This is the seventh installment in a series of book recommendations, all of which will introduce you to kickass women from mythologies around the world, all of them written by women. All books listed had to pass the following criteria:
Be written by a woman
Have a woman as (one of) the protagonist(s)
Feature Russian or Slavic mythology
This recommendation list comes on the heels of the Asian mythology rec list, because I really wanted to include Russia (which falls under both Asian and Slavic mythology), but I wanted to keep the country as a whole in one post. @kostromas
(x) and @lamus-dworski (x) (x) were kind enough to take some time answering my questions.
While I mainly looked for books ft. Russian and Slavic mythologies (I used this Wiki file as a measure to determine the Slavic region), I also include a few books with other origins, such as Norway and various Eastern European countries, because I think - out of all the recommendation posts I have done and plan to do - this is the one they would fit best in.
Please note as well that there is a lot of overlap among most of these cultures, with different versions of a character appearing in many, so some of the below classifications may be rather arbitrary (I usually go with what’s 1) listed in the summary, then see if 2) the writer specifies a culture, or if 3) readers had helpful input).
UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that this post could do with some clarification and additions. To start with, I’d like to address the small number of books listed under Slavic. I don’t mean to say that only the countries listed are Slavic countries. The list is as limited as it is because I found it difficult to locate books that met all the above listed criteria, and an unconscious fifth - that they be written in English. If you take out any one of those criteria, a larger pool of books would open itself up, and I encourage you to consider that as an option.
While I understand that limiting these lists to books written in or translated into English is not ideal, I also don’t think I am the right person to judge which books written in Slavic languages should be included, as I am not Slavic and don’t speak or read Slavic languages. Readers should be aware though, that reading a book featuring Slavic mythologies or cultures, which are not written by someone who identifies as Slavic, may promote a stereotypical or otherwise harmful depiction of those cultures.
Moreover, those authors who do hail from the relevant region are more likely to be published if they don’t push the envelope too much to be acceptable for a generic Western audience. Therefore, additional reading of books on and / or featuring Slavic mythologies or cultures can aid in understanding the context of these tales. I have listed a couple of books in the honourable mentions with that in mind, and I have decided to add an asterisk (*) to all works written by an author who is confirmed as hailing from the region their work is set in. Typically, I’ve listed one or two books per author, but do check for their other writing.
Finally, I should add that I might have made a mistake in including Russia in this list. This was done because I wanted to keep the country in one post, rather than splitting it between the Asian list and this one. The Asian one was sufficiently long I didn’t want to add it there, but I might have been better off creating a completely separate list for it rather than including it here.
With the above reasons in mind, I have decided to move the Slavic section up, I have added a number of entries throughout, and expanded the resources list at the bottom.
In honor of Women in Translation Month, here’s a handful (okay, an armful) of fiction by women in translation that I’ve read over the past few years and recommend (Part 1):
- Umami. Laia Jufresa [Spanish, Mexico] - Pétronille. Amélie Nothomb [French, Belgium] - Fever Dream. Samanta Schweblin [Spanish, Argentina] - Seeing Red. Lina Meruane [Spanish, Chile] - Kuessipan. Naomi Fontaine [French, Indigenous Canada] - Absent. Betool Khedairi [Arabic, Iraq] - Ru. Kim Thúy [French, Canada/Vietnam] - The Body Where I Was Born. Guadalupe Nettel [Spanish, Mexico] - War, So Much War. Mercè Rodoreda [Catalan, Catalonia/Spain] - Summer’s End. Adalet Ağaoğlu (6/20) [Turkish, Turkey] - Landscape with Dog. Ersi Sotiropoulos (9/16) [Greek, Greece] - The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris. Leïla Marouane (11/3) [French, Algeria] - The Diving Pool. Yoko Ogawa (11/28) [Japanese, Japan] - This Too Shall Pass. Milena Busquets (6/11) [Spanish, Spain] - The Finno-Ugrian Vampire. Noémi Szécsi [Hungarian, Hungary] - Karate Chop. Dorthe Nors ([Danish, Denmark] - The Vegetarian. Han Kang [Korean, South Korea] - The Story of My Teeth. Valeria Luiselli [Spanish, Mexico] - Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio. Amara Lakhous [Italian, Italy] - Why I Killed My Best Friend. Amanda Michalopoulou [Greek, Greece] - There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya [Russian, Russia] - The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine. Alina Bronsky [German, Russia/Germany] - Please Look After Mom. Kyung-Sook Shin [Korean, South Korea] - My Brilliant Friend. Elena Ferrante [Italian, Italy] - Kassandra and the Wolf. Margarita Karapanou [Greek, Greece] - All Russians Love Birch Trees. Olga Grjasnowa [German, Azerbaijan] - Dear Shameless Death. Latife Tekin [Turkish, Turkey]
I dropped into the library on a whim and found this - since reading Petrushevskaya’s short story collection There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby a couple of months ago I’ve wanted to get my hands on more of her work. This is her newest collection, There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself. I love these books for their titles if nothing else (but there’s plenty more to love. Trust me. Just read them.)
For the past week, I’ve been moping around covered in Icy Hot and slightly high off of pain killers due to a weird back injury so I’ve been reading like a champ. Let’s see if I can keep this up for the rest of the year, minus the crippling back pain.
#15: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. So, this was really weird. It’s a collection of “scary” fairy tales. They are stark, simple and genuinely kind of horrifying. Beware.
#16: The Collected Stories of Carson McCullers. Carson McCullers is a god to me since she gave the world The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and changed my love of literature forever. Her stories are equally as beautiful. If you’re a fan, these stories are essential to your life.
#17: When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I’m like 40% sure I read this book already so I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I couldn’t really remember? Either way, I always enjoy Sedaris for some light, entertaining writing and he does it well.
#18: When a Woman Loves a Man by David Lehman. I’ve been on a poetry binge for the past week and this was satisfying. I’m definitely on the hunt for more of his work.
#19: The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins. Billy Collins is my favorite poet currently alive today so I’ve never read anything written by him that I didn’t love. This wasn’t my favorite collection but it was still perfect.
The cycles are written in very different keys, making them difficult to classify, but a subtitle Petrushevskaya used for one of her longer fantastic tales, “The Possibilities of Menippea,” points to a common source. The ancient Greek Menippus once visited Hades, and since then the satirical genre named after him has often been said to include visits to the literal or social underworld. These visits are called nekyia, a night journey. …In this collection, nearly every story is a form of nekyia. Characters depart from physical reality under exceptional circumstances: during a heart attack, childbirth, a major psychological shock, a suicide attempt, a car accident. Under tremendous duress, they become propelled into a parallel universe, where they undergo experiences that can only be described allegorically, in the form of a parable or fairy tale.
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Introduction to There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, trans. Keith Gessen & Anna Summers.