Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Seven top books about women across the world searching for agency

Mihret Sibhat was born and raised in a small town in western Ethiopia before moving to California when she was seventeen. A graduate of California State University, Northridge, and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, she was a 2019 A Public Space Fellow and a 2019 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grantee. In a previous life, she was a waitress, a nanny, an occasional shoe shiner, a propagandist, and a terrible gospel singer. She's currently a miserable Arsenal fan.

Sibhat's new novel is The History of a Difficult Child.

At Electric Lit the author tagged seven books that "recount the stories of women who breach those narrow boundaries of womanhood through the commission of violence or the embrace of rudeness and disorder and dirt or a descent into darkness, returning with seismic realizations that could turn the tamest woman into a killing machine." One title on the list:
Italy: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Olga grows up with a severe fear of becoming one of those women who “broke like knickknacks in the hands of their straying men.” As a child, she watches “a large, energetic” neighbor disintegrate after being left by her husband. From her mother, she learns that this problem of women being devastated by abandonment is widespread. So, she prioritizes her husband’s career over hers. She avoids “raised voices, movements that were too brusque” and learns “to speak little and in a thoughtful manner.” When her husband leaves her anyway, she tells herself not to be like that poverella of her childhood. The darkness doesn’t seek her permission as it drags her down and, in her descent, she becomes crass and paranoid, the kind of woman who terrifies her own children and alienates her friends. Like that poverella. At her lowest moment, she defecates in the vegetation at the neighborhood park. This is a story of a woman who walks through fire to learn the meaning of solidarity and, in doing so, finds her voice.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Days of Abandonment is among Diana Evans's five top books for helping with loss and Claudia Dey's six favorite instances of dogs in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue