Amazing Female Novelists to Read for #IWD2016



March is Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day (#IWD2016) is recognized on March 8th each year.

In support of #IWD2016, I am taking a bookish approach, of course, and sharing with you book recommendations from some of my favourite female novelists. I have included a fairly international roster of awesome women who have all opened the world to me through their writing. All are incredibly gifted storytellers – their settings and characters truly come to life when you read their stories, and their work has far-reaching appeal.


  1. Italy:  Elena Ferrante – The Neapolitan Novels

From the book’s description (of book #1): My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

So this is a bit of a cheat, because I am endorsing four books for Ferrante, right off the top. It cannot be helped. #FerranteFever is real, and it hit me hard in 2015. This series is the most incredible collection of fiction I have ever read concerning women’s lives, female friendships, coming of age, and feminism. These books are raw and rich, and they have taken up a large chunk of space in my heart.


2. France: Anna Gavalda – Hunting and Gathering 

From the book’s description:   Gorgeously original, full of wry humour and razor-sharp observation, redolent of Paris, its foibles, its food and its neglected corners, Hunting and Gathering is a universal story about despair, love and the virtues of ensemble-playing in a naughty world. It’s a big novel that you will not want to put down. 

I found this non-traditional love story so wonderful. Gavalda has an eye for nuance and a gift with language. Spending time in Paris, through literature, is never a bad idea.


3. Nigeria:  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah 

From the book’s descriptionIfemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

My favourite of Adichie’s novels, her examination of race, identity and belonging felt so vivid and real.


4. Haiti – USA: Edwidge Danticat –  Breath, Eyes, Memory 

From the book’s descriptionAt the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti–to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

Danticat is a wonderful and evocative writer, and this is definitely an emotionally challenging story. Sophie’s strength and resiliency have stuck with me for so many years, as has Danticat’s talent.


5. Sri Lanka: Ru Freeman – On Sal Mal Lane 

From the book’s description: A tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

On the day the Herath family moves in, Sal Mal Lane is still a quiet street, disturbed only by the cries of the children whose triumphs and tragedies sustain the families that live there. As the neighbors adapt to the newcomers in different ways, the children fill their days with cricket matches, romantic crushes, and small rivalries. But the tremors of civil war are mounting, and the conflict threatens to engulf them all. 

In a heartrending novel poised between the past and the future, the innocence of the children—a beloved sister and her overprotective siblings, a rejected son and his twin sisters, two very different brothers—contrasts sharply with the petty prejudices of the adults charged with their care. In Ru Freeman’s masterful hands, On Sal Mal Lane, a story of what was lost to a country and her people, becomes a resounding cry for reconciliation.


6. Australia: Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

From the book’s descriptionA brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?


7. Mexico: Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate

From the book’s descriptionA sumptuous feast of a novel, Like Water for Chocolate relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds. Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit.


8. Egypt: Ahdaf Soueif – The Map of Love

From the book’s description: [Soueif] combines the romantic skill of the nineteenth-century novelists with a very modern sense of culture and politics–both sexual and international.  At either end of the twentieth century, two women fall in love with men outside their familiar worlds. In 1901, Anna Winterbourne, recently widowed, leaves England for Egypt, an outpost of the Empire roiling with nationalist sentiment. Far from the comfort of the British colony, she finds herself enraptured by the real Egypt and in love with Sharif Pasha al-Baroudi. Nearly a hundred years later, Isabel Parkman, a divorced American journalist and descendant of Anna and Sharif has fallen in love with Omar al-Ghamrawi, a gifted and difficult Egyptian-American conductor with his own passionate politics. In an attempt to understand her conflicting emotions and to discover the truth behind her heritage, Isabel, too, travels to Egypt, and enlists Omar’s sister’s help in unravelling the story of Anna and Sharif’s love. Joining the romance and intricate storytelling of A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Ahdaf Soueif has once again created a mesmerizing tale of genuine eloquence and lasting importance.


