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The Watchlist: August 2021

By Tobias Carroll

Each month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. This special #WITMonth selection includes books by women translated from Hindi, French, Finnish, Arabic, and Spanish.


From World Editions | Waiting for the Waters to Rise by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by Richard Philcox | Fiction | 368 pages | ISBN 9781642860733 | US$16.99

What the publisher says: “Babakar is a doctor living alone, with only the memories of his childhood in Mali. In his dreams, he receives visits from his blue-eyed mother and his ex-lover Azelia, both now gone, as are the hopes and aspirations he’s carried with him since his arrival in Guadeloupe. Until, one day, the child Anaïs comes into his life, forcing him to abandon his solitude.”

What NPR says: “At once touching and devastating, the book explores the effects of loss and grief on a personal, communal, and national level, but does so with a personal voice that feels more like a having a conversation than reading a book.”

What I say: “It’s a well-known fact that the past nurtures and enlightens the present,” Condé writes early on in Waiting for the Waters to Rise. And while this novel takes its protagonist Babakar through civil wars and other scenes of global strife, it also moves forward and backward in time to illustrate the actions that took place decades and centuries before and contributed to his current state. The result is a moving story of isolation, community, and families both chosen and biological.


From Deep Vellum | Little Bird by Claudia Ulloa Donoso, translated from the Spanish by Lily Meyer | Fiction | 112 pages | ISBN 9781646050659 | US$14.95

What the publisher says: “After leaving Peru to pursue graduate school north of the Arctic circle, Claudia Ulloa Donoso began blogging about insomnia. Not hers, necessarily—the blog was never defined as fact or fiction. Her blog posts became the bones of Little Bird, a collection of short stories with the fervent self-declaration of diary entries and hallucinatory haze of sleeplessness.”

What the translator says: “The stories in Little Bird transform the stuff of daily life—the mundane details and events that another writer might use to make an invented person seem more real—into surreal magic. She turns lawn mowing into performance art, bus rides into high drama, fly swatting into a life-or-death rescue mission.”

What I say: The stories in Little Bird accomplish a seemingly daunting task: namely, offering readers a sense of distance while also embracing the most visceral elements of the surreal. Add a few observations of life in Norway into the mix and the outcome is even more distinctive—a singular work that comes at the reader from unexpected angles.


From Tilted Axis Press | Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell | Fiction | 738 pages | ISBN 9781911284611 | UK£9.99

What the publisher says: “An eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention—including striking up a friendship with a hijra (trans) woman—confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more 'modern' of the two.”

What Asymptote Journal says: “At its core, Tomb of Sand is interested in the identity politics entangled within the familial system. Shree interrogates the womanhood lost in motherhood, the longings and desires for self-reclamation after the obsolescence of maternal responsibility, depression in grief, the aging body considered as ‘crippled,’ national and gender identity, femininity under the expectation of ‘parent-rearing,’ and the tender role-reversals as a child adopts the manners of a mother.”

What I say: Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand wrestles with big themes—from familial conflict and grief to the enduring legacy of Partition. Shree’s prose, in Rockwell’s translation, has some stunning moments: “Is this the chronicle of the getting-smaller woman or is every story really a Partition tale—love romance longing courage pain-in-separation bloodshed?” And the novel’s blend of epic and intimate makes for a surprisingly brisk read.


From Seagull Books | Blind Spot by Myriam Tadessé, translated from the French by Gila Walker | Nonfiction | 122 pages | ISBN 9780857428783 | US$14.50

What the publisher says: “Drawing on her personal experiences as a biracial Ethiopian-French woman and her family history, Tadessé explores the realities of life for mixed-race individuals in France through her searing and honest memoir.”

What Chicago Review of Books says: “Brief in page count but expansive in scope, it is a commanding missive from a country whose failures to account for systemic inequality resonate uncomfortably with America’s current quagmires.”

What I say: Myriam Tadessé’s memoir combines formal innovation with a candid look back on her life and the harrowing experiences she’s had with discrimination in her chosen field—and in French society as a whole. Blind Spot feels like a distillation of its author’s life, and a powerful testament to her day-to-day reality.


From Scribe | The Union of Synchronized Swimmers by Cristina Sandu, translated from the Finnish by the author | Fiction | 112 pages | ISBN 9781913348236 | UK£9.99

What the publisher says: “In an unnamed Soviet state, six girls meet each day to swim. At first, they play, splashing each other and floating languidly on the water’s surface. But soon the game becomes something more.”

What Publishers Weekly says: “The stories are linked by a series of fragmented, lyrical depictions of six people who meet covertly to swim, in the process exhausting themselves and sharing a feeling of disorientation. While these passages can feel unfinished, the descriptions of swimming make an apt metaphor for the lives of the women in the titled stories.”

What I say: Cristina Sandu’s The Union of Synchronized Swimmers abounds with structural innovation, which takes its narrative from the elliptical to the specific and back again. Over the course of its arc, the book also offers readers something of a pocket history of contemporary Europe. It’s an impressive accomplishment.


From Penguin Classics | The Tale of Princess Fatima, Warrior Woman, translated from the Arabic by Melanie Magidow | Fiction | 208 pages | ISBN 9780143134268 | US$16.00

What the publisher says: “Published in English for the first time, and the only Arabic epic named for a woman, The Tale of Princess Fatima recounts the thrilling adventures of a legendary medieval warrior universally known throughout the Middle East and long overdue to join world literature’s pantheon of female heroes.”

What The Complete Review says: “As a quick glimpse—almost whirlwind tour—of this world, as well as a simple adventure tale, The Tale of Princess Fatima, Warrior Woman is a very good and enjoyable little read. Highlighting the sections of the original centered on this fabulous character also makes sense, and makes for a sufficiently cohesive whole.”

What I say: Set against the backdrop of social and political upheaval, The Tale of Princess Fatima, Warrior Woman chronicles the exploits of the title character over the course of her life. It’s a narrative that overflows with intrigue, adventure, and political dealings, all held together by the legendary heroine at the story’s center.

Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.

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 30, 2021   Copyright 2021 Tobias Carroll

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