Something a little different from me today. Some book and wine matches to tie in with #WITMonth (Women in Translation), a month-long celebration of translated literature by women writers, which runs every August. This year’s event has just finished – possibly the most successful yet, with hundreds of recommendations and reviews flying around the web over the past few weeks.
This year, I’m trying to make ‘WIT’ a regular thing by reading and reviewing at least one book by a woman writer in translation each month rather than just thinking about them for August. Plus, there are lots of WIT reviews from my eight years of blogging gathered together in this area here.
So, here are a few of my favourite WIT reads, complete with suitable wine matches. For each book, I’ve tried to select wines made from grape varieties grown in the same region as the setting, just to keep the pairing as local as possible. Naturally, my fondness for European whites and rosés comes through quite strongly here, but please feel free to suggest some book-and-wine matches from further afield. South America in particular is a bit of a gap for me!
All Our Yesterdays by Natalia Ginzburg (tr. Angus Davidson)
While I’ve enjoyed several reissues of Natalia Ginzburg’s work in recent years, All Our Yesterdays feels like the one I’ve been waiting to read – a rich, multilayered evocation of Italian family life spanning the duration of the Second World War. The novel focuses on two Italian families living opposite one another in a small Northern Italian town. While one family derives its wealth from the town’s soap factory, the other is middle-class and relatively short of money, contrasting the fortunes of these neighbouring households.
Ginzburg has written a truly remarkable novel here, a story of ordinary people living through extraordinary times, beautifully told with a warmth and generosity of spirit that reflects the Italian character. There are some lovely touches of dry humour throughout, as the author maintains a wry sense of detachment from life’s absurdities, despite the gravity of events. One of my favourite books this year.
Wine Match: Given that Ginzburg grew up in Turin, I’m looking at wines from the Piedmont region as suitable matches for this one. The area is famed for its Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from the Nebbiolo grape variety. However, these fine wines tend to be quite pricey. A Langhe Nebbiolo is a more approachable, cost-effective option. The Wine Society’s Exhibition Langhe Nebbiolo is a great example – made by the Rizzi estate, this wine has a lovely cherry, raspberry and rose-petal aroma with plenty of juicy red fruit on the palate. G. D Vajra is another excellent producer worth seeking out.
The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán (tr. Paul O’Prey and Lucia Graves)
This is a marvellous novel, a great discovery for me, courtesy of fellow blogger, Grant from 1streading. The House of Ulloa tells a feisty tale of contrasting values as a virtuous Christian chaplain finds himself embroiled in the exploits of a rough and ready marquis and those of his equally lively companions. Several scenes are rich in humour, but the novel’s darker undercurrent is never too far away – the gothic atmosphere of the Ulloa mansion is beautifully evoked. There are hunting expeditions, some rather boisterous banquets and plenty of quieter moments, too. This classic of 19th-century Spanish literature is a joy from start to finish, packed full of incident to keep the reader entertained.
Wine Match: Bazán’s novel is set in Galicia in northwest Spain, home to the Godello grape variety, one of my favourite Spanish whites. The Maruxa Godello, from the Valdeorras Denominación de Origen (DO), is a great example. There’s plenty of lemony and peachy fruit here, with enough body to stand up to chicken or fish. The Valdesil Montenovo Godello (from the same DO) is another winner, too.
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (tr. Irene Ash vs Heather Lloyd)
A quintessential summer read, Bonjour Tristesse is an irresistible story of love, frivolity and the games a young girl plays with other people’s emotions, all set against the background of the glamorous French Riviera. Seventeen-year-old Cécile is spending the summer on the Côte d’Azur with her father, Raymond, and his latest lover, Elsa. Everything is leisurely and glorious until another person arrives on the scene, the glamorous and sophisticated Anne, whose very presence threatens to disrupt Cécile’s idyllic life with her father. Sagan’s novella is an utterly compelling read with a dramatic denouement. My review is based on Heather Lloyd’s 2013 translation, but if you’re thinking of reading this one. I would strongly recommend Irene Ash’s 1955 version – it’s more vivacious than the Lloyd, with a style that perfectly complements the story’s palpable atmosphere and mood.
Wine Match: As we’re in the South of France for this one, it’s got to be a rosé from Provence! There are several good producers here, and it’s pretty hard to go wrong. The Wine Society’s Exhibition Côtes de Provence Rosé (from Château des Mesclances) is a good bet when available. Dangerously drinkable with lovely redcurrant and strawberry fruit, this round, fresh-tasting rosé is made from Cinsault – maybe with a touch of Grenache in the blend. The Mirabeau en Provence Classic Rosé (readily available from Waitrose) is another excellent choice.
