The Wreath – Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy Part 1 – Sigrid Undset (Translated by Tiina Nunnally)

I started my Classics Club reading with a couple of books by male readers, but to ensure equal representation and to ensure there is better exposure for female writers from years gone by, my Classics Club list of fifty works includes twenty-nine books by women writers (so I’ve gone 58% representation). About time I read and reviewed one.
My Classics Club reading and reviewing commenced with the Norwegian novel “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun, and now I pick up the Norwegian female writer Sigrid Undset. Both Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset have won the Nobel Prize for Literature being two of only three writers from Norway to have won the prize (the other being Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1903). Sigrid Undset won the Prize in 1928 “principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages.”
The first novel in her epic “Kristin Lavransdatter” trilogy (the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition running to 1,144 pages including explanatory notes) is “The Wreath”. The whole trilogy following the life of Kristin Lavransdatter, starting with her childhood in Middle Age Norway;
Kristin was used to playing almost every day up here on the church hill and in the cemetery; but today she was going to travel so far that the child thought the familiar sight of her home and village looked completely new and strange. The clusters of buildings at Jørundgaard, in both the inner and outer courtyards, seemed to have grown smaller and grayer down there on the lowlands. The glittering river wound its way past into the distance, and the valley spread out before her, with wide green pastures and marches at the bottom and farms with fields and meadows up along the hillsides beneath the precipitous gray mountains.
From early on we leave of the child who is becoming world wise, she is learning that she is simply a small speck in the larger scheme of things. A classic rural opening to the novel, with the particulars of the village life being brought into perspective of the grander size of all that “spreads out”, and our heroine moving to adulthood through her experiences that are grander than the local events.
Early on in the novel the Middle Ages myth is very much to the fore, as our protagonist becomes embroiled in tales of folklore, goblins, elves, we have the Elf Maiden who approaches Kristin, beckons her with a wreath of gold…is this “The Wreath” of our title? Counterpoint to the mythology is Kristin’s father Lavrans, who is a god fearing pious man, wisdom and age lead to Christianity and faith?
As our heroine becomes older we learn of her arranged marriage to Simon;
But as time passed and her dowry chests were filled and she listened to the constant talk of her marriage and what she would take to her new home, she began to yearn for the matter to be bound with a formal betrothal and for Simon to come north. After a while she began to think about him a great deal and she looked forward to seeing him again.
As a young teenager, and arranged marriage on the horizon, Kristin is very much a product of her time, the independence and the role of a “modern” woman is literature is yet to come to the fore. Her prettier sister Ulvhild (although Kristin is “exceedingly beautiful…tall and small-waisted, with slender elegant limbs, but she…also buxom and shapely”) has an accident and becomes crippled, she recovers slightly, after the attentions of the local priest and the accused ‘witch’, Fru Aashild, now able to walk with the aid of a crutch:
Yet everyone said that if the accident had not befallen Ulvild, she would have been many times more beautiful than her sister. She had the prettiest and sweetest face, white and pink like roses and lilies, with white-gold, silky-soft hair that flowed and curled around her slender neck and thin shoulders. Her eyes resembled those of the Gjesling family: they were deep-set beneath straight black brows, and they were as clear as water and grayish blue, but her gaze was gentle, not sharp. The child’s voice was also so clear and lovely that it was a joy to listen to her whether she spoke or sang. She had an agile talent for book learning and for playing all types of stringed instruments and board games, but she took little interest in needlework because her back would tire quickly.
Written in the early 1920’s, the novel isn’t simply an historical account of Middle Ages Norway, it blends strong characterisation, historical accuracy with a headstrong main character, legends, religious fervour and romanticism. Of course, early on in the piece, we are yet to experience Kritsin’s independence, with the theme of a woman becoming a man’s “possession” prominent in the early stages.
Unlike the introduction to the Penguin Classic’s Deluxe Edition I won’t actually give away the storyline (note – I would avoid the introduction before reading this later translation as I felt it revealed too much and impacted the novel’s revelations), but needless to say we do have arranged marriages, love, scoundrels, and family honour being brought into question. To explain Kristin’s lost virginity…” the situation is such that Simon is too good to gnaw on the bare branch from with another man has broken off the blossom.”
