Six Degrees of Separation: from How To Do Nothing to The Wind That Lays Waste #WITMonth #womenintranslation

How can it be August already? But here we are at the start of another month, which means an opportunity to write one of my favourite posts.  The Six Degrees of Separation meme is hosted by Kate over at BooksAreMyFavoriteAndBest. We all start with the same book and then add six more titles that are linked in some way.

August is Women In Translation Month – a showcase of all the rich writing from around the world by women authors translated into English. I have decided to use my Six Degrees list this month to highlight the translated titles which I am hoping to read in the next few weeks. They are all by female authors, and I am also pleased that five of the six books in my chain are translated by women.  Plus I can give a shout-out to some of my favourite indie publishers along the way, so a thumbs up all round.

The common starting point for the meme this month is How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Obviously this is not a book in translation. But my six linked choices are, so here we go.

The subtitle of Odell’s book is ‘Resisting the Attention Economy’. So thinking about resistance takes me to my first link: Résistance by Agnes Humbert, translated from the original French by Barbara Mellor. This is a memoir about living in occupied France in the 1940s. I have already started reading it and it is making my heart race.

I gather from the blurb that Humbert and her friends get deported to Germany as slave workers. Another book which involves deportation is Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė, translated from the original Lithuanian by Delija Valiukenas. This is a title published by the wonderful Peirene Press. It is Dalia’s account of her family’s life in a labour camp in Siberia, having been deported from their Lithuanian home. It sounds like a challenging read, which is all the more reason to tackle it.

Siberia puts my in mind of cold northern locations, which allows me to link to A Woman in the Polar Night by Christian Ritter, translated from the original German by Jane Degras and published by the excellent Pushkin Press. Written in 1934, this is described as ‘a classic of travel writing’. Ritter describes her journey from a comfortable life in Austria to the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen, where she spends a year waiting for her husband to join her.

For my fourth link, we go from one book about one woman to another: Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, translated from the original Latvian by Margita Gailitis. Another publication by Peirene Press, this novel ‘considers the effects of Soviet rule on a single individual. The central character in the story tries to follow her calling as a doctor. But then the state steps in. She is deprived first of her professional future, then of her identity and finally of her relationship with her daughter’. It sounds totally compelling.

Sticking with the theme of life through the lens of a single person, my fifth link is to The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the original German by Susan Bernofsky. Erpenbeck examines the twentieth century through the various possible lives of one woman. Intriguing.

A key theme of Erpenbeck’s novel is the randomness of life. This is similarly explored in my final link: The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, translated from the original Argentinian by Chris Andrews and published by Charco Press. The novel opens in the great pause before a storm, an act of God (or fate) which leads to unexpected outcomes.

Jenny Odell’s book is, of course, not actually about doing literally nothing. It is an analysis of how our attention is captured by the huge mass of information available to us online these days. We are at the mercy of those pushing out this content. She suggests that we would be much better off seizing back control of our attention resources, making more conscious choices about how we spend our time. I can think of no better way to spend one’s time than with a good book. I look forward to reading and writing about my six translated titles through August.

And before I close, let me say that my book choices for this year’s #WITMonth have been driven by a wish to read titles that I already own. But I recognise that this collection is white-biased and very Euro-centric. Through the month I am looking forward to picking up reading recommendations from a much more diverse range of authors, from wider parts of the world.

Do you have any favourite translated titles I should know about? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂



44 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from How To Do Nothing to The Wind That Lays Waste #WITMonth #womenintranslation

  1. Bravo! An excellent chain of fascinating literature with an inviting challenge at the end. Quite a large task to read all those (some challenging) books as well. But you are always up for such tasks, Liz. X

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Elisabeth, and that’s a great recommendation. I have read The Summer Book before, and you are right – it is perfect for WITMonth. I really must check out some of her other adult fiction. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I haven’t read it yet, but a book on my TBR pile is The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning by Long Litt Woon (translated into English by Barbara J. Haveland). I heard Long on a panel at the Perth Festival Literature and Ideas weekend in February (the Perth in Western Australia not Scotland!) and she was so interesting to listen to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t even know August is Women in Translation Month – I’ll have to see if I have anything on my TBR shelves. You have a good selection to look forward to reading.

