Written by: Shreya Iyengar
Hi there, folks!
The weekend’s finally here – do I hear a collective sigh of relief? What’s a better way to spend your Saturday and Sunday than cosily curled up with a book, forgoing all other (pressing but decidedly unappealing) responsibilities?
Since it just so happens that I eat-sleep-breathe books, I thought: why not suggest five feminist novels which you can read at your own pace? (I promise these aren’t going to be pedantic and academic.) These books, listed below with a brief summary, will make you want to reach for more…. and – I daresay – might just also spark your interest in a bit of feminist theory! (Oh dear, there I go again. But…. It’s not me. It’s my inner literature student. What can I say.)
- The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
It is about a woman’s – Edna Pontellier’s – transformation from an obedient, traditional wife and mother into a self-realised, sexually liberated and independent woman. While it was initially received in very poor taste (Kate Chopin got a lot of flak for writing such a “bad” text), it was rediscovered in the early 1970s (right around Second Wave feminism) and is now celebrated as a masterful insight into the mores of late nineteenth-century society – and also recognised as a seminal text in American feminism.
- Dance Like A Man, by Mahesh Dattani
(This is not a book; it is a two-act play. I felt like including it here because it was one of my favourite texts in the final year of my undergraduate study, and it really made me sit down and think about the stereotypes that are so deeply ingrained in us that it’s almost natural for us to reinforce and uphold them.)
This play revolves around the bitterness between a dancer couple, portraying their gradual breakdown as they grow apart, following the death of their infant son. Holding a silent bitterness against each other, the play explores their life from various perspectives – a career-woman in India, a married, career-woman-cum-mother in India, an ambitious couple, dance as a creative, personal, and career choice. Dattani skilfully weaves together issues of gender, identity, agency and navigating the difficult terrain of personal relationships – which is what makes this play so relevant in today’s context.
- The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler
I had to mention this one, because it is a classic in its own brilliant way. At times hilarious, heartbreaking, brutal, disconcerting, and poignant, The Vagina Monologues is the result of interviews with over 200 women. If the idea of a woman’s sexuality makes you uncomfortable, then you definitely have to challenge yourself and come to terms with the vagina. It isn’t going to disappear just because we are afraid to talk about it. I think the real beauty is within the pieces at the end – the poetry, about the Comfort Women, the Native Women, Transwomen and women at the hands of domestic abuse.
- The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Mahabharata is a tale of epic proportions – in every sense of the word – and that is a supreme understatement. In that context, ‘Panchaali’s Mahabharata’ is no less an epic feat – a retelling of this tale of jealousy, greed, statecraft and power, with its lessons in ‘dharma’ and ‘adharma’, from the point of view of its strongest, most pivotal female character – Draupadi (think of her as an Indian version of Helen of Troy – capable of starting a war that wiped out entire cities, and also reshaped the destiny of India).
This novel got me thinking about what it must have been like to be a princess in a world that is ruled by men. There is a very real, very human aspect to Panchaali, who is born from fire. It is the deeply moving story of her journey from a young, innocent princess to a fierce, independent queen, navigating the politics of her era.
- Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Disclaimer: this is a break from the usual.) It is a sparkling modern retelling of Jane Austen’s timeless Pride and Prejudice, which is why I figured that it might as well be on the list. Here, you will find the Bennett sisters in the 21st century – complete with artificial insemination, yoga, and fad workout obsessions, among other somewhat hilarious taboos. Here you will also find nearly 200 chapters, and a page count a bit unnecessary for such a read. However, despite the excessive page count, you will find sharply entertaining dialogue and startlingly blunt repartee that will keep you laughing along with the Bennett family with the turn of every page. As a book, the whole package totally rocks. It’s breezy and easy and so much fun.