Tag Archives: women writers

Read 19 of 2022. Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga. Translated from the French by Jordan Stump.

Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga

Title: Igifu
Author: Scholastique Mukasonga Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Publisher: Archipelago Books
ISBN: 978-1939810786
Genre: Short Stories, Translations, Women’s Writing
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I read this slim collection of most autobiographical short stories in one sitting. There was no way that I would take a break. I was left wondering though about how a writer integrates national horror in their literature. How does an act of terror shape literature and at the end how does it impact the reader?

Scholastique’s collection of short stories, Igifu, is centred on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Tutsi Rwandans were massacred by their Hutu compatriots. 37 members of Mukasonga’s family were killed. She had to leave Rwanda earlier, and eventually settle in France. This atrocity has found its way in all of her works – fiction and nonfiction.

This collection of short stories translated from the French by Jordan Stump is no different. Stump’s translation is deep-rooted in understanding the Tutsi people, their loss, their trauma, and how to appropriately put it on paper. Each time you read these stories, you read it not with fascination or exoticism but with empathy and compassion.

These five heartrending stories not only capture the ordeal of the Tutsis, but also speaks of roots and family and what it means to live with a grief so immense that you cannot even name it.

Igifu means hunger and each story somehow depicts that. The hunger not only for food but also for the homeland from which you had to escape. The title story is that of a child who becomes so weak from hunger that she passes out, and what the parents do next to keep her alive.

“The Glorious Cow” is about Tutsis and their relationship with their animals. It is about a way of life that is no longer present, and Mukasonga tells these stories the way it is – the only way you can by talking about life and what happened through fictional undertones.

“Grief” is a story that is most autobiographical in nature. It is about a young Rwandan woman living in France, who receives a letter containing a long list of relatives who died in the genocide. She cannot cry till she does at the funeral of a stranger.

Mukasonga’s writing leaves you with a sense of loss that is universal but somehow the one that cannot be comprehended by all. We can only imagine, sometimes we cannot even do that. As a reader, all I could do was understand, learn, unlearn, and be left with a sense of empathy and appreciation as to how Mukasonga writes through it all – with great tenacity and resilience.

Read 15 of 2021. City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts by Annie Zaidi

City of Incident by Annie ZaidiTitle: City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts
Author: Annie Zaidi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9390652129
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Sometimes an author doesn’t have to say too much to make points felt, or to express emotions. I have always been taken in by the concept of vignettes in literature – of how some writers are capable of writing them to the point of distinction – each appearing as an entire universe in its own structure and some who somehow fail to achieve that and get caught in detail.

Annie Zaidi’s new offering “City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts” is a great example of what to do when writing slice-of-life fiction. To be minimal – to only use words that matter and not more than what are needed – to the point of making the reader feel the claustrophobia, more so when a city such as Bombay is being described from various vantage points.

Zaidi captures people from various walks of life – people we see and sometimes fail to as we lead our lives. She speaks of conditions and circumstances quite nonchalantly – as though they don’t mean anything but don’t be fooled by the lightness – because there is so much to uncover at the end of it.

Situations are primary – highlighting them isn’t the motive of this book, I think. It is all about living and what it takes to live in a metropolis. Zaidi’s writing feels like I am in a bubble and there is no way out. From railway platforms to overcrowded trains, to homes that provide no respite, and traffic signals that make you see events you don’t want to. She documents all of it, being almost a chronicler of disappointed lives, mercurial beings, and tortured souls.

City of Incident feels like all those lives have merged together in one small book. Each life appears different and unique, only for Zaidi to make us by the end of it, feel like they all are universal – same and without distinction. City of Incident makes you stop in your tracks and observe people around you closely and with more introspection. I highly recommend this read.

Read 14 of 2022. Blue by Emmelie Prophète. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Blue by Emmelie Prophète

Title: Blue
Author: Emmelie Prophète
Translated from the French by Tina Kover Publisher: Amazon Crossing
ISBN: 978-1542031295
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Blue isn’t an easy novel to read. It is short and requires work from the reader, in the sense to keep pace with what’s going on. Time is fluid and it travels without warning. There is a lot of back and forth – given it is a stream of consciousness novel, and that to me is one of its major selling points.

Blue is a lyrical memoir of Haiti. It is a story of the narrator and her life there before she moved. It is a story of her mother and two aunts and all of this is replayed as the narrator sits at an airport, waiting for a flight from Miami back to her native island.