Within 100 odd pages, our “maiden” moves to independence, falls in love with Edwin and takes control of her own destiny:
Up until the day when she gave Erlend her promise, she had always tried diligently to do everything that was right and good, but she had done everything at the bidding of other people. Now she felt that she had grown up from maiden to woman. This was not just because of the passionate, secret caresses she had received and given. She had not merely left her father’s guardianship and subjected herself to Erlend’s will. Brother Edwin had impressed on her the responsibility of answering for her own life, and for Erlend’s as well, and she was willing to bear this burden with grace and dignity. So she lived among the nuns during the Christmas season; during the beautiful services and amidst the joy and peace, she no doubt felt herself unworthy, but she consoled herself with the belief that the time would soon come when she would be able to redeem herself again.
With clever openings, the novel ensures you follow onto work number two “The Wife”;
A slight fear began to stir inside her – faint and dim, but always present – that perhaps, in some way, it might be difficult for them when they were finally married, because they had been too close to each other in the beginning and then had been separated for far too long.
As I alluded to earlier, the historical references are meticulously researched with the feeling of medieval times, through ballads, fairy tales, chivalry all building to a convincing setting. The role of women as “possessions” of men is not only presented through our main character but we have the accused “witch” living in “sin”, scorned women as their partners move on layered with the behaviour and chivalric actions of male influential members of society. A multi layered presentation of Medieval times. An example of the legends still bearing true even though a nation is moving towards Christianity is the family members witnessing the betrothed going to their wedding bed, unmarried women being the only females to wear their hair loosely, and the fashions of the times intricately detailed;
He was dressed in dark attire: a silk surcoat, pale brown interwoven with a black-and-white pattern, ankle-length and slit and the sides. Around his waist he wore a gold-studded belt and on his left hip a sword with gold on the hilt and scabbard. Over his shoulders hung a heavy, dark-blue velvet cape, and on his black hair he wore a black French silk cap which was shirred like wings at the sides and ended in two long streamers, one of which was draped across his chest from his left shoulder and then thrown back over the other.
The two further novels in the trilogy “The Wife” and “The Cross” are also included in my Classics Club reading so I’ll be getting to them over the coming months/years.
To read more about the Classics Club go here, to see my list of the fifty works I will be reading and reviewing over the next five years go here.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide


I Burn Paris – Bruno Jasieński (translated by Soren A. Gauger & Marcin Piekoszewski)

Outside of Poland, Bruno Jasieński is a little known name, and I can imagine that inside of Poland he’s probably an obscure name, although he has a street named after him, and an annual “Brunonalia” literary festival is named after him, both in Klimontów. But when you read his biography, let alone his works, it is amazing that he is not more well known.
A Polish-Jew, he is considered one of the founders of the Polish futurist movement and moved to Paris in 1925, listing three reasons for leaving Poland; (1) he had graduated from university and was due to serve twenty months of compulsory military service, (2) he was being sued for alleged blasphemy during one of his poetry readings, which could have resulted in a year or two in prison, and (3) he was an unemployed literary graduate whole scandalous reputation scarcely promised him work as a high-school teacher. Whilst there his novel Palę Paryż was serialised by the leftist L’Humanité newspaper in French as “Je Brûel Paris” (“I Burn Paris”), the title reportedly being a rebuttable to Paul Morand’s pamphlet “Je Bruel Moscow”, (“bruler” having the idiomatic meaning, to “travel through quickly”). Paul Monard’s (who would later collaborate with the Nazis) pamphlet was a short anti-Semitic and anti-Soviet ’s satire. The novel was quickly translated into Russian, where the first edition of 140,000 copies sold out in a matter of days, prompting a second edition of 220,000 copies. In 1929 the original Polish text was published in Warsaw, but Jasieński was expelled from France for the novel and importation of the book was forbidden on the grounds it “exuded blind and stupid hatred for Western European culture”. Unable to be admitted to Belgium or Luxumborg, Jasieński stayed in Frankfurt Germany until the extradition order was withdrawn, only to return to France and be expelled again for communist agitation.
