Les Humiliées by Koumanthio Zeinab Diallo

Guinean family outdoors in conversation on cover of book, held against plant

a nutshell: set in a village in the Republic of Guinea, this powerful play sets out to combat all forms of violence against women and remove political/legal barriers to women’s full participation in decision-making

a line: “N’est-ce pas comme un objet qu’on achète et dont on se sert pour le jeter ensuite?” | “Isn’t it like an object that we buy and use then throw it away?”

an image: at one point Soro (from the older generation) says his father liked to say a woman is like a goat – if you play with her, she’ll bite you one day, so a husband must always make them fear him and never laugh with them since they are devils

a thought: the playwright highlights the immense pressure on women to give their husbands sons, i.e. heirs, and how this makes them ‘true women’ – Mariama’s attempt to convey that it wasn’t her fault she gave birth to daughters elicits a furious response

a fact: in the introduction Diallo shares that this subject matter was drawn from her own sister’s distress & silencing after being disowned by her husband

want to read Les Humiliées? visit here

The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andreas

the purple violet of Oshaantu cover with purple splodge

a nutshell: set in rural Namibia, this is a story of friendship between two neighbours with very different husbands – one kind, one abusive

a line: “Child, don’t wait until it is too late … I have seen women who have died in this thing called marriage”

an image: I loved the scene of the women’s okakungungu (working festival / group cultivation) where they sang songs of ancestors and called on their great-grandmothers as they ploughed Kauna’s land before the rains, then sat drinking and chatting in a spirit of sisterhood under the marula (wild plum) tree

a thought: though the society is eminently patriarchal, wives are the backbone of the village and several women are seen to stand up to domineering men – such as when an elderly woman publicly shamed Shange, asking what he feels when he beat his wife who could not beat him back

a fact: through the exuberant descriptions of dishes throughout the book, I learned that dried caterpillars are a Namibian delicacy

want to read The Purple Violet of Oshaantu? visit here

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of Butterflies against blue sky and sea

a nutshell: reaching from 1938 to 1994, this utterly compelling novel reimagines the lives of the four Mirabal sisters (‘The Butterflies’, or ‘Las Mariposas‘) – symbols of hope & defiance during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic

a line: “I couldn’t stand the idea of being locked up in any one life”

an image: an extract from Mate’s fictionalised diary describes a current running among the women prisoners as like an invisible needle stitching them together into the glorious, free nation they’re becoming

a thought: there are so so many thoughts I could share here, but suffice to say that this was for me the most moving book I’ve encountered in my project so far and my life was essentially put on pause while I was reading it

a fact: after the author’s father was involved in an underground plot cracked by the the Dominican Republic’s notorious Military Intelligence Service, Alvarez’s family fled for New York City in August 1960 – less than four months before the murder of the three Mirabel sisters, who were members of that underground

want to read In the Time of the Butterflies? visit here

PS: as part of my human rights work I was involved in promoting the 16 Days of Activism a few months ago, yet it was only at the very end of the novel that I remembered this annual campaign begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a day that commemorates the legacy of the Mirabal sisters.