Gilgi, One of Us by Irmgard Keun (tr. Geoff Wilkes)
This striking portrayal of a determined young woman in Weimar-era Cologne is an underrated gem. Right from the start, I found Gilgi an utterly captivating protagonist, a strong feminist presence with a thoroughly engaging voice. In essence, the novella explores Gilgi as an individual and the competing demands on her future direction as she finds herself torn between two seemingly irreconcilable passions: her desire for independence and a successful career vs her love for Martin (a free spirit) and the emotional fulfilment this delivers. Keun does a terrific job in capturing her protagonist’s conflicted emotions, frequently in a state of flux. In many respects, this is a very progressive book. Not only is it written in a modernist style, but it also touches on several forward-thinking themes, including adoption, opportunities for women in the workplace, financial independence from men, sex outside of marriage, unwanted pregnancy, and the impact of debt on a person’s mental health. A thoroughly impressive book in more ways than one.
Wine Match: Cologne is not too far from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine region, making Riesling a great match for Gilgi. The von Kesselstatt Rieslings tend to be excellent. Their Niedermenniger Riesling Kabinett is round and racy with plenty of citrus fruit. Off-dry in style with a nice balance between acidity and sweetness, this wine would pair brilliantly with Chinese or Thai food. The Rieslings from Dr Loosen and J.J. Prūm are worth checking out, too.
Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho (tr. Margaret Jull Costa)
First published in Portugal in 1966 and recently translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa, this brilliant novella is something of a minor masterpiece of 20th-century literature. It’s a work of great precision and compression – a quietly devastating story of three generations of women, confined and subsumed by the men who surround them. There are similarities with Anita Brookner’s novels here – both thematically and stylistically – as Carvalho goes deep into the inner lives of her female protagonists, conveying them unflinchingly for the reader to see. Fans of Natalia Ginzburg and Penelope Mortimer will also find much to admire in this novella – a timeless reminder of how destructive the actions of unthinking men can be, defining and destroying the women who serve them.
Wine Match: Empty Wardrobes is set in Lisbon, making a white wine from the Lisboa Valley a potential choice. Alvarinho is grown here – the same grape variety as Albariño, found in the Galicia region of Spain. The AdegaMãe Lisboa Valley Selection looks like a fun one to try. A blend of Arinto, Viosinho, Alvarinho and Viognier, the wine notes promise stone and citrus fruits with a touch of Atlantic freshness and zest. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a red, a wine made from Touriga Nacional or Tinto Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain) would be an excellent bet.
Meeting in Positano by Goliarda Sapienza (tr. Brian Robert Moore)
This is such a gorgeous novel, as luminous as a hazy summer’s day, shimmering with beauty and sensuality. Its author, the Italian actress and writer Goliarda Sapienza, started her career in theatre and film, working with Luchino Visconti in the 1940s and ’50s; and it was a film that first brought Sapienza to Positano, the magical Italian village on the Amalfi Coast she viewed as her spiritual home. The novel – a sensual story of female friendship – has a semi-autobiographical feel, set in the glamour of 1950s Italy. The intensity of the bond between the two women is beautifully conveyed, encompassing joy, desire, regret, longing and tragedy, making this a wonderful rediscovered gem.
Wine Match: Italian white wines from the Campania region would be ideal here. Luckily, they’re also some of my favourites, making this novel a pleasure to match. A wine made from either Fiano, Falanghina or Greco would be perfect for this one. The Falanghina from the Feudi San Gregorio estate is delicious – fresh and vibrant with some lovely citrus and stone fruit notes, this is summer in a glass. Alternatively, some of the major supermarkets have partnered with reputable producers to offer own-label wines, including those made from Fiano or Falanghina – and these are always worth a try.
So, I hope you enjoyed that little tour around some of my favourite WIT reads and wines of Europe. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on these books, together with any wine matches or recommendations of your own in the comments below!
Love this! Might I interest you in some Romanian wine-tasting and reading too? I brought a lot of wine back from Romania and can’t drink it by myself.
Haha! That sounds like a lovely idea. We’ll have to sort something out, maybe a lunch one day when things have settled down for you. X
All Our Yesterdays is intriguing me. I’ve never read any of the Elena Ferrante books – the more exposure they got, the less appeal they had. This sounds more to my taste.
