Sunday, May 15, 2011

Women’s Life Stories

Today's post is by guest blogger and Dalhousie University School of Information Management student Jennifer.

I am a library student and have chosen this career path because I have always loved books and reading. I have fond memories of the time spent in the library reading during childhood. In high school I excelled in my English classes and it was only natural to me that when it came time to go to university I would major in English Literature. The down side to being in university is that you do not have a lot of free time to select your own reading materials; however, the advantage is that you are able to discover literature that you may have normally not selected for yourself. In fact some of the most memorable classes during my undergraduate degree were the classes that forced me to expand my reading beyond my comfort zone. I will be discussing books I read in one such course.

I was required to take a course on literary theory. The class was focused on feminist theory and the theoretical essays were challenging because they were written in dense paragraphs with complex language. However, I pushed through and I found the themes and topics we discussed in class to be very fascinating. We then began to read novels and short stories written by women who were facing very challenging social and political situations. The stories also have a strong sense of place because their hardships were often born out of a culture that oppresses women.

You do not have to understand feminist theory to enjoy these stories. I enjoy these stories because they are characterized by strong female characters that are able to give voice to the troubling social realities of their lives. They are also characterized by a strong sense of place; particularly these stories which are set in the countries of Iran, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

Persepolis: the story of a childhood
by Marjane Satrapi

“The great-granddaughter of Iran's last emperor and the daughter of ardent Marxists describes growing up in Tehran in a country plagued by political upheaval and vast contradictions between public and private life” (NoveList). This story is a memoir told in graphic novel format. This is actually the first and only graphic novel I have read so far. I had not read any graphic novels because I did not think that they would be for me; I thought that they were for young adults who enjoyed comic books – I was wrong. If you share this opinion then you may want to take a chance on this story. Persepolis also has a sequel: Persepolis 2: The story of a return. It has also been turned into an animated film.

My Forbidden Face: growing up under the Taliban: a young woman's story,
by Latifa, written with the collaboration of Shékéba Hachemi.

“A young woman born into a middle-class Afghan family describes the 1996 revolution in which the Taliban seized power in Kabul, the resulting changes in her life as a victim of Taliban fanaticism, and her eventual escape with her family” (Novelist). This story is Latifa’s memoir. Latifa is a pseudonym because she was afraid that her expression of opposition to the Taliban would place her family still in Afghanistan in danger.

Woman at Point Zero
by Nawal El Saadawi

This novel is a creative non-fiction, meaning that parts of the story are based on true events with added fictional elements. This story was originally written in Arabic in 1973 and translated to English in 1983. It has been republished a number of times because it is a shocking and passionate story that still resonates as a representation of a woman’s life in parts of the Middle East. The story is framed as the main character Firdaus tells her story of a neglected and abused childhood and her adult life of prostitution to a psychiatrist in prison in Cairo, Egypt.

Currently on my reading list is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini the author of The Kite Runner, which I just finished and enjoyed. Both of these stories are life stories about living in war-torn Afghanistan. The Kite Runner is told from the perspective of a young man who over the course of the book grows up and moves to America. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the life stories of two women, and I am hoping that it will be a fiction read-a-like for the stories above.

I encourage you to comment on this post if you would like to recommend other stories that share a common characteristic.

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