In 2018 I became a contributor to the Reading Women podcast team, and I’ve had several of my book reviews featured in their newsletter (free to subscribe to here!), including two recent translated fiction reads that I adored! Both novels are out from Europa Editions, A Winter’s Promise was kindly sent to me by the publisher for review.
A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos (translated by Hildegarde Serle)
This is the first in the Mirror Visitor Quartet, an epic young adult fantasy series by French author, Christelle Dabos.
The world created by Dabos is a fractured one comprised of a number of Arks, each populated by unique social structures and groups of characters with distinct magical traits. We follow young Ophelia, an Animist who can read the history of objects merely by touching them, and can also travel short distances through mirrors. At the start of the novel, she is promised in marriage to Thorn and whisked away abruptly to Citaceleste on the Ark of the Pole with only her aunt for company. The people she meets and the politics that consume her new home place her in immediate peril, and can readily be likened to the dangers of existing in a Tudor Court! Very early in the narrative it is clear that Thorn has kept Ophelia in the dark regarding the motivations behind their proposed marriage, and what follows is an extremely pacy and atmospheric adventure story.
Ophelia is an endearing character, and we follow her transformation from a young woman who solely identifies with what she can achieve magically as a “reader,” to one that quite literally becomes the heroine in her own adventure.
The novel ends abruptly and on quite a cliff-hanger, but thankfully readers do not have to wait long for the next instalment. The second book, The Missing of Clairedelune, is due out in Spring 2019.
Farewell, My Orange by Iwaki Kei (translated by Meredith McKinney)
This debut novel comes in at just 135 pages and traverses an immense character study of two migrant women and their experiences settling into life in country-town Australia. While it is a quiet exploration of migration and identity, on a more meta-level it is also a cleverly structured analysis of storytelling.
Farewell, My Orange explores the universality of women’s experiences (quite literally watching the same sunrise, for example) but specifically hones in on the difficulties experienced by migrant women in Australia because of issues like language barriers, racism, and social expectations. While it covers some dark and deep-rooted issues, ultimately this is a story of the triumph of female friendships and the power of women retaining agency in their own narratives.
We follow Salimah and Sayuri, whose paths cross when they attend an English language class together. What is unique about the narrative is the way each of the women have their story told. Salimah’s narrative is in third person perspective, and carries the momentum of the plot, while Sayuri communicates her story in the form of letters she writes to her former creative writing teacher. The alternating perspectives were fascinating in juxtaposition, and in retrospect were essential to what Kei seeks to demonstrate about narratives more broadly. This is a striking and unique read, and one likely to be devoured in a single-sitting!