Tag Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy Title: The Little Snake
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786893871
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This inventive, almost fable-like book is just what I needed in times such as these, and so do you. The Little Snake is a story of a girl named Mary, and a snake named Lanmo, and about human beings on this planet, and who we are at the heart of it all. It is a story of how the snake is a symbol of death, is so full of wisdom, and can sense feelings through tasting the air people breathe.

The Little Snake is a book that is so profound and you don’t realise it as you are reading it, but toward the end it all becomes clear. I don’t know what else to say about this book that will stay with me for a very long time. There are some books that come to you, and even after they have you don’t get to them at the earliest. You take your time because there is always a right time to read the right book (no matter what anyone else thinks). The book is influenced by The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and I am not surprised given the language used and descriptions of beauty lending to hope in times of hopelessness.

I found myself thinking of all that is happening right now with reference to Corona Virus, to how we as humans are – taking opportunity of a crisis, to getting together and showing kindness and empathy. The Little Snake is a story of everyone’s journey – from life to death, about community where only wealth and power exists, to the means people have to survive and hope for a better tomorrow.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor

Title: Hurricane Season
Author: Fernanda Melchor
Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 9781913097097
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This is the last book I will be reviewing for the month of March 2020. I am just only too happy that I read Hurricane Season, and enjoyed it to the hilt. There is no way my review is going to do justice to the book, but I shall try.

The book starts with the Witch’s death. Yes, The Witch is dead (almost reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz). Her corpse is discovered by children playing near the irrigation canals (I absolutely loved the imagery of this one, I mean to make this seem so casual and yet not something children want to ever face. The bleakness was delicious). And the book then is about how and why this murder took place. I am putting it in a very simple manner though.

Hurricane Season is not for the faint-hearted in my opinion. There is a lot that gets uncovered and most of it is not pleasant. Yes, there is a lot of violence in the book, but there is a lot of hope and humanity as well. The book is told through the stories of Luismi, Norma, Brando, and Munra. The vividness of a small Mexican village comes through stunningly in Hurricane Season. It reminded me of so many other Latin-American writers, and their spaces, and yet it was so different and new.

Hurricane Season might perhaps be hands-down one of the best books I have read this year. The sheer intensity of the prose, while also showing the read lives wrought with poverty, violence, misogyny, and prejudice. Each chapter presents itself in a different voice – so yes, there is a different perspective, and all of it falls together at the end of it. Everyone says there is a bit of Faulkner in it, but I couldn’t find him. All I heard was Melchor’s distinct voice and the brilliant translation by Sophie Hughes.

The sentences do tend to go on and on and on most of the time, but if you concentrate, and comprehend the narratives, you will be just fine. There is anger, pain, and the understanding of the role literature plays when it comes to compassion and empathy.

 

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cámara Cabezón. Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Title: The Adventures of China Iron
Author: Gabriela Cámara Cabezón
Translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 9781916465664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I hadn’t read Argentina’s epic national poem Martín Fierro (1872-79) to which The Adventures of China Iron is a queer response. I just dived straight into this one and enjoyed it thoroughly. It is so much and much more. The layers of this novel are plenty and to uncover and peel each one took quite some time in my head.

The narrator China (Latin for female) is soon renamed Josephine Star Iron, is the teenage wife of Martín Fierro, left behind to fend for herself as her husband is press-ganged into the army. She soon takes refuge with Liz, who has just arrived from Scotland, and the two of them travel together. Liz is here to claim land she and her husband are about to manage for a wealthy British man. On their travels, China develops a crush on Liz. She has her hair cut and wears men’s clothes to travel safely and in turn, becomes Jo. Thus, their adventures begin.

I do not think I will ever read Martín Fierro, and not because it isn’t good or anything, but because The Adventures of China Iron is a book I will never forget. Fierro may not even live up to it at all, and of that I am sure. The complexities of China Iron are plenty. There is so much to take away from it, and not just about being queer, or a woman, but historically as well.

Gabriela Cámara Cabezón’s writing is so powerful that I literally had to reread so many portions, just to understand it at a deeper level. The translation by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre doesn’t disappoint – every nuance – traditional and otherwise is presented to the reader as is. The interactions of these women with men they encounter, the power dynamics, the inequality, and the punch of 1872 Argentina comes across vividly in so many ways.

The Adventures of China Iron is a treat for any reader – a romp of a read, but more than anything else, makes you understand what it means to not only be a woman but find your own at the end of it all.

Girl by Edna O’Brien

Girl by Edna O'Brien Title: Girl
Author: Edna O’Brien
Publisher: Faber and Faber Books
ISBN: 978-0571341177
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

The award season for books is upon us. The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 Longlist was announced on the 3rd of March 2020 and one of the books that caught my fancy was Girl by Edna O’Brien. I have read O’Brien’s books in the past – maybe two to three, but this one sounded so unlike what she would write and further piqued my interest.

Girl is a book based on a factual record. When I got to know of that, my skin crawled a little. I didn’t know what to make of the world we live in – the one that I thought of as being empathetic and kind to a large extent. Now, I don’t know. Girl is based on the abduction of hundreds of convent girls who were group-raped by the Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. The novel focuses on one girl who tells us the story of their journey into the forest, and what happens thereafter.

Girl isn’t an easy book to read. The code of violence the men are governed by, and in turn the abuse faced by mere girls is not easy to digest for all. At the same time, O’Brien talks about love and forgiveness in the harsh landscape – of what follows and how brutal it must be, there is perhaps light at the end of the tunnel.

The book is all about the human condition – about its frailties, evils, and also maybe the idea that all can be forgiven. But can it? Would you? Could I? I don’t know but these questions did come to mind as I was reading this book and did stay with me long after.

Girl is a tough read. It isn’t pleasant. It demands attention and your emotions as well. It is sensitively written but doesn’t shy away from telling what must have happened and how. I am rooting for it to be a part of the shortlist. I wish more people read this book.

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

And I Do Not Forgive You - Stories & Other Revenges by Amber Sparks Title: And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges
Author: Amber Sparks
Publisher: Liveright, W.W. Norton & Co.
ISBN: 978-1631496202
Genre: Short Stories, Magical Realism
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Amber Sparks writes short fiction with such deft and empathy, that it manages to hit all the right spots for me. There is fantasy in her stories, grounded in reality of our lives that make us see lives of others, while always holding a reflection up to ours. This collection of 22 stories is strange, mesmerising, and often tend to go to dark places, which some readers may not be comfortable with. She reimagines myths and legends, folk tales, fairy tales, and sometimes even reimagines the world we inhabit.

Whether she is writing about a teenage girl befriending a ghost in her trailer park or about a princess who wants to run away from her father, the King who wants to marry her, she packs a punch almost most of the time. These stories are about women, for women, and written by a woman. These stories put them to the front and that’s what I loved the most about them. There is no “male perspective” and to me that is always refreshing.

The stories might come across as whimsical sometimes but they are extremely profound (I reread some and loved them even more). For instance, love as sacrifice in We Destroy the Moon – that speaks of  new prophet or demigod or leader at the end, implies that why can’t a woman be at the helm of things? What is then the definition of a woman? Is she a mere follower? Or could be a leader?

The relationships between characters in these stories take their time to develop, some even come to light right at the end and that’s perhaps the beauty of these stories. Nothing is expected. Nothing is the same. From husbands who grow wings, to lion tamers that get eaten, to moments of extraordinary happiness that spurt to life here and there, Spark’s stories are dangerous, on-the-edge, comforting (strangely), and dream of a world that is possible. A world of freedom.