art & literature

A Pick of Twelve Books by Women in 2019

Biju Parameswaran | Dec 20 2019
ImageCredits: Pinterest

1. The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

Bengaluru-based schoolteacher Madhuri shot to the literary spotlight with this stunning debut novel which fetched her India’s richest literary award, the JCB Prize for Literature this year. With an epic scope of the narrative, the plot of the 430-page novel yo-yos between Bengaluru in flashback and Kashmir in the present.


At the heart of the story are a teenager named Shalini, her parents and a visiting Kashmiri clothes seller whose fortunes are intricately linked with the lives of the family. The maturity of craft and the exquisiteness of language have critics hailing the 32-year-old Madhuri as a brave new voice in the world of Indian English fiction.

2. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


This best-selling book is Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s much-awaited sequel to her 1985 dystopian futuristic novel The Handmaid’s Tale. It was chosen joint-winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize. Set fifteen years after the events of the first book, the story of The Testaments is narrated by three women protagonists Lydia, Agnes and Daisy. It revisits the dark world of the imaginary Republic of Gilead with its strict regimentation. The book could be read as an allegory for America under Donald Trump.

3. Budhini by Sara Joseph


Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who arrived to dedicate the Panchet dam in present-day Jharkhand to the country on 6th December 1959, invited a teenage girl called Budhini Mejhan who was working in Damodar Valley Corporation to carry out the switch-on function. Nehru welcomed her by garlanding her. But the event proved tragic for the Santhal girl who was ostracised by her community. They said she had married an outsider who garlanded her.  Activist and award-winning Malayalam writer Sara Joseph made Budhini the protagonist of her latest novel, a powerful account of people who are uprooted from their own homelands in the name of unchecked development. The silently suffering Budhini becomes a metaphor here.

4. Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead - Olga Tokarczuk

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Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk was belatedly awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature this year. Her new novel draws its title from a William Blake poem. The protagonist is an old woman in a village who spends time studying astrology and translating the poems of Blake into Polish. A murder mystery unfolds there and it is left to her to do the sleuthing. The novel is also a dark feminist comedy. At one point the narrator who worries about the state of the world watches a pregnant woman reading a newspaper and wonders: “How could one possibly know all this and not miscarry?”

5. My Seditious Heart – Arundhati Roy


Booker-winning Indian writer Arundhati Roy has been an untiring activist for two decades now. This omnibus book is a collection of her previously published writings in this period on global issues. Roy covers the aggressive appropriation of tribal rural lands for mining and water projects, the expansion of nuclear weapons programmes, the privatisation and commercialisation of Indian services, the legacies and continuation of colonisation and imperialism in various forms, government corruption, America’s warmongering and national hypocrisy. The essays are also prescient in their early sensitivity to environmental damage and to indigenous rights.


6. Tongue in Cheek by Khyrunnisa. A



This book is a collection of columns written by the former English professor and writer of popular children’s books, Khyrunnisa. After bringing out six books in the past decade on the adventures of clumsy schoolboy Butterfingers and his friends, this is her first book for adults. At a time when humorous writing is in short supply, Khyrunnisa’s anecdotes of everyday household experiences spell a breath of fresh air for the reader. It is hilarious and bound to evince a chuckle in every page, be it in her description of the ostentation of Indian weddings, the jostle for the dining room at the marriage feast, her own experiments with cooking or the bumpy auto rickshaw rides in her native Thiruvananthapuram.


7. City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert


Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the evergreen travel classic about a woman’s self-discovery Eat, Pray, Love, now serves up a celebration of womanhood with this novel set in 1940s New York. 19-year-old Vivian Morris drops out of her Ivy League college and sets out for the Big Apple during World Wartime. She lives the bohemian life in the city, taking in its glitz and glamour which are quite different from the milieu of her upbringing. Beyond the surface, City of Girls is a commentary on the judgment and punishment of women, and an appeal to reclaim female sexual agency.

8. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo



British-Nigerian writer Evaristo became the first black woman to win the Man Booker Prize when she shared the award for this year for this novel. Written in a free-flowing style, Girl, Women, Other follows twelve characters whose lives are intertwined through various stages of their lives. Apart from the central character of Amma, a lesbian playwright, several black females and nonbinary characters of varying ages, classes, and sexual orientations populate the book which explores feminism, politics, patriarchy, success, relationships and sexuality.

9. A Respectable Woman – Easterine Kire


In this beautiful novel set in her lush home state, Nagaland-born writer Easterine Kire divides the narrative into two broad sections, one told through the stories of Khonuo, who was 10 years old when the Japanese invaded Kohima and the other through her daughter Kevinuo. History and memory blend in the book which provides a nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between British administrators and the Naga tribes. Kevinuo is influenced by the presence of strong female figures in her life like her aunt.

10. Grand Union – Zadie Smith


Grand Union is British writer Zadie Smith’s first foray into short-form fiction. It is a wide-ranging collection of nineteen short stories from the author of such acclaimed novels as White Teeth and On Beauty. In these stories that range from the realist to dystopian, post-apocalyptic, quasi sci-fi, political and social satire to the historical she delivers a sophisticated commentary on race, gender, class, celebrity and power. Several stories juxtapose disparate scenes into a brilliant whole while some border on the surreal.  

11. Karthavinte Namathil by Sister Lucy Kalapura


Sister Lucy Kalapura, a Kerala nun who serves as a Mathematics teacher in a Wayanad school, was all over the news when she was expelled by the church for rebelling against a rape-accused Bishop. In this tell-all Malayalam memoirs called Karthavinte Namathil (In the name of Christ), she opens up about the ordeals she had to undergo in her quarter-century-long innings as a nun of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation. She says that several nuns routinely go through the travails of mental and physical abuse at the hands of tyrannical priests. The book quotes from the holy text to pinpoint instances of its contravention. 

12. The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World - Melinda Gates


Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and co-chairperson of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, believes that one needs to invest in women to lift a society up.  In this inspiring book, she traces her awakening to the link between women's empowerment and the health of societies. We get an insight into the yeoman services Melinda has been offering to enable women everywhere to have access to all kinds of jobs, to encourage men to share equally in the burdens of household work, to advocate for paid family leave for everyone and eliminate gender bias in all forms.