The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane (tr. Alison Anderson)

a nutshell: sharing the possibly delusionary (?) perspective of an Algerian-born, Paris-based man who decides to leave his mother’s home in search of independence, this novel continually took me by surprise

a line: “A place where, he said to me, you have come to listen to me at last”

an image: I was particularly moved by a moment when the narrator recalls his mother describing how she gave up her education & independence to marry, according to her father’s wishes, and from then on devoted herself to raising & educating her children

a thought: I may be in the minority (at least, according to Goodreads…) but I found this book fascinating & totally entertaining – I loved the ambiguity that allowed me to come to my own conclusions about the narrator’s reliability/motives

a fact: born in 1960 in Djerba, Tunisia, to a family living in exile, Marouane then lived in Biskra until she was six and in Algiers until her exile to Paris in 1991

want to read The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris? visit here

Saman by Ayu Utami (tr. Pamela Allen)

Saman book with cover of woman writing on park bench and Empire State building in backdrop; book against blue sky and trees

a nutshell: this unusual novel drops in & out of the lives of several sexually liberated Indonesian women and a former Catholic priest, Saman, while exploring the perils facing a rubber tapping community

a line (or a few): “Something can suddenly evaporate from our memory, like a ghost, like a dream. We can feel the trace of it, somewhere within ourselves, without being able to reconstruct it anymore. We are left with hatred, anger, fear, love. But we don’t know why.”

an image: one character, Shakuntala, envisages her country as swirling with unpredictability, a place where the law oscillates like a pendulum – at one end is inefficiency or an unwillingness to act, on the other are all the ‘excesses’

a thought: women’s rights are a recurring theme throughout the novel, particularly in the chapter by Shakuntala, who rejects a visa application’s insistence that she take her father’s name as Javanese don’t have surnames (instead she decides to split her own name in two: ‘Shakun Tala’)

a fact: published in 1998, the novel was controversial due to its sexual explicitness and even prompted questions as to whether it was Utami’s own work (!!!); it ultimately became viewed as a ground-breaking work and sold 100,000 copies, as well as igniting the sastra wangi literary movement – a category that Utami herself has criticised

want to read Saman? 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

Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo

a nutshell: this 1991 novel follows the love life of a career-centred woman in Accra, Ghana, who divorces her husband and becomes the second wife to a charming & wealthy Muslim man

a line (or four): “‘Why is life so hard on the professional African woman?’ … ‘Why is life so hard on the non-professional African woman? Eh? Esi, isn’t life even harder for the poor rural and urban African woman?’ ‘I think life is just hard on women’ … ‘But remember it is always harder for some other women somewhere else'”

an image: in a fascinating monologue about society today and in their ancestors’ time, Esi’s grandmother conjures up the idea of a better life where it is not always the case that some humans (men) are gods and others (women) are sacrificial animals

a thought: after her husband forces her into sex, Esi later realises she had suffered ‘marital rape’ and mulls over how this would be considered an imported feminist idea, since society wouldn’t have an indigenous term for it – a husband claims it as his right

a fact: Aidoo is the subject of a 2014 documentary The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo by Yaba Badoe

want to read Changes? visit here

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko (tr. Halyna Hryn)

a nutshell: this spectacular stream of consciousness pours forth from a US-based, Ukrainian-born professor/poet who wrestles with the end of a repressive relationship and, tied into this, the lasting effects of a repressive upbringing

a line: “‘take me’ always means: ‘take me together with my childhood'”

an image: one stunning passage describes the colours that imbue not only individual words but also languages – the electric violet, blue-wine of Italian, the garden greens of Polish, the translucent chicken bouillon broth of English (even waterier in the States) – as she hungers for her own language

a thought: the protagonist chastises herself for not realising on time that her home is her language – it’d always be with her, like a snail’s shell, and there would never be any non-portable home for her

a fact: published in Ukraine in 1996, the book sparked controversy and national fame for Zabuzhko – it topped the bestseller list in Ukraine for more than ten years, making it the most successful Ukrainian-language book of the 90s

 

want to read Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex? visit here

Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz (tr. Annie McDermott & Carolina Orloff)

a nutshell: this is breathless, bewildering, bestial fiction streaming from the pulsating mind of a young woman near-delirious with lust & frustration

a line: “I’m thinning out, becoming just an idea”
a bonus line: “I despise this life where in the kitchen at a certain time of day the water starts to boil” (I couldn’t choose just one; almost every line kicks like a neckful of Fernet)

an image: the narrator’s imaginings /recollections?/ of her mother’s sexual exploits are intensely disturbing – the volatile, perverse mother-daughter dynamic is the novel’s nucleus

a thought: I’ll be processing my 1000s of thoughts on Harwicz’s incendiary writing for some time! for now: one of the things that interested me a lot was the degree to which she pushed me to question what I’m willing to believe from the narrator – I closed the book with no idea how much was delusion/dream/reality

a fact: the novel is currently being adapted for the stage in Argentina, which I find a very curious prospect… I’ll be watching that space!

want to read Feebleminded? visit here

[PS. big thanks to Charco Press for the copy!]

Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener (tr. Lucy Greaves & Jennifer Adcock)

a nutshell: quite unlike anything I’ve read before, this is a spectacularly intimate anthology from one of Peru’s boldest writers on everything from female ejaculation and polygamy to transgender sex work and motherhood

a line: “With age, unless you make an effort to grow, you’re just more of what you always were.”

an image: Wiener ends the chapter about her body dysmorphia by describing a drawing she did after someone who loves her said he wished he had met her when she was little, so he could have told her she was the most beautiful girl in the world; in her drawing, she sits on his knee, believes his words, and can grow up without tallying her flaws

a thought: recording her conversation with Isabel Allende, Wiener says Allende viewed “women’s writing” as a term used derogatively and fought against this “segregation” for years, which made me feel conflicted – after all, this project’s primary purpose is to read & promote under-appreciated work by people identifying as women globally

a fact: Wiener is among the new generation of Latin American nonfictional cronistas (chroniclers) whose work drew on innovations from the ‘New Journalists’ of the 1960s–70s and is immersive, with a distinctive narrative voice and techniques lent by fiction – according to this v interesting LARB article

 

want to read Sexographies? visit here