Women in Translation: Background information when reading Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

by Olga Tokarczuk

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk X
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
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  • Published:
    Aug 2019, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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Women in Translation

This article relates to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Print Review

Women in Translation Month logoTranslated fiction is something of a rarity in the English-speaking world. It's been widely reported that only about 3% of books published in the United States were originally written in a language other than English – a statistic that led to the creation of the University of Rochester's Three Percent database, a valuable online resource for all things having to do with international literature. (This database is now hosted by Publishers Weekly.)

Book lover and PhD student Meytal Radzinksi dug a little deeper into the statistical makeup of translated lit, concluding that only about 30% of new translations into English are books by female authors. This gender disparity inspired Radzinksi to create the @read_WIT Twitter account in 2014, where every August she hosts Women in Translation Month, or #WITmonth, a project that encourages the online reading community throughout the month to pick up international literature written and/or translated by women, from any and all genres. (In Women in Translation's mission statement, which is visible on the Twitter account, Radzinski highlights the fact that the project also supports works in translation by transgender, nonbinary and intersex authors, whose work is also substantially underrepresented.)

Looking at data from between 2008 and 2018, Chad Post, publisher of Open Letters (University of Rochester's translation press), observed that the ten countries that provided the greatest numbers of translated books written by women are, in order: France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Japan, Argentina, Russia, South Korea and Canada/Quebec, ranging from 38 books (Quebec) to 155 (France). Coming in at 21, Poland doesn't make the list. Olga Tokarczuk is a noted and controversial figure in her home country; her novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead caused quite a stir when it was published in 2009 for its unapologetic advocacy of animal rights and its condemnation of hunting. Yet she didn't become a recognized name in the US-centric literature community until she won the 2018 International Booker Prize for her novel Flights, beating out more popular names like Han Kang and László Krasznahorkai. (For more on Tokarczuk and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, check out her illuminating interview with Publishers Weekly.)

Even though women in translation may be outnumbered in the publishing world, some of the biggest names published in recent years fall into this category. Samanta Schweblin, Han Kang, Isabel Allende, Elena Ferrante, Valeria Luiselli and Clarice Lispector are just a few of the names who have made a splash on US bestseller lists. And luckily, due to a dedicated and impassioned community of readers, there are a wealth of resources for anyone looking to expand their literary horizons to include more women in translation. In addition to the @read_WIT Twitter account, the International Booker, and the Three Percent database, the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation is a valuable resource. It is a relatively new literary prize annually given to a translated novel by a woman. One of the prize's judges, Susan Bassnett, states "This prize is a rallying call to translators and publishers everywhere. There are dozens of fine women writers waiting to be translated - so let's see more of them in our bookshops."

Women in Translation Month extends that rallying cry to readers. With so many diverse and exciting international voices to discover, what are we waiting for?

Women in Translation Month logo, courtesy of Translationista

Article by Rachel Hullett

This "beyond the book article" relates to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. It originally ran in August 2019 and has been updated for the August 2019 edition.

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