Settling in Leningrad in the USSR in 1929 he accepted Soviet citizenship, moving to Moscow in 1932. As a strong supporter of Genrikh Yagoda’s political purges within the writers’ community, Jasieński lost support when the Stalin appointed director of the Soviet’s security and intelligence agency was himself arrested, charged with the crimes of wrecking, espionage, Trotskyism and conspiracy, found guilty and shot. Jasieński’s first wife, Klara Arem, who had had an affair with Yagoda, was also arrested, sentenced to death and executed, as a result Jasieński was expelled from the All-Union Communist Party (the Bolsheviks). He was fighting accusations of being a Polish spy and an enemy of the people and was arrested on 31 July 1937, and after being sentenced to 15 years in a labour camp he was instead executed on 17 September 1938. Surviving letters from his time in prison still remain, they are written directly to Stalin, begging for clemency, and listing torture such as fingernails being pulled out, teeth kicked in. Jasieński’s second wife, Anna Berin, was arrested in 1939 and spent seventeen years in various Soveit gulags, and his son was stripped of his identity and sent to an orphanage, but managed to escape during World War II. After the war he went on to become a prominent figure in Russia’s criminal underworld. Eventually discovering his true heritage, he took a Polish name and became active in various illegal organizations in opposition to the Communist regime. He was killed in the 1970s.
This all reads like a film script and although a lengthy introduction to a review of “I Burn Paris” it is valuable information to understand the political and historical motivations of the author.
Our opening chapter tells of Pierre, one of many to lose his job in the period of economic decline, he doesn’t receive the correct paperwork, cannot receive welfare and wanting to buy his girlfriend a pair of slippers to wear to the ball he can’t as he has “exactly three sous in his pocket”. He waits outside her home to explain his predicament, but to add to his woes she doesn’t come home. It doesn’t take long for the reader to realise that they’re in for a dark novel, an opening of despair;
Somewhere far off, in some invisible tower, a clock struck two. Slowly, like schoolboys who had learned their lessons by heart, the other towers repeated it from above the pulpits of the rooftops. Then silence again. His heavy eyelids fluttered clumsily like insects caught on flypaper, flapping upward for a moment, only to drop once more. Somewhere on the faraway bumpy pavement a first tentative cart began to rumble. Soon the garbage wagons would appear. The naked, coarse cobblestones – the bald, scalped skulls of the masses buried alive – would greet them with a long, clattering scream, passed from mouth to mouth as far as imaginable down the endless length of the street. Black men with long spears would run across the sidewalks, sinking their blades into the lanterns’ quivering hearts.
The dry rattle of aching iron. The groggy, waking city struggling to life the heavy eyelids of its shutters.
Very early on in this novel I thought of the despair in Knut Hamsun’s “Hunger”, which I reviewed recently as another entry on my Classics Club listing;
His greedy, tamed hunger lay at the threshold of his consciousness like a trained dog, without crossing over uninvited, content that every thought that hoped to enter his mind had to tread on itfirst.
Also hallucinating, as the protagonist in “Hunger” does, our protagonist here is homeless, hungry, wet and cold, and finds warmth inside a bordello;
From time to time a man would raise himself slowly, staring at one of the angels surrounding him, his eyes wide with astonishment – as though in her face he had suddenly seen that of another, someone familiar and long lost. Then the couple, taking each other by the hand and tracing slow semicircles with their feet, approached the altar of the counter, where in exchange for the mystical writ of a banknote the motionless Buddha of the puffy feminine visage made a ceremonial, liturgical gesture and handed the woman the symbolic ring of the number and the narrow stole of a towel. The betrothed then ascended in the majestic spirals of a twisting, celestial staircase, guided only by fluttering butterfly glances from the odd women wrapped in furs.
It is understandable that these descriptions would cause controversy in the 1920’s, decadent, futurist literature on display. Pierre deranged with hunger, assaults a man who he believes has just been in a hotel with his missing girlfriend, and our protagonist ends up in prison, but with no work, no food, no lodgings, this is a blessing. Whilst in prison he is forced to share a cell with the numerous worker protestors and as a result he learns;
Back in the factory Pierre had heard long and monotonous stories about this new world, a world with neither rich nor oppressed, where the factories would be owned by the workers, and labor would change from a form of slavery to a hymn, to hygiene for the liberated body. He didn’t believe them. No one would budge the diabolical machine, not one inch! It had grown deep into the earth. It had been running since time immemorial, ever since it had been set in motion. Seize the cogs with your bare hands? It wouldn’t stop, it would just rip off your hands. He saw blood on soiled bandages, hands bound in bloody rags, and he thought: another exercise in futility. The battered bodies were flung off the transmission belt and onto the sidelines, behind the wall, with a flick of the wrist.
