favorite Asian women writers in the WWB archives. From Indonesia, Macau, Vietnam, India, and more, these titles range across genres and themes, delving into questions of migration, coming of age, family, politics, and much more. While this list is by no means comprehensive, we hope it will inspire you as you plan your reading list for #WITMonth and beyond.


1. Bright by Duanwad Pimwana, translated from Thai by Mui Poopoksakul

The first novel by a Thai woman to be translated into English, Bright tells the story of a young boy who is collectively raised by his community after being abandoned by his father. For more from Pimwana, check out her short story collection Arid Dreams and her recent story "All Trash on the Eastern Side," both translated by Mui Poopoksakul.


2. Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd

One of Japan's most talented contemporary writers, Mieko Kawakami has won the country's top literary awards, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize. Heaven, her most recent novel to appear in English, follows the friendship that develops between two middle school students who are both victims of bullying. Read Kawakami's short story "Where Have All the Sundays Gone?", translated by Hitomi Yoshio, on WWB. 


3. Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin, translated from Chinese by Bonnie Huie 

Notes of a Crocodile is a queer coming-of-age classic by Qiu Miaojin, Taiwan's first openly lesbian writer. Read an excerpt of Bonnie Huie's translation, which won the 2018 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize, or check out a section of Qiu's epistolary novel Last Words from Montmartretranslated by Ari Larissa Heinrich. 


4. River of Fire by Qurratulain Hyder, self-translated from Urdu

Described by Amitav Ghosh as "one of the most important Indian voices of the twentieth century," Qurratulain Hyder translated her own sweeping novel River of Fire, which spans 2,500 years of history, from Urdu into English. For a taste of her work, take a look at her short story "Beyond the Fog," translated from Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon.


5. I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin, translated from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell

The 2012 winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, Kyung-sook Shin is one of South Korea's most renowned novelists. In I'll Be Right There, she traces the lives of four young friends as they navigate the political upheaval of 1980s South Korea. Read an excerpt of the novel, translated by Sora Kim-Russell, on WWB. 


6. The Secret of Hoa Sen by Nguyen Phan Que Mai, translated from Vietnamese by Nguyen Phan Que Mai and Bruce Weigl

Award-winning Vietnamese writer Nguyen Phan Que Mai collaborated with translator and Vietnam War veteran Bruce Weigl to produce this bilingual Vietnamese-English collection of her poetry. Read two poems Que Mai translated with Weigl on WWB: "From the Deep Earth" and "Freeing Myself."


7. Nirzona: A Love Story by Abidah El Khalieqy, translated from Indonesian by Annie Tucker

The author of a dozen books, Abidah El Khalieqy often spotlights female characters whose voices may be marginalized in Indonesia, particularly those who have experienced polygamy or domestic violence. Her novel Nirzona: A Love Story, translated by Annie Tucker, follows a couple who are separated in the wake of the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004. For more from El Khalieqy, read her short stories "Gendhis," translated by Joan Suyenaga, and "Road to Heaven," translated by John H. McGlynn. 


8. Wild Grass on the Riverbank by Hiromi Itō, translated from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles

One of Japan's most beloved contemporary poets, Hiromi Itō has published more than ten collections of poetry and won several prestigious Japanese literary awards. Her collection Wild Grass on the Riverbank, translated by Jeffrey Angles, uses dreamlike and grotesque imagery to explore themes of migration and diaspora. Read her poem "Roadkill," also translated by Jeffrey Angles, on WWB. 


9. River of My Blood by Selina Hossain, edited by Dr. Pascal Zinck and translated from Bengali by Jackie Kabir

Written by Selina Hossain, one of the most important figures in modern Bengali literature, River of My Blood chronicles a young woman's coming of age and struggle with infertility against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence. For a taste of Hossain's work, read her short story "Parul's Motherhood," translated from Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya. 


10. Naked Picnic by Un Sio San, translated from Chinese by Brian Skerratt

In this bilingual collection, Macanese poet Un Sio San's original Chinese-language poems appear alongside Brian Skerratt's English translations. Her poem "Mrs. Robinson at the Hotel Estoril," a meditation on an abandoned hotel in Macau, is available on WWB in Jeremy Tiang's translation.


11. The Waiting by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated from Korean by Janet Hong

Though it won't be out in time for #WITMonth, you won't want to miss Keum Suk Gendry-Kim's new graphic novel, The Waiting, inspired by her own mother's experience during the Korean War. In the meantime, check out Gendry-Kim's previous graphic nonfiction book, Grassalso translated by Janet Hong and excerpted on WWB. 


Related Reading:

9 Translated Books by Black Women Writers to Read This #WITMonth

Women Translating the Classics: An Interview with Emily Wilson, Sholeh Wolpé, and Arshia Sattar

7 Issues of International Women's Writing to Read on #IWD2021


Disclosure: Words Without Borders is an affiliate of and will earn a commission if you use the links above to make a purchase.

Published Aug 5, 2021   Copyright 2021 Words Without Borders

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