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International Book Club
The International Book Club meets once a term to discuss a novel translated into English from any language. The club is open to everyone, both members and non-members of the university. We also have a new Book Club for Schools, open to Years 11-13.

International Book Club

Since the onset of COVID-19 we have moved our book club online, meeting on Zoom. To keep up to date with our events, join our mailing list, or follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Connect with other book club members in our Facebook group. If you have any questions, email us at translation.exchange@queens.ox.ac.uk.

Please click here for information about our new International Book Club for Schools.

 

We’re excited to announce that our next Book Club meeting will be on Wednesday 10th March at 8pm (GMT). We’ll be discussing Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s book, That Hair (Tin House), translated from Portuguese. The translator, Eric M. B. Becker, will be joining us for our discussion, taking place on Zoom. Blackwell’s are currently offering a discount on the title on their website, with free UK delivery. Alternatively, if you order directly by phone or email, book club attendees can get claim a 20% discount – details below.

 

About the book

“The story of my curly hair,” says Mila, the narrator of Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida’s autobiographically inspired tragicomedy, “intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” Mila is the Luanda-born daughter of a black Angolan mother and a white Portuguese father. She arrives in Lisbon at the tender age of three, and feels like an outsider from the jump. Through the lens of young Mila’s indomitably curly hair, her story interweaves memories of childhood and adolescence, family lore spanning four generations, and present-day reflections on the internal and external tensions of a European and African identity. In layered, intricately constructed prose, That Hair enriches and deepens a global conversation, challenging in necessary ways our understanding of racism, feminism, and the double inheritance of colonialism, not yet fifty years removed from Angola’s independence. It’s the story of coming of age as a black woman in a nation at the edge of Europe that is also rapidly changing, of being considered an outsider in one’s own country, and the impossibility of “returning” to a homeland one doesn’t in fact know.

 

Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is the author of five books: the novels That Hair, A visão das plantas, and Luanda, Lisboa, Paraíso, as well as Ajudar a cair, a portrait of a community of people with cerebral palsy, and Pintado com o pé, a collection of essays. Her writing has appeared in Blog da Companhia das Letras, Common Knowledge, Granta.com, Granta Portugal, Ler, Revista Pessoa, Quatro Cinco Um, Revista serrote, Words Without Borders, Revista ZUM, and elsewhere.

 

 

Eric M. B. Becker is editor of Words without Borders and a literary translator. He has received fellowships and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright Commission, PEN America, and the Louis Armstrong House Museum, and has translated several books by Portuguese-language writers Oceanos Prize-winner Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida and Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award-winner Fernanda Torres. In 2019, his translation of Mia Couto's Rain and Other Stories earned honorable mention from the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize. He has translated short work by numerous writers across the Lusophone world, including 2016 Nobel Prize nominee and Camões Prize-winner Lygia Fagundes Telles, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, and Cabo Verdean Camões Prize-winner Arménio Vieira. He is a cofounder of the transatlantic Pessoa Festival. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Freeman's, and other publications. After a stint in Rio de Janeiro, he now lives in New York.

 

You can register for this meeting here.

Please note: parts of the meeting will be recorded. Breakout rooms will not be recorded. By joining the meeting, you are consenting to being recorded.

Once you’ve clicked “Register”, the next page will immediately display a URL to join the meeting (so if you’re registering just before we start, you can simply click on that link to join). After registering, you will also receive a confirmation email with the link to join the meeting.

Please note: we’ve heard that some people haven’t always received their confirmation emails. If the confirmation email does not arrive after you register, please contact us and we will resend the email.

In the weeks leading up to our meeting, we’d love to hear your thoughts while reading the book on social media. There is a Facebook group for the International Book Club, or you can follow us on Twitter and use the hashtag #IntBookClub.

You can obtain a 20% discount on the book by visiting the Oxford Broad Street shop (when it can open again) or calling them on 01865 792792 quoting the discount code: DKQUEENS20%. You can also email customers.ox@blackwell.co.uk and provide a telephone number for them to call and take payment and arrange delivery.