    This year I’ve read Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle. It’s a novel about Violette Toussaint, the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne – an emotional and moving story, that I enjoyed very much. Although written by a man, I’ve also read The Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu, which is translated from the Romanian by fellow blogger Marina Sofia – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just found “Fresh Water for Flowers” on my Kindle. Thank you for suggesting this book. My Grandparents were the caretakers of their cemetery in rural Nebraska. I remember my Grandfather’s story about a middle aged man who has just said goodbye to his parent. My grandfather stood with him at the gravesite when the man turned to him. “Well, now I am an orphan.” These are the moments to simple be present.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve just joined Six Degrees for the first time and am fascinated by our very different journeys. Your choices look interesting, and I’ll definitely look out Résistance. Though the more I look at your choices, the more I think I’d like to explore them all. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ok, totally fair enough! I agree with you that it is great to read everyone else’s chains (although a bit painful for the TBR list!!). 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great to see you’re reading women in translation during August too. One of my all time favourites in translation is The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwartz Bart (Guadeloupe/French) and also So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba (Senegal/French). More recently I loved and was very entertained by The Adventures of China Iron (Argentina) and last summer I really enjoyed Maria Jose Silveira’s Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother and her Daughter (Brazil).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a great chain, and yes, I know what you mean about Resistance, I read that a while ago and it’s really chilling.
    Re recommendations for more diversity for #WIT Month, I can suggest these:
    Dry Milk, by Huo Yan, translated by Duncan M Campbell
    The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Adrien Kijek
    I’ve also read Nowhere to Be Found, by Bae Suah, translated by Sora Kim-Russell which was longlisted for the BTBA Best Translated Book Award, but I disliked its apathetic narcissism.
    On my TBR I have Pachinko which everybody says is great, but I’ve got some other ones which have been on my TBR for longer so I haven’t decided what to read yet… if you can access it, this is my WITMonth shelf at Goodreads:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s brilliant, Lisa, thanks so much. Your Goodreads list is hugely impressive and I am sure I will be cribbing from it often! 😀


      1. That’s marvellous, thank you! I really must get to grips with Goodreads more thoroughly – I think I only engage with it rather superficially but there are clearly greater depths to mine!!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know any of these books – and how clever of you to successfully link WIT to the first book! I have read one author here – Erpenbeck. Oh my, but she writes beautifully. I read her Visitation years ago. Small book, huge impact!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent work. Résistance sounds well worth finding. The title Soviet Milk reminds me of Gladkov’s Cement which opens with “It was as it had been at the same hour of morning, three years ago; behind the roofs and angles of the factory the sea foamed like boiling milk in the flashing sunlight.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are amazing at not only finding interesting links for the #6Degrees but also linking it to Women in Translation – very well done (and as a woman translator myself, I am very grateful to you for including the names of the translators and trying to get as many women in as possible!).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved Resistance by Agnes Humbert. Another great post, Liz. This month I am heading into Virginia Wolf. I started to read “To the Lighthouse” a couple of years ago and then realized that I could not go any further until I knew the background story on Virginia, beyond the few paragraphs that ended with her choice of passing. Writers’ lives are really the “first story” before they write any others, because what they write comes from their heart and experiences. Hugs!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s going to be such an adventure. I am starting to think I may not have read it before after all. I was sure that I had, but it seems so new…!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Those are my thoughts exactly, Liz. I don’t recognize anything. And to think I wrote a paper about Wurthering Height in my first year university literature class where I received a bad mark on my thoughts of the love between Heathcliff and Catherine. Looking back, I can’t even remember what I wrote about. YIKES!

        Liked by 1 person

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