9. China: Xiaolu Guo – I Am China

From the book’s descriptionIn her flat in north London, Iona Kirkpatrick sets to work on a new project translating a collection of letters and diaries by a Chinese musician. With each letter and journal entry, Iona becomes more and more intrigued with the unfolding story of two lovers: Jian, a punk rocker who believes there is no art without political commitment, and Mu, the young woman he loves as fiercely as his ideals.
Iona cannot possibly know that Jian is mere miles away in Dover, awaiting the uncertain fate of a political exile. Mu is still in Beijing, writing letters to London and desperately trying to track Jian down. As Iona charts the course of their twenty-year relationship, from its early beginnings at Beijing University to Jian’s defiant march in the Jasmine Revolution, her own empty life takes on an urgent purpose: to bring Jian and Mu together again before it’s too late.


10. Finland – Estonia: Sofi Oksanen – Purge

From the book’s description: Purge is a chilling drama of two generations of women, set in wartime 1940’s Estonia during the Soviet occupation, and in the same country in the 90’s as it grapples with the realities of a new Europe. Purge tells the suspenseful and dramatic story of Aliide Truu, an old Estonian woman whose hands are soiled with the crimes she committed during the Soviet era, and Zara, a young trafficking victim who in the present has managed to escape and has come to seek shelter at Aliide’s countryside home. As the two women start to approach each other and the links between them are revealed, a tragic and complex family drama of rivalry, lust, and loss that plays out during the worst years of the Soviet occupation of Estonia unfolds. In this way, Purge becomes an investigation into the cost of survival in a repressive system.


11. Iran – USA: Sahar Delijani – Children of the Jacaranda Tree

From the book’s descriptionBased on the harrowing experiences of Sahar Delijani, her family and friends, Children of the Jacaranda Tree is a stunningly evocative look at the intimate side of revolution. Told from alternating perspectives that connect to Iran’s current political stirrings while vividly recounting a past that must never be forgotten, it is a moving, timely drama about three generations of men and women moved by love, inspired by poetry, and motivated by dreams of justice and freedom.



12. South Africa: Marlene van Niekerk – Agaat

From the book’s descriptionSet in apartheid South Africa, Agaat portrays the unique relationship between Milla, a 67-year-old white woman, and her black maidservant turned caretaker, Agaat. Through flashbacks and diary entries, the reader learns about Milla’s past. Life for white farmers in 1950s South Africa was full of promise — young and newly married, Milla raised a son and created her own farm out of a swathe of Cape mountainside. Forty years later her family has fallen apart, the country she knew is on the brink of huge change, and all she has left are memories and her proud, contrary, yet affectionate guardian. With haunting, lyrical prose, Marlene Van Niekerk creates a story of love and family loyalty. Winner of the South African Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2007, Agaat was translated by Michiel Heyns, who received the Sol Plaatje Award for his translation. 


13. England: Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist

From the book’s descriptionOn a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin. But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . . Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.


14. Trinidad: Monique Coffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

From the book’s descriptionAn unforgettable love story, brimming with passion and politics, set over fifty years in Trinidad – a place at times enchanting, and at times highly dangerous . . .  This novel tells the story of Sabine and George Harwood, a French woman and a British man who arrive as newly-weds in Trinidad at the end of the colonial era. It is 1956 and Trinidad’s new and enigmatic leader Eric Williams has set up the PNM, the first popular people’s party, and is canvassing for votes and for change. Sabine listens to Williams’ speeches at the University of Woodford Square, hears him proclaim Massa Day Done, and knows it is time to leave. George, on the other hand, plans to stay in Trinidad, forever. As Sabine recounts her early years, and confesses her secret letter writing habit to Eric Williams, the reader is drawn into her personal feelings of disillusionment about the many political failures of the island’s independence era. 


I hope that some of these novels catch your fancy! Reading is truly a wonderful way to travel the world, and these female novelists make the journeys unforgettable!

Who are your favourite women novelists? Do you like to read beyond your own borders? I would love to hear your recommendations!


Happy reading!