 

 

Our last International Book Club meeting was on Wednesday 25th November, and we discussed Gine Cornelia Pedersen’s book, Zero (Nordisk Books), translated from Norwegian. We were joined by the book's translator, Rosie  Hedger, who shared her experience of translating this unique book.

Gine Cornelia Pedersen debuted with this explosive novel, which won the prestigious Tarjei Vesaas First Book Award. Compared, in its home country of Norway, with a ‘punk rock single’, the unique lyrical style and frank description of life with mental health problems have come together to create one of the most exciting works of fiction from Scandinavia in recent years.

Rosie Hedger’s translation of Zero was shortlisted for the Oxford- Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2019, and her translation of Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal won an English PEN Translates Award in 2016. Ravatn’s novel was later selected for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, broadcast in January 2017, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. Rosie was a candidate in the British Centre for Literary Translation’s mentoring scheme for emerging translators in 2012, mentored by Don Bartlett. Since then she has worked on a range of projects, more information about which can be found here. She is a member of the Translator’s Association.

 

 

Previous meetings

Our last Book Club meeting was on Tuesday 4th August. We discussed Matsuda Aoko’s book, Where the Wild Ladies Are (Tilted Axis Press), translated from Japanese. The translator, Polly Barton, joined us for our discussion.

Witty, inventive, and profound, Where the Wild Ladies Are is a contemporary feminist retelling of traditional ghost stories by one of Japan’s most exciting writers. It is the winner of an English PEN award.

In a company run by the mysterious Mr Tei, strange things are afoot – incense sticks lead to a surprise encounter; a young man reflects on his mother’s death; a foxlike woman finally finds her true calling. As female ghosts appear in unexpected guises, their gently humorous encounters with unsuspecting humans lead to deeper questions about emancipation and recent changes in Japanese women’s lives.

Keen to get a taste of the book? One of the stories has been published in Granta, and is free to read online.

 

 

“(S)mart and formally inventive (…) Beauty, jealousy and women’s place in Japanese society are all explored in stories which are funny, strange and intriguing.” – Tatler

 “In 2020, taking a collection of traditional Japanese ghost stories and crafting them into often humorous yet painfully relevant tales is a move of pure genius by Aoko Matsuda. (…) Witty, biting, and poignant, Matsuda’s collection is a pleasantly haunting surprise.” – Jessica Esa, Metropolis

Aoko Matsuda is a writer and translator. In 2013, her debut book, Stackable, was nominated for the Mishima Yukio Prize and the Noma Literary New Face Prize. In 2019, her short story ‘The Woman Dies’ (from the collection The Year of No Wild Flowers), published on Granta online, was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her novella The Girl Who Is Getting Married was published by Strangers Press in 2016. She has translated work by Karen Russell, Amelia Gray and Carmen Maria Machado into Japanese.

 

Polly Barton is a translator of Japanese literature and non-fiction, currently based in Bristol. She has translated short stories for Words Without Borders, The White Review and GRANTA. Her full-length translations include Friendship for Grown-ups by Naocola Yamazaki and Mikumari by Misumi Kubo (both Strangers Press) and Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki (Pushkin Press). After being awarded the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize, she is currently working on a non-fiction book entitled Fifty Sounds.

 

Previous book clubs:

  • June 2020: And the Wind Sees All (Icelandic)

     

     

    On Wednesday 17th June we discussed And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson (Peirene Press), translated from Icelandic by Bjørg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery. The translators joined us for this online meeting of the book club, and took readers' questions about the novel's relationship with music and performing, their approach to translating its long, supple sentences, and how they work together as a husband and wife team of translators.

    Read more about the novel

  • May 2020: Family Lexicon (Italian)

    Our meeting in May was our first virtual session, with participants joining in from across the world via Zoom. We discussed Natalia Ginzburg's Family Lexicon (Daunt Books), translated from Italian by Jenny McPhee. The translator joined us from New York for a lively and fascinating discussion.

