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

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

Droit de Cité: Être Femme au Burkina Faso by Monique Ilboudo

orange book with two women chatting on cover, plants in background

a nutshell: from FGM to contraception, gender-based violence to witchcraft, this rigorous book explores the status of women’s rights in Burkina Faso through the country’s colonial period and beyond

a line: “In Burkina Faso as elsewhere, women are fighting for the recognition that before their womanhood there is their humanity. It is in the name of this humanity, which they share with men, that women demand equal opportunities and rights.”

an image: in a moving quote from a victim of female genital mutilation, we’re asked how this could be a practice that represents the work of God, the figure who supposedly bestowed these very organs – how could these people carrying out the mutilation claim to know better than God?

a thought: in chapter 7, Ilboudo questions why traditional gender roles appear to be so fixed and notes the usual response, « il y a des tâches féminines et il y a des tâches masculines! » (there are female tasks and male tasks), which struck me as identical to former UK PM Theresa May’s remark “There are boy jobs and girl jobs, you see”; Ilboudo comments that “women’s work” never finishes

a fact: Ilboudo’s novel Si Loin de Ma Vie (So Distant From My Life) is currently being translated by Sierra Leonean-Ugandan writer & translator Yarri Kamara, who won the 2020 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant to complete her translation

want to read Droit de Cité? visit here

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

Red book cover with text reading: Angela Y Davis, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle

a nutshell: across 10 chapters ranging from interviews to essays to speeches, Davis incisively analyses the need to end state violence & oppression both within the US and around the world, and explores the importance of intersectional mass movements in working towards this

a line: “When one looks at the civil rights era, it was those mass movements—anchored by women, incidentally—that pushed the government to bring about change. I don’t see why things would be any different today.”

an image: it is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope & optimism

a thought: Davis discusses how the Black liberation movement was not only about formal rights to participate fully in society, but also substantive rights – jobs, free education & healthcare, affordable housing, an end to racist policing – and urges everyone to look up the Ten-Point Program of the Black Panther Party

a fact: citing Michelle Alexander, Davis notes there are more Black people incarcerated & directly under the control of correctional agencies in the second decade of the 21st century than there were enslaved in 1850

want to read Freedom Is a Constant Struggle? visit here

Night by Sulochana Manandhar (tr. Muna Gurung)

Cover of Night - part of the Translating Feminisms series

a nutshell: first jotted in the lap of night, this Nepali poetry collection is a sublime expression of the collaborative power & beauty that can emerge from women translating women in Asia’s literary landscape

a (few) line(s): “Night is an expectant mother | If you are doubtful, just wait; | early tomorrow morning | it will give birth to the sun” *

an image: in the exquisite opening to the poem ‘Sieve’, we watch as the poet pours scattered pieces of her heart on night’s sieve and begin to sift

a thought: I was moved by so many of these poems, but one that’ll stay with me for some time is ‘Property’, in which night is portrayed as the land in which the poet feels free – where she no longer fears subjugation

a fact: to method-translate parts of this collection, Gurung set alarms for various odd hours of the night (which goes some way towards illustrating the devotion that she so clearly feels for Manandhar’s writing)

want to read Night? visit here

* in the Translator’s Note, Gurung mentions how Sulo refers to night as ‘ ऊ ‘ – the gender non-specific third person pronoun in the Nepali language

Translating Feminisms is an initiative to showcase intimate collaborations and conversations between some of Asia’s most exciting women writers and emerging-star translators.

