To mark International Women’s Day this month, we propose books written by women about women. All these books have one more thing in common: either their authors or their protagonists have been undeservedly overlooked by society at large. In this selection, you will meet women who are limited by their gender, age, class or race but retain their humanity in the face of the challenges life throws at them. Choosing only six books has been a somewhat agonising experience since we had to leave out many more titles, authors, and stories that have gone unnoticed. But we did our best and will return to this topic to give credit to those who have been overlooked.
Elif Shafak is an award-winning Turkish-British writer and an outspoken advocate for women, children and minority rights. “10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World” shines a light on the traumas women’s minds and bodies endure in a patriarchal society. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019 just as the writer was being investigated in Turkey for condoning child abuse and sexual violence. As Shafak told in an interview, “The irony is that … in a country where they need to take urgent action to deal with sexual violence, instead they’re prosecuting writers.” This multilayered novel offers a glimpse into women’s lives in Turkey and renders a portrait of a strong and free-spirited woman who retains her humanity in the face of life’s challenges.
Amparo Dávila was born in 1928 and started publishing short stories in her native Mexico in the 1950s. Quite well known in her home country, Dávila has largely been overlooked in the West. “The Houseguest”, published in 2018, is the first collection of her short stories translated into English. In these twelve stories, you will meet Mexican women struggling with paranoia, obsession and fear. While the supernatural plays an important role here, the lives of these female protagonists are already quite horrid before any otherworldly creatures appear, as they have to face indifferent husbands or suffocating families. Reminiscent of Kafka or Julio Cortázar, the stories are beautifully crafted nightmares that will leave you doubting the boundary between fantasy and reality.
Marie NDiaye is the first black woman to have won Prix Goncourt for her “Three strong women”. This tripartite novel is based on loosely-connected stories of… yes, you’ve got it, three strong women. As the narrative shifts between France and Senegal, we get to know women who struggle to keep their spirits as their lives are broken by men they relied upon. Their gender, race, and class play against them, but their resilience and inner strength help them retain their humanity. This is a gripping read that is deeply humane and psychologically accurate. Having read this book, you will keep thinking about it for years… we’re speaking from personal experience here!
Bernardine Evaristo is the first black woman to have won the Booker Prize. The book is written in a mix of poetry and prose that Evaristo calls “fusion fiction” and features 12 characters, most of whom are black British women. For Evaristo, this book is almost an activist novel, her mission being to write about the African diaspora, to address its invisibility and show its heterogeneity. Class, age, gender - Evaristo’s protagonists are different in many ways but inhabit intertwined worlds. And despite these differences, her characters are relatable thanks to her witty and accurate observations on the human experience.
And this month's bonus book is a wonderful anthology of works by women photographers from the medium's inception to the modern day. Men have been much more visible in photography, as in many other art fields, with few female photographers being widely known and recognised today. This book shows that from the medium's inception, women have been using and exploring photography to get to know and express themselves and the world around them. This is truly a collaborative manifesto giving a voice to women in art, with 160 women writers contributing to it and 300 women photographers represented in it.