    Natalia Ginzburg wrote her masterful autobiographical novel Family Lexicon while living in London in the 1960s. Homesick for her Italian family, she summoned them in this celebration of the routines and rituals, in-jokes and insults and, above all, the repeated sayings that make up every family.

    Read more about the novel

    Jenny McPhee is a translator and the author of the novels The Center of Things, No Ordinary Matter, and A Man of No Moon. She is the director of the Center of Applied Liberal Arts at New York University and lives in New York.

  • November 2019: Celestial Bodies (Arabic)

    The next meeting of the International Book Club will be on Wednesday 27 November. This time we’ll be reading Celestial Bodies by the Omani author Jokha Alharthi, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, first published in 2018.

    Jokha Alharthi is the first Omani woman to have a novel translated into English, and Celestial Bodies is the first book translated from Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize. We are very excited to have the translator, Marilyn Booth, joining us for the discussion.

    Celestial Bodies is set in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. Elegantly structured and taut, Celestial Bodies is a coiled spring of a novel, telling of Oman’s coming-of-age through the prism of one family’s losses and loves.

    ‘A richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight into a society in transition and into lives previously obscured.’

    -The Man Booker International Prize judges

    ‘Brings a distinctive and important new voice to world literature.’

    -The Irish Times

    Do come and join us and discuss the book over a drink from 5 - 6.30 pm on 27 November in the Memorial Room at Queen’s College. As always, all are welcome and the event is free, just sign up here to let us know if you plan to come.

  • June 2019: The Tobacconist (German)

    Next meeting: Wednesday 19 June – all welcome!

    The next meeting of our International Book Club is on Wednesday 19 June, and this time we’ll be reading The Tobacconist by the bestselling Austrian author Robert Seethaler, first published in 2014 and translated by Charlotte Collins. It’s set in 1930s Austria:

    When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz.

    It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.

    ‘Essential reading for the early years of the 21st century’ – Scotland on Sunday

    Do come and join us and discuss the book over a drink from 6.15-7.45 on 19 June in the Memorial Room at Queen’s College. As always, all are welcome and the event is free, just sign up here to let us know if you plan to come.

  • February 2019: The Remainder (Spanish)

    Our second book was Alia Trabuco Zeran’s The Remainder, published by And Other Stories.

    Summary:

    Felipe and Iquela, two young friends living in modern day Santiago, are plagued by the legacy of Chile's dictatorship. Felipe prowls the streets counting dead bodies real and imagined, aspiring to a perfect number that might offer closure. Iquela and Paloma, an old acquaintance from Iquela's childhood, search for a way to reconcile their fragile lives with their parents' violent militant past. The body of Paloma's mother gets lost in transit, sending the three on a pisco-fueled journey up the cordillera as they attempt to grapple with pain that stretches across generations.

    This brilliant, complex book was an extremely rewarding subject for discussion, with its haunting depiction of how it feels to be a child simultaneously excluded from and pulled into an adult world of secrets and trauma. Since we met, The Remainder has been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize: wonderful news for Trabuco Zeran and her translator, Sophie Hughes.

    Before our book club meeting, we asked Sophie about the complexities and rewards of translating this novel. She commented on the challenge of rendering its fast-paced dialogue, and described doing bilingual readings of much of it with the author, ‘to make sure that the flow and breathlessness of Felipe […] his strange convictions tinged with manic doubt […] were captured in the translation’. She also described the need to render ambiguity, always a difficult task for a translator: ‘There are grey areas deliberately left in this book, so the shadow of the dictatorship is as engulfing, but also as hazy and surreal, as the ash, and I think that, as I translated La resta and picked my way through the characters' motivations, I saw the genius of having offered us this view of that terrible moment in history... only in that way so we experience how it feels for the young characters to have inherited a history that does not belong to them. I always hope to experience something with the characters of the novels I read, and translate’.