This month´s book club theme kind of unveiled to me only towards the end of the month, when I started drawing a line through the books I had read. I intended them to be books by strong women, about strong women. As I was finishing the fifth book of the month, it dawned on me though, that I had somehow chosen books about strong women and their journeys. The journeys transcend geographical borders as well as emotional phases of these women´s lives. They are journeys of self-discovery, a process that sometimes goes unnoticed by our heroines, but never seizes. A couple of the books are extraordinary, a couple are really good and one is just plain bad. There´s fiction and non- fiction, there are American writers and a Turkish one, there are white writers and a black one. I tried to keep it diverse, in an effort of educating myself. I hope you enjoy it and if you read any of these books, I would love to hear your thoughts on them in the comment section.
Ece Temelkuran´s Women Who Blow on Knots
- I received this book last Christmas, but hadn´t read it until now as I kept trying to find a theme where I could fit it into the monthly book clubs. I read a bit about the author and finally decided it had to be read along other books about strong women. Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish journalist, writer and political activist and her characters are atypical Muslim women on a quest of finding themselves. They travel from Tunisia to Lebanon, running away from and at the same time towards their darkest secrets. The book challenges one to think about empowerment, identity but also politics and religion in the Middle East of the 21st century. It is heavy with metaphors and sometimes cryptic to the degree of tiring. I give it 3.5 stars (4 on Goodreads since 3.5 were not an option there). I took my time with it and needed nearly two weeks to finish it, but ultimately, it convinced me to seek out more female authors from the Middle East.
Maya Angelou´s Singin´& Swingin´ & Gettin´ Merry Like Christmas
- Last year I started reading Maya Angelou´s first and second autobiographical books (and accidentally the last one too) and I was just sold. Form and matter rarely blend as beautifully as in Maya´s tales of her life. If the only thing you´ve ever read of hers was Phenomenal Woman, you´ll get the point. Singin´ & Swingin´ is her third autobiographical novel and tells the story of her love affair with music and dance. The book takes us through her first job at a record store, her first marriage and her career as a dancer-singer. Her European travels with the Porgy and Bess crew are as entertaining as they are surprising. I had no idea Maya had been to Yugoslavia, nor did I know how passionate the men there are. As I kept reading, I kept laughing. Seeing the evolution of who Maya was and knowing who she became, I kept reading the book as I would read a fiction novel, expecting happy endings and not anticipating all twists and turns. I don´t re-read books often as there are still so many I haven´t read, but I am 100% sure I´ll be picking up Maya´s autobiography again in no time. Five stars out of five.
Maya Angelou´s The Heart of a Woman
- As I was glancing through online reviews of Maya Angelou´s fourth autobiographical work, I kept reading that this is the story of Maya´s early thirties, when she moved to NY to work for Martin Luther King. It´s funny because while this it technically right, I read it as the story of Maya moving to Cairo. Which actually only happens in the last quarter of the book. Essentially this book takes us through Maya´s transformation into an activist, her troublesome marriage with Vus Make, move to Cairo and her return to herself and Africa. It keeps amazing me how different all of Maya´s books are and how each hooks you for a different reason. This one, for example, totally had me hooked around its finger due to the glance into the African culture. Vus was a South African freedom fighter and that in itself is an utterly fascinating element of this part of Maya´s life. The life they have in Cairo, the society´s expectations of what a wife was or did, it all captivated me till the very last page, which I read sometime around 2 am, and which marked Maya and her son´s move to Ghana after her divorce from Vus and Cairo. Five stars out of five and perhaps my favourite work of hers.
Maya Angelou´s All God´s Children Need Travelling Shoes
- Maya and her son, Guy, arrive in Ghana where Guy is supposed to start studying at university. Guy suffers a car accident and Maya´s world is shortly turned upside down while he recovers. She takes various jobs, lives with other people and gets by while seeing to Guy´s health. He eventually recovers and starts university, which marks the end of an era. Guy is now a man, and Maya has to learn to accept this. There´s a fight in her soul and it translates through a fairly different type of book. Short chapters, making it seem like she has to regularly stop to reflect upon her life and the impossibility of going home again walk us through Maya´s new awareness of love and the myth of Mother Africa. There are two final books after this one – A Song Flung Up to Heaven (which I am yet to order!) and Mom & Me & Mom (which I read years ago). As such, my journey with Maya ends for now. That is, until I purchase everything else she´s ever written. 4.5 stars for this one since even though it is a brilliant book, I didn´t enjoy the form as much as with all her other books.
Margaret Atwood´s The Testaments
- More than fifteen years after the action of the Handmaid´s Tale takes place, and thirty five years after it first came out, the Testaments seeks to answer the question of how did the dystopic state of Gilead fall. And while I loved the book and read it in record time, I feel that this question is not 100% answered. I found the book very well written (it has three separate perspectives – that of Aunt Lydia, Becka and Daisy) and super captivating. But just as other people whose opinions I had read, I felt something was missing, particularly at the end. Which I now start to think is Atwood´s signature style. Be it as it may, The Testaments portrays a world that as dystopic as it might sound, one cannot stop to see in our own. I found it as fascinating as I found it disturbing. Atwood encourages the reader to read through the journeys of these brave women with two thoughts: “Knowledge is power” and “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”. An unorthodox book, daring and disturbing, that despite everything, I recommended to my mother. Four stars out of five.
Karen Karbo´s In Praise of Difficult Women
The last book of this month´s book club was quite a disappointment. I bought it because of the catchy title and soon realised that was all it was. A “read-bait” book that I should have researched better before buying. In Praise of Difficult Women is a collection of essays on 29 women that the author considers difficult because of their defiance of the status quo. And while the women in the book are indeed quite interesting (albeit shallowly covered by the author), the common thread is clear: they´re majoritarily white, American or British women from the 20th century. The book reads like a bad 1990s Cosmopolitan article, or a Youtube video made by a teenage girl in her bedroom. Karen Karbo´s writing skills are poor, at best. There´s an abundance of irrelevant personal commentaries and nonsensical comparisons like “like her dramatic love life and growing world-class jewelry collection, Elizabeth´s [Taylor] health issues were larger than life.”. Karbo seems way too familiar with the women, someone being ridiculously endearing, other times infuriatingly condescending (like when she speaks of Josephine Baker´s adopted children). The book seems poorly researched, both when it comes to the women she´s covering, as well as when she tries to dwell into science – for example: “There are complex biological and sociological reasons why we ladies prefer to go along to get along (I´m guessing).” While there´s not much Karbo could change about her tabloid style writing skills, she could have at least made the book seem less rushed by focusing on fewer (and more diverse) women and solidifying her discourse on them. I am giving it one point five stars only because I learned something about some women I knew little to nothing of, and about how not to write a book.