The Appeal, Janice Hallet
A killer is on the loose and they might have revealed themselves in a trail of letters, text messages, and emails. Hallet’s modern-day epistolary novel invites readers to turn investigators. The communications between the characters reveal suspicions, secrets, obsessions, and the killer that haunts the small town of Lockwood. The Appeal is not regular run-of-the-mill crime fare – the desire to crack the killer’s identity will keep readers up at night.
Assembly, Natasha Brown
Written in a stream of consciousness narrative style, the novel has the unnamed protagonist scrutinising how her Black identity holds the reins of her relationship and career, and of fitting into Britain. Assembly critiques two realities simultaneously – the tensions of race and sex in imperial Britain and the new Britain that’s desperately trying to shake off the ghosts of its past. Brown makes sharp points about what belonging really means – in a country, among friends, and in our own bodies.
Writers & Lovers, Lily King
Writers & Lovers is a heady concoction of youthful cynicism brought about by insurmountable debts, health scares, the loss of a mother, and unsteady romances. The novel offers an introspective and intimate account of a young author trying to get her first big break. The glimpses into the protagonist’s daily life are especially interesting – a reminder that sometimes the best creative inspirations come from the ordinary.
My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki
The two main characters of the novel are Jane (a documentarian) and Akiko (a housewife). A victim of a cancerous womb, Jane is unable to retain her pregnancies, while Akiko is unable to menstruate or get pregnant from the trauma resulting from her husband’s abusive behaviour. During a work project, Jane discovers cattle being pumped with hormones and medicines to increase meat productivity and realises that no matter how advanced society may appear to be, women and livestock are not perceived very differently – the female is worthy as long as she’s fertile. Ozeki takes a risk with an unusual theme and lands gracefully on her feet with her remarkable writing.
The Prayer Room, Shanti Sekaran
It is 1974. Young George Armitage visits Madras for PhD research and instead returns home with Viji, an Indian woman whom he has married on impulse. The couple ends up in a Sacramento ranch house with triplets. Soon discontent creeps into her marriage and Viji finds herself desolate in the unfamiliar American surroundings. Her desperation leads her to seek comfort in the familiar – her prayer room. In a land so far away from home, Viji finds unlikely companions in framed photographs of her dead relatives, whom she confides in and seeks advice from. The Prayer Room unveils the many meanings of family – one that lives with us, one that dwells in our memories, and the ones we create in times of need.
Hellfire, Leesa Gazi, translated from the Bengali by Shabnam Nadiya
Farida Khanam runs her household with an iron fist. Her daughters, Lovely and Beauty, in their late 30s, are prisoners of their mother’s making. The daughters aren’t allowed to be by themselves and every movement is firmly monitored by the fearsome matriarch. On the day Lovely turns 40, she takes her first ever solo trip to Dhaka’s Gausia Market. The next few hours bring many firsts for Lovely, and as she wanders the streets of Dhaka, she realises there’s something ominous about Farida’s carefully constructed world.
Attachment, Florence Noiville, translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Marie is 17. Her teacher, H, is 49. H is a worldly man and despite knowing better, encourages his student’s advances and transgresses boundaries that strictly must not be crossed. Years later, when Marie is no more, her daughter Anna stumbles across unanswered correspondence and decides to piece together her mother’s life. As Anna sets out on an extraordinary journey, she confronts her own ideas of love, life, and propriety.
Human Acts, Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith
So impressive is the progress made by South Korea that the rest of the world has forgotten the incredible violence citizens endured to make the nation what it is today. Human Acts revisits violent student uprisings in 1980s South Korea – Kang brings us personal accounts from what probably was the most tumultuous time in South Korea. Amid unspeakable violence and grief, wisps of hope rise – that one day all will be fine. Human Acts is a solemn acknowledgment of brutality being as much a human act as love is.
Fish in a Dwindling Lake, Ambai, translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström
Translated into English from Tamil, Fish in a Dwindling Lake is a collection of short stories about women and their desires. The short stories are merely titled “Journey” where the narrator is an unnamed “she” – a nod to universal female aspirations and desires. The stories ponder the matters of human relationships, sexuality, and belonging. Stories of elegance and wit, Fish in a Dwindling Lake is Ambai at her best.
Breast Stories, Mahasweta Devi, translated from the Bengali by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Breast Stories is a collection of three short stories that illustrate how a woman’s breasts are more than organs of sexuality and nourishment. In “Draupadi”, a tribal woman gang-raped in custody confronts her rapists. In “Behind the Bodice”, a migrant labourer’s shapely breasts start a series of violent events. The final story “Breast-giver”, is an ironic tragedy – a woman whose breasts are her prized possessions succumbs to breast cancer. Through these stories, Mahashweta Devi condemns society’s exploitative ways where women’s bodies are seen as vessels of honour.
Intimate City, Manjima Bhattacharjya
Manjima Bhattacharjya examines how digital advancements are reshaping sexual transactions in India. From changing red light areas to the world of online escort services, the book charts offline and online territories of sex work. Set in Mumbai, Intimate City is a sensitive study of choice, consent, and agency in sexual relationships.
Lady Doctors : The Untold Stories of India’s First Women in Medicine, Kavitha Rao
As we are getting used to seeing more and more women in Indian medicine, we must stop to consider what it must have been like for the pioneers. Lady Doctors celebrates six brave women who despite the barriers of family, caste, and society, went on to become India’s first women in medicine. These remarkable women are not just trailblazers in their field but feminist icons for the ages.
The Ungrateful Refugee : What Immigrants Never Tell You, Dina Nayeri
Dina Nayeri, along with her mother and brother, escaped from Iran to the West during the rise of the Islamist regime. Nayeri admits they were “good” refugees who entered through the border legally and kept to themselves. Eventually the three of them were naturalised as American citizens. Nayeri’s interviews with other refugees, intertwined with her own story, serve as cruel reminders of how so many are severed from their motherlands to satiate the megalomania of a few.
