‘Melting Sun’ by Laila Neihoum (tr. D Mohamed Hassan and Neihoum)

a nutshell: over five short verses Libyan writer Neihoum probes the notion of familial expectations against a setting of unnaturalness, from an unturning tide to an eclipsed noon

a line: “What if I had not been my parents’ sculpture”

an image: halfway through the poem, the narrator faces an abandoned cave where a tear is the only water spilled into emptiness

a thought: I couldn’t help but pick up on how the poem’s first three words, things fall apart, echo the title of Chinua Achebe’s debut novel published in 1958 (over forty years before this poem was written), suggesting a broader significance to its themes – namely the influence of colonialism on African families

a fact: Neihoum was the first writer from her country to be accepted to join the International Writers Programme at the University of Iowa – she wrote a poetic manifesto for Libya which can be read on Words Without Borders

want to read ‘Melting Sun’? visit here

Back to Life by Wendy Coakley Thompson

kindle image of cover with black woman and white man embracing, lavender in background

a nutshell: through the lens of a passionate love story between a black woman and an Italian man, Coakley Thompson reflects on race relations in New York City at the very end of the 1980s

a line: “Damn it, what is it with us and them?”

an image: at one point, the characters discuss an interview with mayoral candidate Dinkins, commenting that he talks about the City as his beautiful mosaic, how all the colours make it beautiful, not about that ‘assimilationist melting pot shit’

a thought: it was interesting to read a romance – a genre I’ve not read for many years – and I learned a lot about a corner of NYC society which I had known little about through the author’s concerted contextualisation of this relationship

a fact: Coakley Thompson was driven to write this book following the murder of a 16-year-old black child in Brooklyn on 23 August, 1989 – here’s an article about it in the NYT

want to read Back to Life? visit here

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero (tr. Frances Riddle)

cockfight book yellow cover against blanket floral

a nutshell: through 13 stories of extraordinary power, this steely debut from Ecuadorian writer Ampuero spotlights the ruinous & cyclical nature of domestic abuse

a line: “But it was just faith, the most pathetic of feelings. Faith didn’t do a goddamn thing”

an image: Ampuero is astonishingly talented at building tension, such as when one character describes how the presence of her friends’ father means they had to whisper and the air filled with an electric energy, wet, like when a huge storm is coming

a thought: I was bowled over time & time again by these stories, particularly their dagger-like endings, and finished the book within hours (which really is something, given that I’ve struggled to engage fully with books as we approach our 14th week of lockdown no.2 in Melbourne) – one thought that’s stuck in my head is a protagonist’s comment about vacations in these countries being all about contrasts – I have been guilty of this, a desire for contrasts, in my travels

a fact: this interview is a fascinating exploration of the mind behind Cockfight (& I couldn’t agree more with Ampuero that there’s nothing more profound than the harm your family can cause you; as she shares, “You can leave your family, I did it many, many years ago, but your family does not leave you”)

want to read Cockfight? visit here

Stories from the Gambia by Sally Sadie Singhateh

a nutshell: with titles such as ‘Evil Begets Punishment’ & ‘It Does Not Pay to Be Greedy’, these three short stories for children come with clear moral intentions, but also captivating illustrations and glimpses into Gambian culture

a line: “But readers, no matter how long something takes, it always comes to an end” (a reasurring line given our current lockdown)

an image: a black cobra starts to talk to a young woman, Morai, and turns out to be the world’s most powerful (and evil) sorcerer Baiankaya

a thought: though I wasn’t entirely onboard with the way in which women are depicted in these stories, I’d be keen to read Singhateh’s novella The Sun Will Soon Shine about an ambitious & resilient woman

a fact: born in 1977, Singhateh also writes poetry

want to read Stories from the Gambia? visit here

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

kindle edition of book with cat next to it

a nutshell: drawing on her own experiences, poet & short story writer Thammavongsa’s debut collection explores moments of unease or disjunction for Laotian immigrants across 14 stories

a line: “I know now what I couldn’t have known then––she wouldn’t just be gone, she’d stay gone.” (‘Edge of the World’)

an image: I liked how, despite living in the same apartment block, the two girls in ‘A Far Distant Thing’ would chat on the phone each evening to describe the details of their day – practising for their (aspiring) writing careers

a thought: the pressures & injustices involved in making a living are a recurring focus, and ‘Picking Worms’ is a particularly devastating instance of when doors are open for mediocre white people and closed for talented Lao people

a fact: born in the (Lao) Nong Khai refugee camp in Thailand in 1978, Thammavongsa and her parents were sponsored by a family in Canada when she was one year old

want to read How to Pronounce Knife? visit here

The Ringing Body by Fatima Yousef al-Ali (tr. William Maynard Hutchins)

