I watched this video awhile ago of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and recently thought of it again when I was in the bookstore. She is a Nigerian author whose novel Half of a Yellow Sun has been on many prize lists. I’m in the middle of it right now, and I love it.
I love her points in this talk, and how she warns against having a single story of the world.
This got me thinking where my stories are coming from. I have to admit, the majority of books I’ve been reading lately have been some combination of white, male, and American. They’ve all been great books, and I’m happy I read them. But just like Adichie, I need to broaden myself. In her case, it was so she could read stories of people who were actually like her. In my case, I have a lot of those stories already. Perhaps I need some of people who are different. Different, yet similar–isn’t that what we love about really good fiction?
Below is a list of books by international women authors. (“But women are the same as you,” you might say. True, but in the global scheme of things, women’s voices are not easily heard, so they are “different” in the sense that the global world is still pretty male-dominated.)
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’m reading this one right now, as I mentioned, and I love it. I’ve learned more about Nigeria than I ever knew! Set in the 60s in Nigeria, the book follows a few characters before, during, and after the Nigeria-Biafran War.
Dreaming in Cuban, by Cristina Garcia
A long-reaching vision of the Cuban Revolution through the eyes of the family of Celia del Pino, living anywhere from Cuba to a bakery in Brooklyn.
Anything by Isabel Allende. I really love her. I’ve read only a few books, but each one was wholly different and amazing, and I’m convinced that they will continue to be that way.
The Seamstress, by Frances de Pontes Peebles
The story of two Brazilian sisters, expert seamstresses–Emilia finds herself married to a wealthy, powerful politician, while the quiet Luiza is abducted by band of criminals. Political feuds, revolution, and power spin the sisters lives around.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi
This is one of those books that I always see and think “Huh, that looks good,” then I walk past. But it really does look good! And, it connects to this list quite well. This true memoir tells the account of a group of women in Tehran who make their own list of “different” authors–in their case, Western classics like Lolita, The Great Gatsby, and Pride and Prejudice. What does that look like at a university in the early days of the Iranian revolution?
Time of the Doves, Merce Rodoreda
And older, smaller book by an author who lived through the Spanish Civil War, the story is about a young shop-tender in Catalan Spain who struggles to confront her country’s tumultuous times.
Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord.
A book about a Senegalese fairy tale, set in a made-up village, by an author from Barbados who has studied in Canada and Wales. I don’t know how to categorize it! Read Lord’s thoughts about that topic here, and just try to tell me she doesn’t sound fascinating.
The Book of Salt, Monique Truong. Set in Vietnam and Paris, France in the 1930s, it’s the story of a young gay Vietnamese man who ends up cooking for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. I am so intrigued!
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Set in Southern India in 1969, it’s a family saga, love story, and political drama involving forbidden love.
I don’t want to use this list as a must-read one that I have to stick to, but rather a jumping off point. Titles to remember the next time I’m wondering what book to read. I might not get through them all, but even 2 or 3 would introduce some completely new stories and settings to me!