Today I received a twitter message asking me if I was going to put together my favourite works of 2014. I did so in 2013 so I suppose the idea is a good one and therefore a short summary of my reviews for the year was put in place.
During the year I have reviewed seventy books, only four being written in English, so I can possibly now claim that I’m a translated fiction convert. The highlights of the year included being a member of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Shadow Jury, where we came up with a completely different shortlist and winner to the “real” Jury, joining in and reading exclusively women’s works for Women in Translation Month, the quality of the works I came across (seriously sifting through seventy reviews and having to cull it was a task in itself) and of course the ongoing banter and friendships I have made through being part of a translated fiction family. There are always new works to discover and admire.
To do this a little differently this year I am going to post my list backwards as the “Twelve Days of Translated Fiction Reading” for 2014 and post every second day, meaning I will finish on Christmas Day itself, with my winner.
The book which has made it onto my “top 12” in twelfth spot is “Ekaterini” by Marija Knezevic (translated from the Serbian by Will Firth). A work published by the Independent Istros Books, who specialise in Balkan Fiction and a publisher whose books I have always thoroughly enjoyed.
I put this onto my favourite list for the year for a number of simple reasons, firstly it is one of the standout “female” works I read this year. A reimagining of the ancient Greek story of Odysseus, where the roles are reversed and we have a modern Penelope travelling and suffering in search of her homeland.
This work covers the usual “displacement” theme, the imagining of a true homeland, what is your own landscape, the family structure and the day to day struggle of survival. Our narrator is nameless and tells the story of her grandmother Ekaterini, who spends the majority of her life in wartime and planning to go home to Greece. We have the collapse of Yugoslavia, the last Balkan war, the Kosovo crisis and the bombing of Belgrade, all as asides to Ekaterini’s day to day existence raising two daughters as a single mother.
In no way sentimental, this novel unashamedly puts men into the shadows (as so many male novels do to women), an exploration of culture, language and survival in an environment destroyed and moulded by men.
I did not read this as part of “Women In Translation” Month, as I had picked it up and read it very early in 2014. To give fuel to the limited amount of books by female writers published and reviewed, my seventy reviews contained only twenty-two women writers (and I took part in an exclusively female month!!!) a poor 31% of my reading dedicated to women writers. Not defending my reading habits here, however this in part would be due to the fact that I read two major award longlists and the female representation there was minimal. You’ll have to read each day’s instalment of the twelve days of translated fiction to see if another female work makes it onto my list!!!
As Istros Books quotes on their website from my review:
A single mother raising two daughters, this is a rare gem whereby the female characters aren’t shaped or moulded, nor put into the shadows of their male counterparts, they are the lead here.
I'll be back on the 3rd of December with number eleven...