Cherchez la femme

Here is another interesting article on that perennial issue of (lack of) women in translation. I am as guilty as the next man on this. I note that, of the seventy-eight books I have read so far this year, twenty-one are by women, i.e. 27%. That figure is quite high by my normal standards. In her article, Dr. Castro points out various reasons for this. One of the reasons is that relatively few women are translated in the first place.

In English but not well-known

Dr. Castro is Galician. Books originally written in Galician tend to be translated into Spanish before they make it into any other language. I do not claim to have any knowledge of Galician literature but, it seems to me, that the best-known Galician authors that have been translated, are Manuel Rivas and Álvaro Cunqueiro, both, of course, men. If you look at the Wikipedia page on Galician authors, they are virtually all men. Of those that wrote in Galician, the only woman died in the nineteenth century, of those that wrote/write in Spanish, one died in the nineteenth century, one in 1921, and only one is still alive and has been translated into French and Dutch but not English. I do not know whether this reflects the reality of contemporary Galician literature, whether it reflects the male bias of the Wikipedia writers or whether there is some other reason. The only modern woman Galician writer I am aware of translated into English is María-Xosé Queizán (who is not on the Wikipedia page) and she is hardly well-known. Dr. Castro make this same point as regards two recent anthologies.

If we look at Spain as a whole, the situation is marginally better but not much. The best-known modern Spanish writers in the English-speaking world tend to be male: Cercas, Chirbes, Juan Goytisolo, Luis Goytisolo, Marías, Marsé, Muñoz Molina and Vila-Matas. There are, of course, women writers. Some of Esther Tusquets‘ books have been translated into English but they are not very well-known. The same could be said for Almudena Grandes and Ana María Matute, two very fine writers. Espido Freire has one work in English, her first. Soledad Puértolas and Carmen Laforet have not fared much better. Lucia Etxebarría, Marina Mayoral and Lourdes Ortiz have yet to be translated into English. With the possible exception of Rosa Montero, the same applies to a whole host of other fine Spanish women writers.

I have focussed on Galician and Spanish writers, as Dr. Castro is Galician and Spanish. However, I do not think the situation is very much different for other nationalities, as Dr. Castro points out. Of course, some of the responsibility lies with publishers but some lies with bloggers. I am fortunate enough to be able to read a few languages other than English and do try to look out for interesting works written by women that have not been translated but have to admit that of the fifteen books that I have read this year that have not been translated into English, only three were by women. There are several other literary bloggers who read other languages and review books they have read in these languages who, I hope, also look out for women writers.

Like many bloggers, I look out for books that I think that I might enjoy. Yes, I do look for women writers and I also look for for writers from lesser-known countries, but the majority of books I read, I read because they seemed interesting. The brutal reality is that the majority of books that I come across that seem interesting are by men. This may be because of my innate male bias (indeed, almost certainly is) but also because of availability, what I read about on other blogs and other sites and because what publishers are publishing.

This chart shows the percentage of MPs that are female by country. (It is out of date. The figure for the UK since the last election is 32%). Dr. Castro mentions the record number of MPs in the UK Parliament but it is still below one-third and behind such countries as Belarus, Burundi, Grenada, Mexico, Namibia, Nicaragua, South Africa, Tanzania, Timor Leste…. and Spain, and only just ahead of Sudan and Tunisia and the same as Algeria and half the amount of Rwanda, though well ahead of the United States. As with MPs, so there is still a long way to go with translated literature as Dr. Castro clearly points out. Part of the problem is that most readers in the English-speaking world do not read translated literature, except for things like Scandi-crime. Many of the most interesting works coming out in translation are published by small presses, who are constrained by what they can afford, what they think will sell and any subsidy they may get.

There is no easy answer, just as there is no easy answer concerning parliamentary representation and other areas where women fall behind. In the UK this week, the big scandal is that the BBC pays its male talent more than its female talent. The only real surprise is that people are surprised. I will certainly continue to try and identify good women writers but I know that men will likely continue to dominate as they do in the blogs of most other men bloggers.

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