Remembering that this work was written in 1928 the imagery is quite astonishing;
If the miles of film of the average human life could for once be played in reverse, the eye, like an all-seeing probe plunged in the fathomless stream of human consciousness, would hit upon a point somewhere deep down, a hard bedrock, a fact, an event, an image, and undefined and flickering sensation. It would be tattered and faded, yet inflicted with such a strange hue that the current of time flowing through one’s life would absorb its indefinable color for good.
Who we believe to be our main protagonist, Pierre, quickly meets his demise and we then move to a new hemisphere and the memories of P’an Tsiang-Kuei, a hatred of western civilisation, his life as a street urchin, his distrust of Europe and their pursuit of the holy grail, knowledge, and his discovery of the industrial age.
“White people like money. You have to work for money. White people don’t like to work. They like other people to work for them. Where they live, machines and their own kind, whites, do the work for them. But there’s never enough money for the white people. That’s why they came to China and yoked up all the Chinese to work for them. The Emperor and the Mandarins helped them. That’s why Chinese people live in such poverty, because they have to work for both eh Mandarins and the Emperor – and above all, for the white people, who need lots of money, and so there’s nothing left for us.”
Nothing is sacred in the book, all of societies norms are put to the sword, for example Religion;
Oh, as Father Francis said not more than a week ago: “Easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” And every Sunday he accepted all sorts of presents from rich white people, wine and fruit, and spoke with them cordially for hours at a time, and when they finally left he would see them to their cars, not troubled in the slightest that they wouldn’t be entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Clearly it wasn’t so terribly important if someone was entering the Kingdom of Heaven or not, if the rich fold weren’t so eager to get there, and Father Francis didn’t see much of a problem with this. Obviously this Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t anything special if only the poor folk were being sent there. No, P’an didn’t much care for this docile god. The rich fold and the Caesars had clearly bought him out, so that he would convince people to be subservient. He could set an example by letting himself be beaten to his heart’s content. If he was in fact God, it would hardly hurt. And he could die as much as he like. No, you couldn’t believe in a god like that. That kind of god was a scam.
As always, at this blog, I don’t want to give away too much of this novel’s plot, however the events that transpire in Paris cause the inhabitants to declare independent states, Chinese, Jewish, Russian, Monarchists, Anglo-American, and each of these groups leaders are revealed in differing detail. Futuristic to an extent that it reminded me (slightly) of Huxley’s “Brave New World”, or in part Orwell’s “1984”, even the recent novel by Houellebecq “Submission” as well as the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein or Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”.
Switching between decadence, futurism, manifesto, propaganda and remembering that this was written between two World Wars and prior to the Great Depression this is a revolutionary work. Yes, a deeply political work, references to Karl Marx are not uncommon, and as a result it is no surprise to learn that it was met with uproar, the obvious political leanings of our author and the majority of the action taking place in dark settings or at night, we have the shadows pervading people’s lives. A capitalist system in decline, a dystopian future with utopia an elusive, but realistic possibility, this work is thoroughly recommended.
The cover is also an interesting design, the artwork by Dan Meyer, a play on the geometric designs of the art deco era, another wonderful publication by the independent Twisted Spoon Press, based in Prague, they are slowly becoming one of my preferred suppliers of translated works that enlighten.

Source – personal copy.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Hunger – Knut Hamsun (translated by Sverre Lyngstad)

I was drawn to this novel, originally published in 1890, after attending this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival, where Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan, author of the successful “Beauty Is A Wound”(Translated by Annie Tucker), spoke, in his conversation he spoke of the influences, whilst at university, that led him to choose a career as a writer.  Thinking it must romanticise the writer’s life I purchased a copy a few months ago, and now I am participating in the “Classics Club”, where I intend to read 50 classics over the next five years, I thought a great place to start this excursion was with the tale of the art of writing.