CW: suicide

a nutshell: this story follows how an unsettling call from a stranger at midnight leaves a woman in a confusing state of anticipation

a line: “Your heart must dwell in a cellar, three steps down or more”

an image: at one point, the woman looks back at the receiver which, she says, hung there like a corpse – a jarring image given the earlier mention of potential suicide

a thought: the bizarreness of their conversation arguably peaks when the woman asks if he agrees with the director of broadcasting that radio is television’s sister, yet the man says radio is on the contrary an extremely cultured gentleman and he prefers shortwave to longwave as he can embrace shortwave more fully

a fact: born in 1953, Yousef al-Ali’s thesis at Cairo University dealt with Kuwaiti women and the short story

want to read The Ringing Body? visit here

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis

a nutshell: to me, this was an incredibly profound novel about love in various forms – romantic love, love between friends, love of place, familial love – and a fascinating insight into the Uruguyan dictatorship of the 20th century

a line: “the silence of dictatorship, the silence of the closet, as we call it now––all of that is layered and layered like blankets that muffle you until you cannot breathe”

an image: I was in tears at the final conversation between Flaca and her father, and even read it aloud hours later to my boyfriend; I won’t recall it here in case I ruin it for other readers, but I found his words deeply moving

a thought: I finished this book over three weeks ago but can’t bring myself to remove it from my bedside table – there were many lines that I’m still thinking about, including Malena’s heated remark that you do not owe your parents your life

a fact: the title comes from a word for singer in Spanish but, as de Robertis shares in this interview, there’s another word, cantante, which women under the dictatorship in the Uruguayan era used as code for lesbians – the author found a resonance in how it suggests a woman will claim her life, or voice, on her own terms

want to read Cantoras? visit here

Night by Sulochana Manandhar (tr. Muna Gurung)

Cover of Night - part of the Translating Feminisms series

a nutshell: first jotted in the lap of night, this Nepali poetry collection is a sublime expression of the collaborative power & beauty that can emerge from women translating women in Asia’s literary landscape

a (few) line(s): “Night is an expectant mother | If you are doubtful, just wait; | early tomorrow morning | it will give birth to the sun” *

an image: in the exquisite opening to the poem ‘Sieve’, we watch as the poet pours scattered pieces of her heart on night’s sieve and begin to sift

a thought: I was moved by so many of these poems, but one that’ll stay with me for some time is ‘Property’, in which night is portrayed as the land in which the poet feels free – where she no longer fears subjugation

a fact: to method-translate parts of this collection, Gurung set alarms for various odd hours of the night (which goes some way towards illustrating the devotion that she so clearly feels for Manandhar’s writing)

want to read Night? visit here

* in the Translator’s Note, Gurung mentions how Sulo refers to night as ‘ ऊ ‘ – the gender non-specific third person pronoun in the Nepali language

Translating Feminisms is an initiative to showcase intimate collaborations and conversations between some of Asia’s most exciting women writers and emerging-star translators.

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

book spine on side of sofa, the farm by joanne ramos

a nutshell: an eerie depiction of hypercapitalism & bodily colonisation, this novel follows a Filipina immigrant to the US who commits to being a ‘Host’ at Golden Oaks – a venture sort of like the Uber of pregnancies, where immigrants are paid to get a foetus from A (insemination) to B (birth) for the convenience of rich clients

a line: “But how many Good, Obedient Anyones truly make it in the world?”

an image: Ramos often conjures up an acutely oppressive atmosphere in her portrayal of life at the ‘Farm’, particularly in one scene where she describes humble bloated bodies, a crushing sky above, and the possibility of unnoticed shards of glass below (after a bottle is smashed)

a thought: this book was suggested by Cara Teo Ong, aka thebookingchild, who got in touch with the idea of a ‘buddy read’; after we had both read the novel, we shared our thoughts – take a look at Cara’s recap of our conversation here & read her own review here!

a fact: yesterday I stumbled across a news article (through my work in women’s rights) about 32 Cambodian women who received suspended jail terms for carrying the babies of Chinese clients – this is no ‘dystopia’, this is now

want to read The Farm? visit here

Tentative by Anna Leader

cat and ebook

a nutshell: set in Paris but sprawling across Central Europe, this teen fiction (written by a Luxembourger teenager) follows a young girl whose heart is pulled in different directions

a line: “Or did you develop a tolerance for sadness, like a drug, and need larger and larger doses to produce the same effect?”

an image: there were many reminders of my adolescence in this novel, with some poignant chapters in which the main character immersed herself in books (& berries) to escape teen turmoil

a thought: it was so refreshing to read a book with a happy ending – I hadn’t realised how much I needed to dip into this unrefined yet enjoyable book

a fact: aged 16 when she wrote this, Leader is the youngest author I’ve read so far for this project – this is her first (semi-autobiographical) novel

want to read Tentative? visit here