Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books to Mark Women In Translation Month

I’m going rogue with this week’s Top Ten topic. I’m meant to be listing “Books I Love That Were Written Over Ten Years Ago”. But that’s such an open timeframe I’ll have far too many options. So I’m taking a different path in honour of Women In Translation month.

Many of my choices are novellas. More than a few are dark and unsettling. I don’t go looking for that kind of fiction but somehow these are the stories that have lingered longest in my memory.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

An uncomfortable tale of two young victims of bullying in a Japanese town. Unforgettable.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Equally disturbing and equally unforgettable. Ogawa imagines a world where an unknown controlling force makes objects and the memory of those things to disappear.

My Grandmother’s Braid by Alina Bronsky

From Russia comes this fabulous study of a grandmother who rules her husband and grandson with an iron fist.

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai 

A sweeping tale of a woman who will do anything she can to protect her family through famine, war and idealogical conflict that besiege VietNam.

Stone In a Landslide by Maria Barbal

Another fictional gem published by Periene Press. This one traces the life of a young girl who is sent from her family home because there are too many mouths to feed. In her new life she encounters happiness, sorrow and love until the Spanish Civil War looms.

Love by Hanne Ørstavik

Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik sends a young boy out into an icy winter night. His mother doesn’t even know he’s not tucked up in bed when she leaves the house. The plot suggests a thriller but this is instead a penetrating exploration of a mother/child relationship.

Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić 

A coming of age novel about the experience of people displaced from their homeland by conflict. It’s set against the background of the Croatian War of Independence but I suspect would find echoes in the current Ukranian conflict.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

A startling novella focused on a Korean housewife who decides to stop eating meat. Her decision puts her at opposition to her family and her culture and on a path to mental collapse.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

The only non fiction title in my list, this is the chronicle of a young girl ‘s defection from North Korea’s brutal regime. It took her and her mother two years to get to safety in South Korea, via a perilous journey across Mongolia.

Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Let’s end on a more positive note with this atmospheric tale of two girls who were once close friends. Before they leave childhood behind them they spend one last summer in a seaside inn.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules and the list of topics visit the Top Ten Tuesday page on her blog.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

27 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books to Mark Women In Translation Month

  • These sound great. I particularly like Japanese novellas (actually I like novellas!). I don’t mind gritty, bleak ones (don’t like thrillers though) but Yoshimoto’s sounds nice for a change.

    • I don’t care for short stories but I have come to love novellas. The narrative is compressed but the length still gives plenty of time to explore characters and themes – something I don’t find in a short story

  • Just read your review of the Yüko Ogawa (which I must have missed or forgotten) and will now have to seek it out, thanks.

    • It does have one or two scenes of violence just for you to be aware

      • Thanks for the warning, Karen, I can cope with some level of threat and even violence but I’m uncomfortable when it’s either gratuitous in its graphic description and/or doesn’t contribute to the narrative as a whole.

        And yes, I do accept that shocking violence often happens out of the blue in real life, but the trauma that results usually means it colours all that comes after. Which may of course be the point that’s being made.

        • I would have given up on the book if it had been gratuitous violence. Fortunately in this book the episodes of physical bullying are key to the whole narrative

  • I’ve read four of these one of them is my all time favourite book a book in my top ten stones in a landslide

  • A really interesting list, Karen, with quite a few novels from the Far East. The three I’ve read (Heaven, The Memory Police and Love) were all excellent, which bodes well for your other choices here. Hotel Tito sounds especially interesting given some of the resonances with Ukraine. I tend to enjoy coming-of-age stories, so it could be a great fit for me. Thanks for the recommendations.

  • Lots to interest me here Karen, and most new to me. I loved The Vegetarian but am keen to read quite a few of these.

    • If I had to pick one or two I’d go for Heaven and Stone In A Landslide

  • Yikes, I haven’t read any of these, but I can make a start because I have The Vegetarian on the TBR.

    • I wouldn’t have heard of many of these but for the subscription to the Asympote Book Club – not everything I received was enjoyable but there were some gems

  • I don’t know if I can handle heavy and dark right now, but when I’m in the mood, I’ll definitely come back to this list. I’ve heard good things about IN ORDER TO LIVE especially.

    Happy TTT!


    • I know there have been questions about the authenticity of In Order To Live – some inconsistencies in her story. But she was only 13 when she left north korea and went through two traumatic years so maybe the memory was a little fuzzy. It’s still a remarkable story of survival

    • I’m always astonished just how many books get mentioned that I have never heard of let alone read

  • What an interesting list, from which I have only read Han Kang. I’ll definitely investigate some of these titles.

    • Try Stone in a Landslide Margaret, such a delightful tale

  • Nice! I have only read two here. I as very impressed by The Memory Police.
    The last book I read that would fit your list is Confessions, by Kanae Minato, also on bullying. Great book!

    • I’ve bought Kawakami’s other book – Breasts and Eggs – on the strength of reading Heaven

      • Me too! I absolutely adored Heaven – it’s on my list of books to write about in August reads. I picked this book up randomly from a bookshelf and feel like I’ve found a real treasure. I ordered Breasts and Eggs halfway through it!

        • It was a random purchase for me too!

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