Emmelie Prophète writes about Port-au-Prince through the daily lives of its inhabitants, the ones that aren’t visible sometimes – resisting and inviting voyeurism. We don’t get to see the city as much through its blueprint as much as we do through the narrator – in a minimal space of that of an airport. The comparisons are made – from where the narrator is to what has been left behind, and sometimes event similarities. That of women being subdued, of people making sense of their identities as they go along, and how Haitians are portrayed in North American media, and how it impacts them as people.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. From the outside world to the inside sanctum of thoughts and prayers, Prophète reveals the narrator’s emotions and thoughts in relation to incidents of the past and how it all ties up to the present.

Blue also conveys a sense of solitude – the airport, the island, the inner workings of the mind, the stream of consciousness, and more than anything – the distances between places gives the reader a strong feeling of isolation and contemplation.

The writing is fluid. The translation is reflective of it, on every page. Kover makes it a point to show most of the time and not tell through the translation. It makes you want more, and imagine the most. Sometimes it is tough to keep up with the plot – so much so that it seems like there is no linear plot and yet you know it is the story of a place, of home that is synonymous with the colour Blue, the one that is about forgotten memories, painful ones, that surface once in a while, as you wait to be transported.

Read 13 of 2022. Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta . Illustrated by Madhushree

Mobile Girls Koottam - Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta

Title: Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak
Author: Madhumita Dutta
Illustrated by Madhushree
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789390514458
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book I would recommend everyone in the country to read at least once before they start speaking of equity. It is a book that will perhaps make it clear of how young rural migrant women work vis-à-vis how we imagine the worlds of working-class women from a privileged vantage point.

How do these migrant women see themselves in the larger scheme of things as they work, day after day? What are their aspirations and how they navigate around them, sometimes negotiating their circumstances? This book was first a podcast, when Dutta, in 2013, a doctoral student went to do her research in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu, encountering five women who worked inside an electronics factory. There she documented the lives of Abhinaya, Satya, Lakshmi, Pooja, and Kalpana – in a single rented room, over cups of tea – chatting and recording the podcast over a year, till the factory shut down in 2014. This book is a collection of those transcripts.

No topic was out of bounds when it came to these women. They spoke their hearts and minds – about reclaiming public spaces, the nature of factory work and how exploitative it is when it comes to women, the fear of losing a job, the differences that work creates between men and women, about economic independence and marriage. In fact, most of them were living alone for the first time – leaving their homes and stepping out to work.

The book also looks at economic policies made in favour of or not for the working class irrespective of gender. Madhumita speaks of labour and its relation to the society at large through these women – most of it was covered in the preface but I could also see glimpses of it in the conversations documented.

At this point, might I also mention the most fantastic illustrations by Madhushree interspersed quite intelligently, throughout the book to state points and to capture the experiences of these women with wit and candour.

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book that reveals a lot – about the nature of work, about the nature of work when it comes to genders and how it then shapes into something else by the end of it, and most importantly it speaks of having a room of your own to be able to think and speak freely.

Read 12 of 2022. Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories by Gwen E. Kirby

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby

Title: Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories
Author: Gwen E. Kirby
Publisher: Penguin Books USA
ISBN: 978-0143136620
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This collection of short stories by Gwen E. Kirby places women at the front – in all their glory and agency. It strips the old -age telling of stories from the perspective of men and looks at women telling their own stories, with their voices getting centerstage.

Shit Cassandra Saw speaks of women that keep getting a raw deal. It rewrites womanhood – with a lens of bravery, a sense of flaws that exist, contradictory sometimes, and mostly with empathy and wit.

The Greek goddess Cassandra received the gift of prophesy from Apollo only to find no one believed her visions of the future, only because she refused to have sex with him. Helen of Troy was a temptress, a seducer, because of which the war happened. Women who were accused and hanged because of witchcraft in the 14th century. Women who cross-dressed so they could travel, and so much more.

The stories in this collection focus on women – those from history and those from today’s time and age – bringing out feminism and the weird, along with humour in right doses.

These 21 stories take the reader to different worlds in which women not only have agency, but also reveal the mundane and the predictability of living in a so-called man’s world. Gwen E. Kirby breaks all the stereotypes and categorizations, only perhaps to create some new ones through her stellar storytelling.

The writing is precise, sharp, morbid at times, but mostly wildly unique. Whether it is about protagonists who refuse to be secondary characters or about women who have learned how to tell their stories, Kirby whips up women at their breaking points – all ready to rebel and reclaim spaces. Shit Cassandra Saw is a fine debut collection of short stories that is constantly not only pushing boundaries but also successfully breaking them.