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

Fiery Curses by Noura Mohammad Faraj (tr. William M Hutchins)

a nutshell: in this title story from Qatari writer Faraj’s collection, a woman revisits an inflammatory book from childhood which transforms her perspective

a line: “the tongues of emirs, poets, and muezzins were indistinguishable from those of barflies”

an image: embedded in the narrator’s mind is an image of herself in cartoon form being chased by her father, who pelts her with hot embers as she flees

a thought: I tried to look up the book’s author, Abu al-Fadl al-Tashti, but couldn’t find anything – I’d be curious to know the significance (if any!) of this name

a fact: Faraj is an Assistant Professor at the Arabic Language Dept at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and has published two academic books and one short story collection (The Totem)

want to read Fiery Curses? visit here

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

kindle edition of book with cat next to it

a nutshell: drawing on her own experiences, poet & short story writer Thammavongsa’s debut collection explores moments of unease or disjunction for Laotian immigrants across 14 stories

a line: “I know now what I couldn’t have known then––she wouldn’t just be gone, she’d stay gone.” (‘Edge of the World’)

an image: I liked how, despite living in the same apartment block, the two girls in ‘A Far Distant Thing’ would chat on the phone each evening to describe the details of their day – practising for their (aspiring) writing careers

a thought: the pressures & injustices involved in making a living are a recurring focus, and ‘Picking Worms’ is a particularly devastating instance of when doors are open for mediocre white people and closed for talented Lao people

a fact: born in the (Lao) Nong Khai refugee camp in Thailand in 1978, Thammavongsa and her parents were sponsored by a family in Canada when she was one year old

want to read How to Pronounce Knife? visit here

The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

a nutshell: set in 1981, this heartbreakingly evocative novel follows a young woman as she explores her memories while attempting to flee the violence of her homeland, Jamaica

a line: “Jamaica was too young to die”

an image: a rural sign reading ‘FRESH POETRY & EGGS’ is left to interpretation – spelling or reality?

a thought: I identified strongly with the main character, Jean, particuarly in how she reads constantly – pressing her ear close to the world of fictional characters, as Cezair-Thompson describes it, like a vagrant at a windowpane

a fact: towards the end of the novel, Jean realises she has always believed in egun iponri – ancestors – which the author explains more in this insightful interview

want to read The True History of Paradise? 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

Things That Were Lost in Our Vaginas by Nyachiro Lydia Kasese

trigger warning: sexual abuse

a nutshell: among Tanzanian writer Nyachiro Lydia Kasese’s many brilliant poems, I found this one particularly moving in its reflection on the struggle to vocalise childhood trauma

a line: “and she would smell his scent on my body and know that we shared the same demons”

an image: the way in which the poet writes about whether a penny or a set of keys is in there gives this poem an atmosphere that feels paradoxically humdum & horrifying all at once

a thought: this interview shares how the scene was drawn from Kasese’s life – the moment triggered her to think back to her own sexual abuse at that age and, as she couldn’t find the words to vocalise it to anyone, she wrote about it

a fact: this poem was longlisted for the 2014 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize

want to read Things That Were Lost in Our Vaginas? visit here

The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden

a nutshell: a young Bhutanese woman, Tsomo, sets out on a challenging & often lonely journey to discover what she really wants from life

a line: “Everything happened because we are women. You loved a man and suffered. I hated the man and suffered”

an image: one sleepless night, Tsomo notices how the silver moonbeams enter the room, ethereal white through the gaps in the wall, and scatter on the floor like fine needles, weightless & fragile

a thought: it’s tough to convey the extent to which Tsomo’s relationships are marred by misogyny – from violent beatings to disrespectful language to flagrant infidelity, it can be enraging to follow

a fact: published in 2005, this is the first English-language novel ever written by a woman from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan

want to read The Circle of Karma? visit here

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (tr. Christina E Kramer)

A Spare Life with cover of girl peering through window with hand on shoulder

a nutshell: narrated by a conjoined twin raised in Skopje, this intricately immersive novel explores independence and love through communist Yugoslavia and beyond

a line: “Just like Bogdan, who solved crossword puzzles in his head because he had no pencil, I wrote internally because I had no space”

an image: Dimkovksa so viscerally depicts the flat in which the twins grew up that I found myself struggling to emerge into the real world after reading scenes within it

a thought: in her studies of migration in the context of the literary community, Zlata portrays two parallel worlds in which national & transnational writers joked politely but between the pair is a fear of the other’s otherness

a fact: this novel won the 2013 EU Prize for Literature

want to read A Spare Life? visit here

The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka

Rice Mother book with tree and orange fruit hanging on cover, plain green background

a nutshell: this often dreamlike debut novel follows the generations of a family cursed with adversity in Malaysia – through the Japanese occupation and beyond

a line: “Under her skin are fine ancestors. They are there in her hands, her face, and the shadows, happy and sad, that cross her face”

an image: I was surprised to see Australia make a brief appearance halfway through the novel during an affectionate moment between Lakshmi and her granddaughter; Lakshmi decides to begin telling Dimple all the family stories so she could leave them in her care, then one day her granddaughter announces that she’ll be creating a dream trail of their history, like Aboriginal communities “in the red deserts of Australia” do

a thought: while recalling her devastation at leaving her mother for a forced child marriage, Lakshmi reflects on how life had yet to teach her that a child’s love can never equal a mother’s pain – something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently in comparing the way I feel about my father (in light of & in spite of his flaws) with the way his mother feels; I also wanted to mention that sometimes the vitriolic descriptions of Japanese men’s appearances (e.g. p126) were an uncomfortable distraction from the events themselves

a fact: in an interview Manicka shares how her mother would tell stories over dinner and explains that storytelling is a very natural part of Malaysian life

want to read The Rice Mother? visit here

Angel of Oblivion by Maja Haderlap (tr. Tess Lewis)

a nutshell: drawn from her family’s experiences among southern Austria’s Slovenian-speaking minority, this book follows the coming of age of a girl whose grandfather fought as a partisan in WWII, whose grandmother scarcely survived a concentration camp, and whose father continues to relive the trauma of torture at the hands of the Nazis

a line: “But is the peace in this region truly ours or do the languages spoken here still wear uniforms?”

an image: Haderlap portrays the war as a devious fisher of men, which has cast out its net for the adults and trapped them with its fragments of death, its debris of memory – she imagines her Father as snagged on memory’s hooks

a thought: with the world finally paying attention to the glaring epidemic of police brutality and racism, it’s worth nothing that this book makes many references to police officers’ unprovoked attacks on both children & adults during southern Austria in the Second World War, as well as the police’s violence in tearing apart families of anyone allegedly disloyal to the Third Reich

a fact: Haderlap’s focus on the effects of conflict on survivors and their children made me think back to human rights lawyer Phillippe Sands’ talk at Edinburgh Festival, where he spoke of the intergenerational traumas that prompted him to research & write East West Street in which he traces the lost history of his mother’s family in WWII

want to read Angel of Oblivion? visit here