Weekly Book News Roundup

Book News

I hope you have been keeping well this week, and have some wonderful reads on-the-go. Here are some of the bigger news items from the book world:

  • Martyn Goff, bookseller and administrator of the Man Booker Prize from 1970 to 2006, died at age ninety-one. In a statement, current Booker Foundation chair Jonathan Taylor said: “His contribution was invaluable and under Martyn the prize grew in stature and reputation, not least because of his tireless championing of contemporary fiction of the highest quality.
  • When news broke last year that screenwriter Zak Penn had been tapped by Warner Brothers to adapt Ernest Cline’s best-selling Ready Player One to film, rumors began swirling about high-profile directors looking to helm the project. It’s now been announced that Steven Spielberg will be bringing his skills to Cline’s elaborate story, just as soon as he finishes working on The BFG.

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia | Photo by James D. Morgan/REX

Weekly Book News Roundup

Book News

  • After 4 days of interesting and passionate debates, Kim Thùy’s novel Ru was crowned the winner of Canada Reads 2015. The novel was championed by Cameron Bailey, Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. Bailey was eloquent and thoughtful all week, and was a wonderful advocate for Thúy’s novel.
  • A new Little Women adaptation is being written by Sarah Polley, the Canadian actor and director known for Oscar-nominated drama Away From Her, and the acclaimed Stories We Tell. So far, Sony has lined up an all-female production team for the project. In addition to Polley, the studio has brought on Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord, and former Sony executive Amy Pascal to produce the film. No director has signed on yet, although it’s possible Polley could join in that capacity after the script is finished as she usually directs her own projects.
  • Writer Andrew Shaffer’s popular parody Twitter account of bestselling author Jonathan Franzen—@EmperorFranzen—has been suspended. Shaffer said that “Emperor Franzen,” which he’s been running for five years, became more than just a parody of Jonathan Franzen, but of high-minded fiction writers in general. Luckily, a similar parody account has yet to be suspended: @GuyInYourMFA.
  • Roberto Bolaño’s 900-page novel 2666 is getting a theatrical adaptation, thanks to Powerball Lottery winner Roy Cockrum, who used his jackpot winnings to back the project and support the theater arts. The Goodman Theater in Chicago will produce the five-hour adaptation for its 2015-2016 season.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle was the victim of a police conspiracy. “Newly discovered documents show that the Staffordshire police fabricated evidence to try to discredit Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the curious case of George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor accused of maiming horses and sending poison-pen letters at the turn of the twentieth century.
  • George R.R. Martin raised the hopes of Game of Thrones fans this week, when he hinted his long-awaited new novel The Winds of Winter would be completed this year.

And, of course, I have questions for you based on this week’s news:

  1. I would love to hear about novels you adore that flew under the radar and didn’t get the attention you felt they deserved. Which books fell into this category for you?
  2. Have you read George R.R. Martin’s series yet? Do you think he will finish the latest novel this year?
  3. Did you follow along the debates for Canada Reads this year? How did you find the 2015 edition of the program?

Bookstore © xkcd

Happy reading!!

Weekly Book News Roundup

Book News

  • On March 12th, celebrated author Terry Pratchett, best known for his Discworld series of novels, died at age sixty-six. Pratchett had suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. “The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds,” said Transworld Publishers’ Larry Finlay.
  • In today’s digital age, writers are frequently told that promoting their work on Twitter is not just an option, but a necessity.  New York Magazine talks to twelve writers, editors, and journalists about the challenges and complexities of self-promotion.
  • Still in our digital world for a moment: “If there is an individual alive in 2015 with the genius and vision of James Joyce, they’re probably working for Google, and if there isn’t, it doesn’t matter since the operations of that genius and vision are being developed and performed collectively by operators on the payroll of that company, or of one like it.” At the Guardian, Tom McCarthy examines the current state of fiction writing in the age of digital saturation.
  • If owning and operating a New England Inn is your dream, enter an essay contest and you could win the Center Lovell Inn in southwest Maine. Current owner Janice Sage, who won the Inn in an essay contest twenty-two years ago, will judge essay submissions on the subject, “Why I would like to own and operate a country Inn.” A $125 entry fee is required.
  • Was 1925 really “the greatest year in the history of literature”? The BBC has declared it so. They searched “for a cluster of landmark books” and then asked if said books “continue to enthrall readers and explore our human dilemmas and joys in memorable ways.” 1925, which featured works from Woolf, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos and Dreiser, came away the winner.