Knut Hamsun was born in 1859 into a poor peasant family in central Norway, moving to Hamarøy at age three, an area north of the Arctic Circle, he became a “sort of indentured servant to his uncle”. Although ambitious to become a writer he became a scribe and reader for his uncle, worked as a store clerk, peddler, shoemaker’s apprentice, schoolmaster, sheriff’s assistant, and road construction worker before emigrating to America. There he lectured, worked as a farmhand and a store clerk before ailing health (misdiagnosed “Galloping consumption”) forced his to return to Norway. Scratching out a meagre living as a writer he returned to America to finance his literary ambition. Again, returning to Norway he eventually presented to the editorial office of Politiken, where the Swedish writer Axel Lundergård described him (via the words of Edvard Brandes) thus; “I have seldom seen anybody so down and out. Not just that his clothes were tattered. But that face! As you know, I’m not sentimental. But the face of that man moved me.”
Hamsun himself describes his book as “an attempt to describe the strange, peculiar life of the mind, the mysteries of the nerves in a starving body.” In a letter to an American friend in late 1888 he speaks about what the subject of literature should be”…The mimosas of thought – delicate fractions of feeling; one wants to delve into the most subtle tissues of psychic life. Delicate observations of the fractional life of the psyche.” (taken from the Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition by translator Sverre Lyngstad).
After the publication of “Hunger” Hamsun went on to write a number of other celebrated novels, with two others “The Growth of the Soil” (1917) and “Victoria” (1898) also appearing on my Classics Club reading list.  In 1920 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his monumental work, Growth of the Soil”. As an open sympathizer of the Nazi occupation of Norway he forfeited his considerable fortune to the state and died in poverty in 1952.
Why Eka Kurniawan chose the life of a struggling artist from reading this work is a conundrum I’ll probably never understand. Like Hamsun’s own life our story is of a writer living in abject poverty, attempting to write another simple newspaper article to fund his next meal.
These people that I met – how lightly and merrily they bobbed their bright faces, dancing their way through life as though it were a ballroom! There was no sign of grief in a single eye that I saw, no burden on any shoulder, not even a cloudy thought maybe, or a little secret suffering, in any of those happy hearts. While I, who walked there right beside these people, young and freshly blown, had already forgotten the very look of happiness! Coddling myself with this thought, I found that a terrible injustice had been done to me. Why had these last few months been so exceedingly rough on me? I couldn’t recognize my cheerful disposition anymore, and I had the weirdest troubles wherever I turned. I couldn’t sit down on a bench by myself or set foot anywhere without being attacked by small, trivial incidents, miserable trifles that forced their way among my ideas scattered my powers to the four winds. A dog streaking past, a yellow rose in a gentleman’s buttonhole, could start my thoughts vibrating and occupying me for a long time. What was the matter with me? Had the Lord’s finger pointed at me? But why exactly me? Why not just as well at some person in South America, for that matter? When I pondered this, it became more and more incomprehensible to me why precisely I should have been chosen for a guinea pig for a caprice of divine grace. To skip the whole world in order to get to me – that was a rather odd way of doing things; there was, after all, both Pascha the second-hand book dealer and Hennechen the steamship agent.
Despite our narrator’s suffering, and the example quote above, he doesn’t wallow in self-pity or spend his whole life acting as a victim, our story takes us through his mental anguish from extreme hunger, the hallucinations, despondency, the clarity of thought and the wanderings of his own mind;
So far not a sound disturbed me; the soft darkness had hidden the whole world from my sight and buried me in sheer quietude – only the desolate, muted voice of stillness whispers monotonously in my ear. The dark monsters out there would suck me up when night came on, and they would carry me far across the sea and through strange lands where no humans lived. They would bring me to Princess Ylajali’s castle, where an undreamed-of splendor awaited me, exceeding that of all others. And she herself will be sitting in a sparkling hall where all is of amethyst, on a throne of yellow roses, and she would hold out her hand to me when I enter, greet me and bid me welcome as I approach and kneel down: Welcome, my knight, to me and my land! I’ve waited twenty summers for you and summoned you on every white night; and when you grieved I wept in this room, and when you slept I breathed lovely dreams into you…And the fair one takes my hand and pulls me along, leads me through long corridors where big crowds of people shout hurrahs, through bright gardens where three hundred young damsels are playing games and laughing, and into another hall where all is of brilliant emeralds. Here the sun shines, beguiling choral music floats through the galleries and corridors, and waves of fragrance waft toward me. I hold her hand in mine and feel the wild beauty of enchantment race through my blood; I put my arm around her and she whispers, Not here, come further still! And we enter the red hall where all is of rubies, a foaming splendor in which I swoon. Then I feel her arms around me, she breathes upon my face and whispers, Welcome, my love! Kiss me! Again…again…
At times this novel reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”, with our hero here showing generosity in the face of all the doom, giving away his last possessions, his shaving vouchers, proclaiming to giving the policeman five kroner if he had anything. His descent into delirium from hunger includes chewing on wood shavings, castigating himself for his selfishness in needing money for food, assuming lofty characters to restore some dignity, which ends up with him not getting a meal voucher. This is a bleak portrait of a writer in despair.  
