For anyone growing up and getting hers or his education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, translation is a matter of fact. Throughout our primary and secondary school, we all receive our share of major European writers (mostly English, German, French and Russian). One could even argue that we read more foreign literature than our own. Maybe it’s a bit different now, I am not sure… In any case, thus was the principle: first one learns about Romanticism in Europe for instance, its historical background, themes, motives and so on, then one reads Goethe, Byron, Pushkin, to name a few, and after that one’s being informed about the influence Romanticism had on Yugoslav literature which is then topped with reading some of the representative authors (whole texts or just excerpts from different works of epic poetry).
In a way, (and in hindsight) some people take pride in making acquaintance with such a wide scope of literature even if years or decades later they cannot remember anything of it. On the other hand, maybe the scope was too wide – I finished high school with what I consider to be an embarrassingly poor command of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian literature which I’ve managed to improve only slightly.
Women authors in our curriculum were scarce – mostly children’s literature authors, a couple of poets – and the only four women in translation were Astrid Lindgren, Johanna Spyri (if memory serves me right), Anne Frank (primary) and Virginia Woolf (secondary school).
Curricula aside, during those formative years I’ve read a fair amount of translated fiction written by women. It was mostly by British and American authors, though – George Eliot, Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Pearl Buck… Later, when I started feeling English as my second language I began avoiding reading translations from it.
Female writers of other nationalities were (still are, save for Swedish) seldom on my nightstand. It is prime time to do something about it.
August is (for the third year in a row now) the Women In Translation Month so I resolved to take part in this celebration by reading literature originally written in any of the world languages except English and Swedish. Literature by women, of course.
Going through my bookshelves I found out that, out of roughly 550 books I own, only 86 were written by women. If I count out those written in and translated from English as well as those written in Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian I am left with 31 books. Further on, when I count out books in Swedish I get to a number of 20 – three from German, two from Japanese, one from Finnish, six from French, one from Danish, three from Norwegian and four from Swedish. Twenty books by women in translation in a library of 550 books. I thought I had more, to be honest.
I can only comfort myself with the fact that I’ve read more than I own.
Next, going through my current Kindle content I found the situation more satisfactory. Out of total 145 titles 99 are British or American (I am well aware of my Anglophilia), 75 titles belong to women authors in general, while 23 titles are women in translation, 17 of which is Tove Jansson!, which leaves me with the number of 6.. Somehow I thought I would find much more to suit this particular event.
Statistics aside, here’s a Women In Translation list I came up with:
- The Mussel Feast. Birgit Vanderbeke
- Chasing the King of Hearts. Hanna Krall
- Beside the Sea. Véronique Olmi
- Mr Darwin’s Gardner. Kristina Carlson
- The Pillow Book. Sei Shōnagon
- The Tale of Genji. Murasaki Shikibu
- La Petite Fadette. Georges Sand
- Cassandra. Christa Wolf
- Death in Spring. Mercè Rodoreda
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Muriel Barbery
Its obvious Eurocentricity annoys me – no authors from Africa or South America, South Asia. Another thing I have to work on…