So… there are some of the bigger stories that made the news in the book world this past week.  And, of course, it makes me wonder some things:

  1. Do you follow book awards? Do they influence your reading in any way? If so, do you have a favourite book award?
  2. How do you feel about authors and self-promotion? Is this something you encounter frequently?
  3. I was reminded of this hilarious (to me) xkcd comic today (shared below). Can you be a bit of a book snob? Also: have you always wanted a secret bookshelf?🙂

Bookshelf © xkcd

Happy reading!

Weekly Book News Roundup

  •  Has social media brought about “a great renaissance of public shaming”? Author Jon Ronson has a new book coming out – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. He spoke with The Guardian about rants and tweets.
  • “A book we crack with our two hands creates an actual physical space for reverie that functions as an oasis outside daily life, a cocoon in space and time.” Amidst the ongoing debates about e-books versus print, Alix Christie explores the pleasures and permanence of print books in an essay for the Millions.
  • Last weekend, in the Globe & Mail, books editor Mark Medley examined the particular challenges faced by Canadian nonfiction writers.
  • Over the past week, Ryan Boudinot’s feature at the Stranger, “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One,” has sparked bookish internet debates regarding the value of MFA programs and whether or not writing can be taught. Examples of Boudinot’s frank assertions, which have led to what is now being referred to as “MFA-gate,” include, “Writers are born with talent,” and “No one cares about your problems if you’re a shitty writer.”   In Electric Literature, writer and former MFA faculty Adrian Van Young responded to Boudinot’s essay in what he calls a “Rebuttal of Sorts.” Meanwhile, at Salon, Laura Miller dissects the Internet outrage sparked by Ryan Boudinot’s essay on the questionable value of a creative writing MFA. “He hasn’t expressed anything worse than what writers outside of the MFA bubble hear every day.”
  • Lambda Literary announced the finalists for its 27th Lambda Literary Awards. The “Lammys” celebrate the best lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) writing in twenty-four different categories. The winner will be announced on June 1st. Sixteen Canadian authors were shortlisted in 11 of 27 categories.
  • “In contemporary fiction with nameless narrators, the real-world, present-day phenomenon of namelessness is not usually confronted.” At the New Yorker, Sam Sacks examines the idea of books with nameless protagonists
  • After Faulkner won the Nobel Prize, he spent a lot of time traveling the globe. He was, and had, a bit of a problem, though.  The State Department circulated a memo called “Guidelines for Handling Mr. William Faulkner on His Trips Abroad,” designed to help agents curb Faulkner’s drinking. Their advice ranged from the obvious (monitor his liquor cabinet) to the subtle: “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up.”
  • Book adaptation news:
    • Speaking of Jon Ronson, Scarlett Johansson is set to star in the adaptation of Ronson’s non-fiction book The Psychopath Test. In the book, Ronson explores the mental health industry and aims to uncover the turth about psychopathy diagnoses and find out how to identify a true psychopath. Jay Roach, who is best known for working on comedies such as Meet the Fockers and 50 First Dates, is set to direct.
    • Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven film and television rights have been acquired by Scott Steindorff. The story follows the days after a flu pandemic causes a civilization to collapse. Steindorff previously produced Jon Favreau’s Chef and the upcoming Jane Got a Gun.
    • Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey will be teaming up to create a television drama for OWN based on Natalie Baszile’s book Queen Sugar. The story follows a widow who moves with her daughter from Los Angeles to the Louisiana sugar farm she recently inherited. DuVernay, who directed the Academy Award nominee Selma, will write, direct, and executive produce the series and Oprah will executive produce and have a recurring role on the show.

Book to Movie © Tom Gauld

I have a few questions for you this week, based on the news roundup:

  1. Do you read nonfiction? If so, do you have a favourite genre?
  2. When you are reading fiction, can you tell if an author has come through an MFA program?
  3. Do you like nameless narrators? Can you think of a really great book you have read in which the narrator was never identified? Why do you think authors do this?
  4. E-book, or printed books? Do you have a preference?

Happy reading!!