The Magic Doll by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen (tr. Paul Kelly)

cover of magic doll with young girl illustrated and doll and chickens

a nutshell: narrated from the perspective of Adjoa, a young child, this exquisite book shares a deeply loving story of her mother’s journey towards pregnancy and birth through the support of a Akua’ba fertility doll

a line: “Words do not have legs, but sometimes they can run fast!”

an image: one of my favourite parts was when the mother goes to the market to buy rice, millet, yams (see a glimpse below)

a thought: without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most beautiful book of all those I’ve read during my project – on its arrival I couldn’t stop turning each page to study the drawings and I loved how the story gently portrayed a struggle which many women face globally, often in silence

a fact: Yabouza closes with some fascinating insights into the geography and history behind the story – including her relationship with an Akua’ba doll that she came across in Bangui, the capital of her home country the Central African Republic, during childhood

want to read The Magic Doll? visit here

illustrations of women in a marketplace with many fruits and stunning patterns

The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio (tr. Jethro Soutar)

a nutshell: digging deep into what it is to be a woman, this is the mystical story of the Serranoans – villagers whose lives are rooted in the prophecies (or not?) of a marginalised madwoman

a line: “She understood that in Serrano women who were witches were happier than women who weren’t. Or less unhappy at least.”

an image: amid the passage about the Serrano cats’ fertility, the mention of their special cat huts (with five evenly distributed alcoves where they could sleep) is one of the many eccentric asides of this novel

a thought: as a lifelong fan of the magical realism genre and all its accompanying dreamy timelessness, Serrano was a treat – a place that could go dozens of decades without adding so much as a comma to its annals, as Salústio writes, and where history repeated itself to the loop of the sun & the moon

a fact: this is the first novel by a woman to be published in Cape Verde, and the first to be translated into English thanks to the ever wonderful English PEN’s PEN Translates programme

want to read The Madwoman of Serrano? visit here

The Hidden Face of Eve by Nawal El Saadawi (tr./ed. Dr Sherif Hetata)

Nawal el Saadawi's The Hidden Face of Eve

a nutshell: published in 1977, this landmark discourse on women in the Arab world is as disturbing and compelling as ever – probing FGM, sexual violence/suppression, fertility, marriage, injustice, sex work, religion, history and literature

a line: an extract from Article 67 of Egypt’s Common Law on Marriage here typified the prevailing attitude to women – “No alimony is liable to a wife if she refuses to yield herself to her husband … is the victim of a rape … or if she is suffering from any condition which might prevent the husband from utilising her as a wife”

an image: though the opening scene of Nawal’s own circumcision made a profoundly indelible impression, another image that stayed with me was her depiction of Arab feminist writer May Ziade’s exceptional mind & tragic end – personal setbacks prompted relatives to force her into Asfouria Hospital for Mental Diseases where eventually a report proved she was of sound mind; she returned to Egypt and died alone, aged 55, in a small flat in Cairo 

a thought: Nawal often returns to an essential paradox in how girls are brought up in the Arab world – the insistence on the need to attract an eligible husband, but simultaneously to put her ‘dangerous seductiveness’ out of sight

a fact: scholars have uncovered many depictions of women as the same size as men from the preliminary stages of ancient Egyptian society, indicating gender equality; a subsequent decrease in their size in such drawings/engravings corresponds with the appearance of private property (2420-2140 BC) – Nawal also points out that among ancient Romans the word ‘familia’ constituted a man’s possessions i.e. land, houses, money, slaves, women, children

 

want to read The Hidden Face of Eve? visit here