Eve Out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi (tr. Jeffrey Zuckerman)

Eve Out of Her Ruins

a nutshell: this is a stunningly moving novel that sees four adolescent Mauritians (Eve, Savita, Saadiq & Clélio) narrate their struggle for survival in an impoverished neighbourhood of Port Louis, the capital

a line: “I read as if books could loosen the noose tightening around my throat. I read to understand that there is somewhere else. A dimension where possibilities shimmer”

an image: at one point, Saad remarks that poverty is the harshest of jailers – a particularly resonant image given the trajectory of the story

a thought: I was interested in the moment when a teacher tells Saadiq, in three different languages, that he owes it to himself to succeed – afterwards I learned that most Mauritians are very multilingual, which makes Zuckerman’s beautiful translation (of French sprinkled with Creole phrases & unfamiliar syntax) all the more admirable

a fact: the novel was brought to the screen as The Children of Troumaron (2012), which is now firmly on my watchlist!

want to read Eve Out of her Ruins? visit here

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

a nutshell: bringing to light the life of the ‘madwoman in the attic’ from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, this novella is set between Jamaica and Dominica in the 1830s

a line: “You are trying to make me into someone else, calling me by another name. I know, that’s obeah too.”

an image: I found Antoinette’s story of waking as a child to see two huge rats then falling back asleep in the moonlight of a full moon fantastically eerie; her da (nurse) was furious the next morning and as a reader it felt strangely moving when, years later, Antoinette asks her husband if he too believes she has slept too long in the moonlight

a thought: I enjoyed reading Francis Wyndham’s introduction to the first edition of  this 1966 novella and am curious about how Wyndham’s evident enthusiasm for Rhys’ work sensationally ‘resurrected’ the writer, who was presumed dead when she vanished for 20 years after Good Morning, Midnight (1939) was unsuccessful

a fact: born in Dominica’s capital (Roseau) in 1890 to a Welsh doctor and a Creole mother, Rhys spent her childhood there before moving to England where she spent the First World War – she wrote many books before coming to this one, and her letters show that she was obsessed by Brontë’s novel and haunted by the need to write about the first Mrs Rochester

want to read Wide Sargasso Sea? visit here

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

The Shadow King book – woman's silhouette on colourful battlefield

a nutshell: this is a powerful, brutal story of what it is to be a woman at war – both within a household & within a country – set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia

a line“These aren’t the days to pretend you’re only a wife or a sister or a mother, she says. We’re more than this.”

an image: an Italian-Jewish soldier-photographer tries to looks behind an Ethiopian prisoner’s face into her mind and sees nothing besides sturdy, thick thoughts of survival & routine, revealing the short-sighted lens of the invaders

a thought: the visceral, ongoing effect that a father’s gentle letter has on the photographer (and by turn on his superior) is a moving glimpse into how toxic masculinity is preventable, not inevitable; men’s violence against women is an incessant theme in the novel – and here I should note that the book contains many graphic descriptions of sexual assault

a fact: the author put together a brilliant article listing books that influenced her own novel; the list features several authors I’ve read as part of this project – Svetlana Alexievich, Aminatta Forna, Jenny Erpenbeck – a reminder of the potency that lies within women’s perspectives on traditionally ‘unwomanly’ fields

want to read The Shadow King? 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

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani (tr. Sam Taylor)

Lullaby on tiled floor

a nutshell: a seemingly flawless nanny, Louise, has just killed the two young children she cherishes, and this utterly addictive novel rewinds to unravel why

a line: “Her heart has grown hard. The years have covered it in a thick, cold rind and she can barely hear it beating. Nothing moves her any more”

an image: Louise’s spiralling obsession with avoiding waste sees her dig out a gone-off chicken carcass binned by the mother and, in a distressing scene, instruct the children to scrape off the last bits of meat, washed down with big glasses of Fanta so they wouldn’t choke

a thought: as the only white nanny in the neighbourhood, Louise is an anomaly among the community of immigrant nannies who gather with the kids at the local playground;  in Slimani’s story it’s the mother, the boss, who is an immigrant

a fact: the book was inspired by the 2012 murder of two children by their nanny in New York – though it was very well received in France, it didn’t have the same reception in the US

bonus quote: Slimani says of writing: “For me, it is freedom, freedom from everything: when I write I’m not a woman, I’m not a Muslim, I’m not a Moroccan. I can reinvent myself and I can reinvent the world”

want to read Lullaby? visit here