There are also numerous references to decline, decay, with bugs featuring, our introduction mentioning Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, a work published twenty-five years after “Hunger”.
I sit on the bench and write 1848 dozens of times; I write this number crisscross in all possible shapes and wait for a usable idea to occur to me. A swarm of loose thoughts is fluttering about in my head. The mood of the dying day makes me despondent and sentimental. Fall has arrived and has already begun to put everything into a deep sleep; flies and other insects have suffered their first setback, and up in the trees and down on the ground you can hear the sounds of struggling life, puttering, ceaselessly rustling, laboring not to perish. All crawling things are stirring once more; they stick their yellow heads out of the moss, lift their legs and grope their way with their long feelers, before they suddenly give out, rolling over and turning up their bellies. Every growing thing has received its distinctive make, a gentle breath of the first frost; the grass stems, stiff and pale, strain upward toward the sun, and the fallen leaves rustle along the ground with a sound like that of wandering silkworms. It’s fall, the very carnival of transience; the roses have an inflamed flush, their blood-red color tinged with a wonderfully hectic hue.
Our narrator remains nameless throughout, even when in conversation (which is rare) nobody refers to his name, and when he meets a girl our novel says, “After long negotiations we told each other our names.” However these are not revealed to the reader.
A novel full of darkness, with vivid descriptions of the dark (can you have vivid darkness?)
I lay awhile looking into the darkness, a thick massive darkness without end that I wasn’t able to fathom. My thoughts couldn’t grasp it. It struck me as excessively dark and I felt its presence as oppressive. I closed my eyes, began to sing in an undertone, and tossed back and forth in the bunk to distract myself, but it was no use. The darkness had taken possession of my thoughts and didn’t leave me alone for a moment. What if I myself were to be dissolved into darkness, made one with it?
We also have the movement of the seasons, in fact the novel is split into roughly four equal sections, personally I thought it may follow the seasons but both part one and part two cover some part of fall, with part three being the harsh times of winter. As I read I thought we would have a rebirth in the final part, a “spring”! You will have to read this yourself to find if that is in fact the case.
A novel that shows you can still have dignity in the face of downright despair, a disheveled hero, a narrator that has pawned all his possessions (he even attempts to pawn his buttons), one who is unravelling before our eyes.
I will be revisiting Hamsun as part of the Classics Club challenge with “The Growth of the Soil” (1917) and “Victoria” (1898) also on my reading list. A worthy inclusion on the list, and I can understand why Eka Kurniawan may want to be able to recreate such writing, but to want to follow our hero? I think not.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

The Classics Club – My Reading List

I was recently introduced to “The Classics Club” via Jacqui Wine’s Journal and after stewing over the idea for a few weeks, delving into my shelves of unread material and some research I have decided to jump on board too. For more information about the club go here 
Members are asked to put together a list of at least fifty classics they intend to read and blog about at some point within the next five years. As I am always up for a challenge the idea appealed to me very much.
As you all know my bent here is towards literature in translation, with the oft quoted figure of 3% of all published books being in translation so serious under representation. And when you’re talking under representation only 30% of translated works are written by women, when you start to look for “classics” this figure becomes alarmingly low. Therefore, I have put together a list with strong female representation (twenty-nine of the fifty are by female writers), my small contribution in bringing classic translated works by women to your attention may garner a few new readers for these seriously overlooked works.  Thanks heaps to the champion of “women in translation” Bibilio, feminist book blogger Naomi at “The Writes Of Woman” and Chelsea at “The Globally Curious”  for their contributions and suggestions. I’ll be reading and blogging about their suggested works for years to come.
I could have easily filled a list with Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Camus but in the true spirit of under representation I have selected a raft of classics from the less obvious writers, however ones who are writers of classics in their native tongue. It includes Nobel Prize winners, LGBT writers from generations ago, Asian champions and writers from most continents (no Australians or North Americans sorry). There are a few familiar names and works, ones that are on my shelves…unread to date!!!
