Our Dead World by Liliana Colanzi (tr. Jessica Sequeira)

Our Dead World book with picture of camera on front cover, flowers and brick wall in background

a nutshell: these one hundred pages of short stories vary in setting (from South America to Paris to Mars) but share a sense of instability & dreamlike quasi-horror

a line: “I coldn’t understand how someone could laugh on the way to his own death”

an image: one powerful story, ‘The Wave’, personifies depression as a wave that finds the narrator at night, living on the limits of sleep with faces of a kaleidoscope of horror

a thought: for me, the first half of the collection was each gripping & unusual, whereas I actually found the titular story (‘Our Dead World’) a little confusing & dry; overall it’s a fantastical, unique book

a fact: in 2015 Colanzi won the Aura Estrada Prize – awarded to female, Spanish-language writers under 35 currently living in the US or Mexico

want to read Our Dead World? visit here

The Return by Dulce Maria Cardoso (tr. Angel Gurria-Quintana)

The Return book with picture of dog, against sandy background

a nutshell: this gripping child’s-eye-view story follows a family’s fragmented relocation from Luanda to Lisbon amidst the Angolan War of Independence in 1975

a line: “the empire was there, in that waiting room, a tired empire, in need of house and food, a defeated and humiliated empire, an empire no-one wanted to know about”

an image: the scene in which Rui, the young narrator, watches his dog run behind the family car as they flee Angola was very heart-breaking, especially since I (comparatively trivially, of course) said goodbye to a much-much-much-loved pet last year when moving to another country

a thought: I was impressed by how Cardoso made me feel both sympathy and disdain for the returnees simultaneously; the ongoing ‘purgatory’ atmosphere for the kids scraping by while waiting to hear of relatives’ fates was hard to read – but so too was the ignorant racism exhibited by the former colonialists, even the children

a fact: the author grew up in Angola before leaving for Portugal in similar war-induced circumstances as her child protagonist; please send tips of Angolan women writers for me to read next!

want to read The Return? visit here

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo against blue sky

a nutshell: partly inspired by a Sengalese folktale, this is the story of a woman who comes to the attention of the undying ones (‘djombi’) and gains magical powers

a line: “she could still feel the salt water sitting heavy on her heart”

an image: in describing the evil acts of a senior djombi, Lord talks of how such moments act on his boredom as splendidly as champagne on a jaded palate

a thought: the author writes in a very colloquial manner and often directly addresses the reader – at one point, she notes that stories are not a way to live vicariously; they’re meant to be an inspiration, not a substitute

a fact: born in Barbados in 1968, Lord has travelled the world and holds a phD in the sociology of religion; she writes speculative fiction to balance the nonfiction she produces as a research consultant

want to read Redemption in Indigo? visit here

Trans by Juliet Jacques

cover of Trans, featuring illustration of Juliet

a nutshell: interweaving the personal with the political, this nuanced & intimate memoir records Juliet’s navigation of her gender journey through her 20s (looping in the arts, football, the internet, & more)

a line: “what if we’re not trapped in the wrong body but trapped in the wrong society?”

an image: one of many beautiful moments is when Juliet describes a play’s parting message that the more somebody resembles what they’ve dreamed of being, the more authentic they are

a thought: I can’t imagine the weight of frustration that Juliet must have felt at the inordinate day-to-day life admin that came with her decision to live freely as a woman, e.g. the local supermarket’s demand that she supply a letter from the GP & two utility bills before they’d replace her loyalty card (which had £2.40 on it)

a fact: the national media, from The Guardian to The Sun, comes across extremely poorly in this book – whether it’s publishing the hateful bile of transphobic feminists or outing individuals in traumatic splashes, the extent to which they’ve let trans people down over the years is woeful

want to read Trans? visit here

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman

a nutshell: set in a politically volatile Sri Lanka, this passionate debut follows two women struggling for independence against a backdrop of class & prejudice

a line: “And I am grateful, still, despite all of it, that I had one year in which I got to be a woman. Not a daughter, not a wife, not a mother”

an image: the response and spiralling of events when Latha, a servant girl, asks for a pair of sandals from her employer is heart-breaking

a thought: from being fairly disengaged at the beginning, the characters’ hazy fates & connections soon took hold of me – this is a slow burner, but worth it by the end

a fact: the author holds a graduate degree in labour studies, researching female migrant labor in Kuwait, UAE & Saudi Arabia – unpaid child labour is a major theme throughout this novel

want to read A Disobedient Girl? visit here

Maru by Bessie Head

a nutshell: an orphan of the Sān people (also known as “Bushmen”) is raised by a white wealthy woman then left to fend for herself as a well-educated teacher in a Botswana village, where she encounters racial hatred, oppressive love & genuine friendship

a line: “No. She was not good. She was rich. She kept on throwing things away. I used to feel myself catching them, and that is how I learned.”