It’s different to Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, partly due to the time period (WW2 here) and partly due to the style (there’s no dialogue in the Ginzburg). Some readers have struggled with this aspect of the book, but I found the story incredibly immersive. Do you have a kindle? If so, it might be worth downloading a sample to see how you get on? I often do that as a test-run, even though I much prefer to read a physical book!
I keep forgetting about the ability to download a sample. Great idea! Like you I prefer the physicality of paper but a sample is usually very short so that’s not a problem. Then if I like it I can always just order the paperback..
Exactly. It’s so handy for this sort of thing!
Lovely post, Jacqui. I’ll be revisiting it when we next do our Wine Society order.
Marvellous! I hope you pick up some winners. :)
Makes me wish I liked wine :)
Haha! Maybe you could do a cocktail or non-alcohol version, Janet? Whatever floats your boat! :-)
What a fun idea. Thanks for all of it. Next up … cheese?
A pleasure! That’s a very good suggestion about the cheese, especially as cheese-and-wine matching is a popular thing…
A lovely end of summer post, I’ve written nearly everything onto my list! And thanks for the tip about the translator for the Sagan, really helpful.
Ha! You’re very welcome, Jane.
I’ve read both ‘Tristesse’ translations now and would thoroughly recommend Irene Ash’s original. Rachel Cooke wrote a very interesting piece about it (and the art of translation in general) in the Guardian when Heather Lloyd’s version came out:
Thank you Jacqui!
Such a lovely post, Jacqui! I know very little about wine, so I know where to come if I need to call on your expertise for advice. I must check which Tristesse translation I have – probably the original, I think!
Thanks, Karen. I suspect you’ll have the Ash as Heather Lloyd’s is fairly recent. :)
Most enjoyable. The only book on your piece that I have read is Bonjour Tristesse. A rose sounds perfect.
It’s a natural match, I think. Light and frivolous on the surface, but more serious / substantial underneath. :)
What a wonderful selection. Most of them I’ve never heard of before. I suppose that’s the joy of discovering translated works. All our yesterday’s would be on my list. I’ve heard of Ginzburg before but not this title.
It’s such a terrific novel, although you might want to start with one of her shorter books and save this one for a little later? Valentino and Sagittarius (published by NYRB Classics) would be a great entry point. Or her debut, The Road to the City, from Daunt. I hope you have a chance to try her!
Hi Jacquiwine — wonderful review as always. I can’t speak to the wine recommendations (I’m afraid my palate has been ruined by all the plonk I’ve downed over the years) but the book list is super! Thanks to your reviewing skills, I already have several of these sitting (at present unread, but I’ll get there. I’m particularly eager to try Empty Wardrobes) on my shelves. I’ve now added Bonjour Tristesse (1955 Ash translation) & Meeting in Positano to the TBR list as well. As for Keun, well, you’ve decided my next choice — Gigli !
Haha! I think you’ll love Gilgi. The characterisation is so impressive, it’s hard to believe that it was Keun’s first novel. And it’s lovely to hear that you already have some of the others in your reading pile. (That’s good news!) I’ll be really interested to hear how you get on…
What a lovely post! Since I’ve been reading a little book by Clarice Lispector I’m going to suggest one of the many terrific wines from South America, but from Argentina not Brazil. Their Malbecs are probably the best known but instead I’ll pick a Bonarda, a wonderfully fruity red.
A great suggestion! I might do another of these posts at some point, and South American could well be an interesting theme. It’s also been a while since I had a Bonarda, so I may have to follow that up. Thanks for the tip.
Which Lispector have you been reading? I’ve only read Near to the Wild Heart so far, which I found intriguing (and somewhat oblique). She’s a writer I ought to explore further at some point, especially as she’s so highly regarded.
That would be marvelous! The Lispector is from indie New Directions, and looks like it might be a newish imprint from them, and is a little volume of stories she told her sons about animals, ‘The Woman Who Killed the Fish’. The lighter side of Lispector…
How interesting. They sound very different from Near to the Wild Heart – and quite appealing, I must admit!
What a lovely idea for a blog post. The only one of those books I have read is Bonjour Tristesse. Your wine recommendations sound wonderful.
Thanks, Ali. I just thought it would be a fun thing to do, a sort of last hurrah for WIT Month as the summer draws to a close!
Such a tempting post Jacqui, both in terms of reading and wines! I just bought the Mirabeau en Provence Classic Rosé at the weekend – wondering if it’s my last rosé of the summer…
How timely! It’s a really lovely wine, isn’t it? A last hurrah for summer!