Shop Thoughts | It's Women in Translation Month


Did you know today, August 20, is National Lemonade Day?  

The age of social media has meant a new random holiday to celebrate every day, mostly so we can use hashtags to generate likes and follows.  A less cynical view is that they exist to bring greater attention to things that often get overlooked.  Does lemonade need the help?  I’m skeptical.  We drink a lot of lemonade in our household.  But August is also Women in Translation Month, and that’s an internet holiday I can get behind.

Only three percent of all books published in the United States are works of translation.  Seven years ago, a blogger named Meytal Radzinski noticed that of that three percent, only 30 percent of the books were by women.  So, she created Women in Translation Month, which has grown into a global celebration of female authors and translators.

I recently enjoyed reading The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura, translated from the Japanese by Lucy North, a novel with a straight-forward narration from a woman who becomes increasingly obsessed with the person she calls the woman in the purple skirt.  It’s an unsettling novel of obsession and loneliness for fans of psychological suspense.

I love a good send-up of literary culture (if we can’t laugh at ourselves, what can we laugh at?), which Mona by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Adam Morris, contains in spades. Mona is a Peruvian writer living in California who seeks to escape her troubles by traveling to Sweden where she has been nominated for “the most important literary award in Europe.”  But the trip only intensifies her struggles with her demons and hanging out with her fellow writers only shows her all that’s wrong in her world.  Questionable behavior ensues.    

In our mystery section, we’ve recently added People Like Them by Samira Sedira, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud, to the shelf.  It’s about class and racial tensions in a small alpine village and what happens when a family that doesn’t look like everyone else moves to town—a good pick for readers of psychological suspense.

Over on the nonfiction side, Jenny Erpenbeck is an acclaimed and award-winning German novelist, whose memoir Not a Novel, translated from the German by Kurt Beals, is a great read for the sheer enjoyment of being in the company of an extremely intelligent and inquisitive mind.  Starting with her childhood in East Berlin, Erpenbeck carries us through the fall of the Wall when she was 22 to becoming a writer, with a lot of cultural commentary along the way.  

Or if you want to start someplace a little shorter, you can’t go wrong with the late Polish writer and Nobel Prize-winner Wislawa Szymborska, whose witty poetry always delights and impresses.  Before the craziness of the fall sets in, now seems like just the right time to try a new author and armchair travel someplace you’ve never been before.

Better yet, pair it with an ice-cold glass of lemonade. 

Hannah Harlow is owner of The Book Shop, an independent bookstore in Beverly Farms.  Harlow writes biweekly recommendations for us.  See more of what she recommends reading at

translation, hannah harlow, meytal radzinski, jenny erpenbeck, natsuko imamura, samira sedira, pola oloixarac, social media, wislawa szymborska, writer