an image: the scenes with the two goats, the Queen of Sheba and the Windscreen-Wiper, and their sophistication (and “goat language”) is excellent light relief from the complications of human society

a thought: a lot of the book’s wisdom comes from Dikeledi, a progressive royal, who talks of having grown up surrounded by something she called “sham”, which made people believe they were more important than the normal image of humankind

a fact: the author was born in South Africa in 1937 but took up permanent exile in Botswana & gained citizenship in ’79 after 15 years as a refugee

 

want to read Maru? visit here

Bright by Duanwad Pimwana (tr. Mui Poopoksakul)

"Bright" book by Duanwad Pinwana against plain background

a nutshell: a vessel of child’s-eye vignettes, this dreamlike book transports readers to a cluster of tenement houses in Thailand where a community becomes parent to a semi-orphaned boy named Kampol

a line: “The two were sketching out dreams in their heads, but neither of them said a word to the other”

an image: I’d have to pick the scene where Kampol ‘reads aloud’ an illiterate girl’s squiggles, interpreting them as a touching birthday message for her overjoyed and equally illiterate grandmother

a thought: the topic of food is among the few constants across the chapters, both in terms of hunger and greed; at one point Kampol urges a neighbour to feed an emaciated man after hearing a story in which starvation drives a person to lose control and lash out – Kampol almost doesn’t register that he too has known real hunger

a fact: this is the first novel by a Thai woman translated into English, according to the publisher – Pimwana was born in a fishing/farming community on the east coast of Thailand, where she lives and draws inspiration for the magical/social realism of her writing

 

want to read Bright? visit here

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith)

a nutshell: this three-part novella from South Korea tells the starkly powerful story of a woman named Yeong-hye who takes a quiet yet explosive stand against her oppressive existence

a line: “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

an image: the enigma of the Mongolian mark sustains what was, for me, the most engrossing chapter

a thought: one theme that runs through the entire novella is the idea that everyone is fundamentally unknowable – even to those with whom every day is spent

a fact: in 1997 Han Kang wrote a short story (‘The Fruit of My Woman’) about a woman literally turning into a plant, then reworked the image in The Vegetarian in what she called “a darker and fiercer way”

 

want to read The Vegetarian? visit here

 

Luisa in Realityland by Claribel Alegría (tr. D J Flakoll)

a nutshell: flitting between poetry & prose vignettes, this short autofictional book conjures Alegría’s mystical, occasionally haunting memories of her early life in El Salvador

a line: “Any psychoanalyst would tell you that you’re horribly envious of Chagall”

an image: Luisa refuses to take home a bird from her childhood friend, saying her grandfather believes birds should be free – the boy then reveals, twisting his bare & dirty toes, that his mum is planning to cook her as they have nothing but the bird to eat

a thought: in its afternote, the book mentions that the author has long been an outspoken advocate of the liberation struggle in El Salvador and Central America more widely – this comes across in the later stages of the book, particularly through the poetry

a fact: Alegría was born in Nicaragua but when she was nine months old her father was exiled for protesting human rights violations during the US occupation, so she grew up in Santa Ana (western El Salvador) where her mother was from and considered herself Nicaraguan-Salvadorean

 

want to read Luisa in Realityland? visit here

Wedding in Autumn & Other Stories by Shih Chiung-Yu (tr. Darryl Sterk)

a nutshell: set in Taiwan in the 1970-80s, this is a collection of three novellas focusing on marginalised people (particularly women) who suffer due to conflicts between nations, generations, and racial prejudices

a line“Women’s wombs are strange places: they can nourish new life and discharge it, over and over again. In that respect, a womb’s kind of like my big sister’s temper.”

an image: a disturbingly vivid scene in which a traumatised woman suffers a miscarriage and a young boy unwittingly deserts her was difficult to shake from my mind

a thought: the importance of investing time & effort in learning about women’s rights issues globally was reinforced for me when I found out that Chiung-Yu’s titular story was inspired by her involvement in Irish protests for women’s reproductive rights while she was living in Dublin, as these had prompted her to think about how women in her own society could be seen as second-class citizens

a fact: born in 1968, the author grew up in Taitung County – the setting of her novellas – along the southeastern shore of the island of Taiwan

 

want to read Wedding in Autumn? visit here