My list is in alphabetical order by surname, includes the country of origin (birth and residence in some circumstances) and a publication date for the original text if I could locate it. A list that covers over 1,100 years of writing, I intend to read these fifty works over the next five years, hopefully completing my journey well before 31 December 2020.
  1. A Woman Sibilla Aleramo (Italy 1906)
  2. Labyrinths (selected stories & other writings) Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina collection released 1962)
  3. The Widow Ching Pirate Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina 1933)
  4. The Book of Sand and Shakespeare’s memory Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina 1975 & 1983)
  5. La Femme De Gilles Madeleine Bourdouxhe (Belgium 1937)
  6. Axel Bo Carpelan (Finland 1986)
  7. Selected Works (translated by Edith Grossman) Juana Inés de la Cruz (Spain 1651-1695)
  8. The Princess of Cleves Madame de Lafayette (France 1678)
  9. After The Divorce Grazia Deledda (Italy 1902)
  10. Mother of 1084 Mahasweta Devi (Bangladesh/India 1975)
  11. Breast Stories Mahasweta Devi (Bangladesh/India translated 1997)
  12. Old Women Mahasweta Devi (Bangladesh/India translated 1999)
  13. And This Is The Light Lea Goldberg (Israel 1946)
  14. The Shadow of Kamakhya Indira Goswami (Assam/India – various dates Short Story Collections)
  15. The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker Indira Goswami (Assam/India – 1988)
  16. Hunger Knut Hamsun (Norway 1890)
  17. Growth of the Soil Knut Hamsun (Norway 1917)
  18. Victoria Knut Hamsun (Norway 1898)
  19. En Route J.K. Huysmans (France 1895)
  20. I Burn Paris Bruno Jasieński (Poland 1928)
  21. Kassandra and the Wolf Margarita Karapanou (Greece 1974)
  22. The Sound of the Mountain Yasunari Kawabata (Japan 1949-1954)
  23. House of the Sleeping Beauties Yasunari Kawabata (Japan 1961)
  24. The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch: A grotesque Tale of Horror Ladislav Klima (Czechoslovakia 1928)
  25. Susanna Gertrud Kolmar (Germany 1933)
  26. The Saga of Gosta Berling Selma Lagerlöf (Sweden 1936)
  27. A Breath of Life Clarice Lispector (Brazil 1978 posthumous publication)
  28. Ague Viva Clarice Lispector (Brazil 1973)
  29. The Passion According to G.H. Clarice Lispector (Brazil 1964)
  30. Spring Snow Yukio Mishima (Japan 1969)
  31. Runaway Horses Yukio Mishima (Japan 1969)
  32. The Temple of Dawn Yukio Mishima (Japan 1970)
  33. The Decay of the Angel Yukio Mishima (Japan 1971)
  34. Complete Works and Other Stories Augusto Monterroso (Honduras/Guatemala 1959)
  35. Suite Française Irène Némirovsky (Ukraine published posthumously in 2004)
  36. Gargantua and Pantagruel François Rabelais (France 1532-1552)
  37. The Time Of The Doves Mercè Rodoreda (Spain/Catalan 1962)
  38. My Christina and Other Stories Mercè Rodoreda (Spain/Catalan various dates)
  39. The Bridge of Beyond Simone Schwarz-Bart (Guadeloupe 1972)
  40. The Tale of Genji Murasaki Shikibu (Japan 1000-1012)
  41. The Charterhouse of Parma Stendhal (France 1839)
  42. Seven Japanese Tales Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan various translated 1963)
  43. Moscow In The Plague Year Marina Tsvetaeva (Russia 1918-1920)
  44. The Torrents of Spring Ivan Turgenev (Russia 1872)
  45. The Wreath Sigrid Undset (Norway 1920-22)
  46. The Wife Sigrid Undset (Norway 1920-22)
  47. The Cross Sigrid Undset (Norway 1920-22)
  48. The Clouds Float North Yu Xuanji (Chinese approx. 844-868/869)
  49. Alexis Marguerite Yourcenar (Belgium/France 1929)
  50. Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar (Belgium/France 1951)

    Feel free to leave comments about my selection, any suggestions I have obviously missed and I hope you follow me on this journey discovering older works in between my efforts to follow the yearly translation prize awards.