The information landscape, these days, is full of negative news for women. Stories of sexual misconduct and rape in the work place. Women getting marginalized in this field and that one. And all over battery of women rights. It chisels away at my heart. To uplift my soul I find myself drawn to reading novels about women who are not necessarily strong, but fighting a good fight. Spending time with these fictional ladies has a soothing affect. Sometimes you just need something to give you a lift and help you keep going. I am sharing this list of novels in case you are searching for a similar remedy. I am planning a giveaway of books in paperbacks and a I will probably select a few from this list. I need to first figure out how to organize the giveaway first. If you have suggestions of novels to add to this list, I would love to hear about it.
Today Will Be different by Maria Semple
This book blew me away. I sat down to read it and couldn’t put it down. I finished it in two days. It tells the story of a middle age woman whose whole life falls apart in the span of a single day. During this time you discover all about her childhood, marriage, son, work, ambitions and a tricky relationship with a former co-worker. There is one scene that takes place in Costco that is simply brilliant. It summarizes the love/hate relationship I have with that store so perfectly. I laughed. I cried. I didn’t want the story to end.
State of Wonder Ann Patchett
42 year old Marina Singh travels to the Amazon jungle to uncover what happened to her co-worker who died making the same trip…. need I say more? This is a roaring adventure that left me catching my breath. The writing is so vivid you will smell the jungle and feel the mud between your toes. There is one scene that involves dancing that is outrageously funny. This novel is a celebration of adventure on a mega scale.
The Inheritance by Sahar Khalifeh
One of the few books I have read in both Arabic and English. The benefit is that I can honestly report to you that the English translation is of high quality. Sahar Khalifa never disappoints. The Inheritance is my favorite novel of all that I have read from her. It tells the story of Zeina. An American young woman who is estranged from her Palestinian father. She grew up hearing her dad telling stories of nostalgia about the home land, painting an alluring picture. Now in her thirties she decides to visit Palestine in an attempt to connect with her roots. Upon arrival, she discovers layers upon layers of family dysfunction. Everybody is clamouring to claim their share of the inheritance. Some are willing to go to extreme and desperate measures to secure their share. Both funny yet tragic, this novel delivers on multiple levels.
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
This is an experimental novel and therefore not for everybody. Think Fight Club for women then add layers of weirdness on top. The unusual book cover is only a hint of what’s in the book. This is not a perfect novel. The first half appealed to me more than the second half. It tells the story of Cheryl who is in her early 40, a misfit searching for love. Her quest takes her down some unexpected paths. There is a whole subplot involving snails that I still don’t understand. No matter how awkward or messed up you think you are. This novel will make you feel acceptance to whatever state you are in. It deal deftly with the theme of loneliness and desperation among single women who are of a certain age that I never found in any other writing.
Unless By Carol Shields
My favorite novel written in the English language. This is a slow simmering story that examines the intense mother/daughter dynamic. It tells the story of Reta whose daughter drops out of university and disappears. She is found sitting cross legged on a street corner in the big city with begging bowl refusing any communication or help from her family. Reta tries to uncover the mystery of what has happened to her daughter through a guessing game. This is a novel of quiet and polite anger. Of how women try to be polite and obliging and the price they pay in the process. I have already read this novel 4 times and I have an feeling that a fifth reading is in order soon.
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
Yet another novel that I have read in both Arabic and English. I can testify that the Arabic translation is of high quality. I have recently suggested it to the book club I belong to and it was a huge hit. Everybody in the group gave it a 10 or a 9 out of 10. It tells two parallel stories. One modern and another taking place in the 13th century. The modern story is about Ella who is about to turn 40 and big changes are happening in her life. Her marriage might be falling apart. Her kids are growing up. She has decided to go back to work after a long hiatus and she begins an email correspondence with a mysterious man called Aziz. This is not a perfect novel. Certain plot turns feel a bit contrived. However it is certainly uplifting. I have written in the past about my fondness for the mystic poet Rumi and the role reading his poetry has transformed my life. Ella’s story certainly lives in my imagination.