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10 women writers you might not know

world of authors.001I’m always on the look out for writers outside the tradition of the western literary canon. So this article from Signature e-magazine was a welcome change from the usual fare of promotions – there is still a long way to go before literature in translation becomes part of our stable diet unfortunately.

The columnist Kate Schatz has found 10 women writers she thinks deserve more attention because they “have produced or are producing beautiful, necessary works of literature.”  These are women she believes whose work show us worlds, cultures, lives, and truths that need to be known.

The 10 come from Iran, Mexico, Palestine, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Japan Italy and Great Britain. I’m not convinced that Elena Ferrante needs any more exposure and Helen Oyeyemi surely doesn’t need an introduction? But there are certainly names on this list that are unfamiliar to me even if you all know them well.

Shahrnush Parsipur from Iran appeals, not because her novels weave use fantasy (not one of my favourite genres) but because she has been imprisoned for her writing. Reading her books is one form of protest I can make against her treatment.

The other writer who is calling to me is Doris Pilkington Garimara, an  indigenous writer from Australia whose 1996 novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence sounds a remarkable story about a real-life episode in the country’s history – a government-sanctioned removal of mixed-race children from their families. This isn’t something from ancient history but occurred in the 20th century remarkably. I’ve been promising Lisa at ANZLitLovers and Sue at Whispering Gums that I would read more authors from their parts of the world. So this could be my chance (not promising it will happen any time soon though).

I also have a few names on my own list of authors I want to explore. This includes Dalene Matthee from South Africa whose novel  Fiela’s Child which deals with ethnic acceptance I enjoyed last year. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from India who won the Booker prize in 1975 with Heat and Dust which I didn’t rate very highly but I wonder if that was really her best novel? And then of course there are my latest finds (Ok, I know I am late to this party) of Yoko Ogawa whose novella The Housekeeper and the Professor and Amelie Nothomb, who wrote  Fear and Trembling gave me some of the most interesting reading this year.

I could go on….and on…. and on with names but don’t want to overwhelm you but just take a look at some of the recommendations from the bloggers in several countries that have done guest posts about literature from their country.More than enough for you to get your teeth into.

 

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

HeatandDustI opened Heat and Dust hoping that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s  1975 Man Booker Prize winning novel would provide a fresh take on a theme explored by Paul Scott in The Jewel in the Crown (the first  book in his Raj Quartet series) and of course that classic of the cultural divide; E M Forster’s A Passage to India.

In many of the tributes written about Jhabvala on her death in April 2013, she was described as a “cold-eyed observer of people and places” and a writer whose status as a non-native inhabitant meant she could view the country with unemotional detachment.

Detached and unemotional are indeed good descriptions for this tale of the cultural divide between colonisers and the natives they govern and of those who try to break free from conventions and restrictions.

The story is that of an un-named woman who travels to India in an attempt to unravel the mystery of her step grandmother Olivia during the rule of the British in the 1920s.  She deciphers the story mainly from letters Olivia wrote to her sister and by visiting places where her grandmother lived.  Gradually we learn that Olivia’s story is one of disgrace and scandal Feeling smothered by the restrictions of the British way of life in India, she fell under the spell of a Nawab (an Indian prince) for whom she abandoned her husband . Fifty years later her grand-daughter, though more independent and less naive than Olivia similarly becomes seduced by India. She too crosses the divide.

The novel has none of the tension found in Scott’s novel nor does it have the  subtleties of A Passage to India. It doesn’t so much end as simply peters out inconclusively leaving me feeling decidedly underwhelmed. It’s not what I expect of a prize-winning novel.

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