It’s my birthday today so I thought I’d have a different kind of post. As I grow older, I become much more aware of my female identity. What it means to be a woman, the many different shapes I can take, the roles that are foisted upon me, the experiences of my sisters, our status in this world that we live. I feel like growing older connects me to this world a bit more – perhaps because of my increasing experience living. So today, I will list 8 books that have had 8 different types of women in them. Books that spoke to me. They may not speak to you but they touched a chord in me.
Out – Natsuo Kirino
One of these women commit a murder, the other three help her get rid of a body. How this event changes these women and how it affects their psyche makes for a fascinating read. Perhaps a lot of it is Kirino’s skill at character building but I wonder if any one else who has read this book wondered if they too had it in them. I don’t condone murder, obviously, but I do recommend this book. It’s shocking and dense and leaves you thinking as the best books are wont to do.
Small Damages by Beth Kephart
This is Kenzie’s story. Pregnant, grieving for her father and far from home. It is the beauty of the prose, the dulcet lyricism that first draws you in and then it is the setting that comes alive, Spain through Kenzie’s eyes, through the author’s imagination. I don’t know if such a Spain exists but I want to see it some day. Kenzie grows and grows in this novel. As her body grows heavier with child, her mind becomes open, wide enough to encompass the blue skies under which she finds a mother, a home and someone else to love.
Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
This graphic novel details Aya’s struggles to become something more than what circumstances, peers and her family might want her to be. The story is set in the Ivory Coast and is a beautiful rendering of the life there from people who lived there and who know the customs. No appropriation. I identified with Aya’s feelings of separation, sense of not-belonging. Watching herself take a road that no one else seems to want to walk on. Eschewing the traditional roles to forge herself a new identity.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
This is a nonfiction account of one woman’s experience in a mental asylum. Kaysen details the life in the asylum and made me wonder what it means to be sane. She had met a psychologist for a bare ten minutes or so before he had her committed. How could he know her mental state in just those ten minutes? What makes a woman sane? What does it mean to be insane? The friendships between the so-called crazies in the asylum unfolds in a very interesting manner. Their depths, their misunderstood pain, their final irrevocable actions that eject them from life.
my name on his tongue: poems – Laila Halaby
I include this collection because it spoke to me so strongly about one woman’s desperation to keep that part of herself that is always longing for a home that is fast disappearing from this world sane. Halaby’s poems about Palestine, her sorrow at what is undeniably the murder of innocents fairly leaps off the pages into your heart making it skip a beat, making your eyes fill with tears. Even if you have nothing vested in the results of the Palestine/Israel conflict, these poems will speak to you about the people behind the labels. It spoke to me about home, about the temporary nature of home. How time steals what you held close the day before.
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
This novel, part magical realism, part pure magic, spoke to me about the depths of love, about food, about the relationships between a mother and a daughter. It showed me how the bonds between two people can be stretched until it breaks and how two people can deny everything of themselves between themselves but life will ultimately put them together as they were meant to be. Physical love, emotional love, love that spills over into the dishes made in the kitchen. Passion, fire, anger, hatred, love. This book is like a chaotic symphony of the senses.
Real World – Natsuo Kirino
This novel speaks about the disconnect teenagers feel from the adult world. I have been doing a lot of theoretical reading about adolescents, the theories of adolescents, the construction of adolescence and one thing became very clear to me as I read and that was verbalized by Dr. Alison Waller, adolescents do not usually get a chance to create culture but are allowed to absorb it from an adult perspective. There are people like Homi Bhabhi who theorize that the relationship between adults and adolescents is like the relationship between colonizers and the colonized. However, I do not believe in that. This novel shows the curious lack of emotion or reaction to a murder. Four girls interact with the murderer without that shock or horror that one would normally expect. It’s a curious read. A disturbing one.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide – Nicholas D. Kristoff, Sherryl WuDunn
This is hands down one of the most difficult books I have ever read. Or rather am still reading. It details some of the worst atrocities that can be committed to women, that ARE committed to women. My friend Rossi bought it for me and I thank her for it. Though perhaps I hate her a bit for it too. Because after reading this, there is no way you can sit snug in your warm safe room and be unaware that such things happen as you blink, as you breathe. As you live, someone else is being tortured, crying out for help. It is not all gloom and doom though, this book also lists the amazingly strong women who have gone through agony and survived to smile another day, to fight another say. And while this book makes me despair in some sections, in others it makes me fiercely proud to be a woman. To be part of a sisterhood that has strength even when people try to stomp it out of them.
And that is all for today.