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, Esther Perel
Esther Perel, through her 20 years of clinical practice, has realised that love and passion often may not exist together. Why do we heap all our needs and expectations onto our partners? Why is monogamy the gold standard of relationships – is monogamy sustainable at all? Does deep familiarity with our partner cause trouble in our bedrooms? Why is it important to retain our individuality to keep a relationship alive? Should all transgressions amount to cheating? Mating in Captivity is a liberal study of sex and monogamy that reveals there’s no one correct way to keep a relationship alive.
Men Who Hate Women : From Incels to Pickup Artists, the Truth About Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All, Laura Bates
Men Who Hate Women examines 21st century cultures that encourage men to disrespect and harm women. The book takes a look at how young men imbibe misogynistic traits despite being aware of women’s struggle for emancipation. Bates shows how online rape threats, unwanted compliments, and lazy pickup lines are not isolated incidents, and, when condensed into figures, reveal patterns of extreme violence. The book also takes a look at how trolling, incel forums, deep fakes, and YouTube rabbit holes snowball into real-life aggression. Men Who Hate Women reiterates the need for men to be better allies – to build an equal future where men are allowed to be their most authentic, humane selves.
The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy
The World’s Wife gives voice to the wives and lovers of influential men in myths and history. The poems illustrate how the frustrations felt by Pilate’s wife or Medusa weren’t much different from those experienced by wives today. Duffy urges us to spare a thought for the unknown wives of these great men, who, like their husbands, must have been charming individuals too. This is a long awaited tribute to women forgotten by time.
Anecdotal Evidence, Wendy Cope
Anecdotal Evidence is Wendy Cope at her wittiest. She writes about poetry and poets, responds to Shakespeare’s sonnets, imagines what old age would look like, and fondly remembers her childhood and parents. Poignant and joyful, Anecdotal Evidence is a celebration of life through its joys and sorrows.
Bluets, Maggie Nelson
The poet meditates on the different shades of blue and the lessons they teach her – on love, loss, and grief. Bluets give voice to feelings that we have all experienced at least once in our lives. Nelson’s evocative prose-poems compel us to introspect our own experiences of loving and losing.
Ms Militancy, Meena Kandasamy
With sharp remarks on Indian cultures and traditions, Kandasamy suggests how these have been used as tools of caste and gender oppression. Ms Militancy challenges the status quo with its passionate critique of regressive religious and literary practices that are often passed off as “culture”.
If They Come for Us, Fatimah Asghar
If They Come for Us explores the personal and social history of a Pakistani Muslim woman in contemporary America. Asghar confronts her own understanding of belonging and identity through her relationships with friends and family, and the motherland that is both a source of heartache and healing.
Just Kids, Patti Smith
Renowned musician Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids reminds us of what it is like to be young. Smith opens up about her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late ’60s and ’70s. A heartfelt story of youth and friendship, Just Kids is also an ode to writing, art, and music. Smith’s memoir makes you nostalgic for a time that you might not have even experienced.
An Unquiet Mind : A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Kay Redfield Jamison
A clinical psychologist herself, Jamison relives her struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, suicide attempts, failed relationships, and experiments with lithium. A frank memoir on the ordeals of mental illnesses, An Unquiet Mind stresses on the importance of accepting and destigmatising mental health issues.
Hunger : A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay remembers herself as a young woman and her struggle with food and body image. Hunger explores women’s shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. The candour and vulnerability in Gay’s writing relieves her (and the reader) of the guilt of choosing care over suffering – especially in cultures where female suffering is seen as a virtue.
The Weave of My Life, Urmila Pawar, translated by Maya Pandit
The Weave Of My Life chronicles the story of three generations of Mahar women. Pawar discusses oppressions rooted in caste and gender, and expresses disappointment with the lack of caste awareness in feminist movements. A thorough study of the personal and the political, and how they are interlinked, The Weave Of My Life is a testament to an extraordinary life.
A Life Less Ordinary, Baby Halder, translated by Urvashi Butalia
Baby was married off at the age of 12 and at 14, she was already a mother. Treated unkindly by her husband, Baby escaped with her children to find work in Delhi. Working as a domestic help in the city, Baby found a mentor in her employer, who taught her to read and encouraged her to write about her life. A Life Less Ordinary is the triumph of perseverance in the face of great misfortune.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel of Bechdel-Wallace Test fame writes about growing up in a funeral home, coming out as a lesbian, and discovering her father’s homosexuality in this coming-of-age graphic memoir. Fun Home takes the reader inside the author’s childhood home where they witness the tension in the family and the less-than ideal circumstances the author grew up in.
Marbles : Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me, Ellen Forney
Marbles is probably the only graphic novel that extensively discusses mental health. Throughout the memoir Forney examines two questions. Is pain and an element of “crazy” necessary to create art? And if so, how do mental illnesses contribute to the process of creativity? The author compares her own struggle with mental health to those of the prestigious van Gogh club – crazy, tortured artists who are enthusiastically remembered for their artistic accomplishments as well as their mental deterioration. The memoir also explores how medication and therapy for mental health affects creativity.
Kari, Amruta Patil
In Amruta Patil’s Kari, the eponymous Kari is struggling to come to terms with her identity after an encounter with attempted suicide. Patil addresses the conundrum of lesbianism in a modern Indian city where heterosexuality is still the default. The graphic novel also attempts to understand how mental health is crucial to the freedom to be one’s true self.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, Allie Brosh
Hyperbole and a Half is a compilation of the author’s super popular blog posts and some entirely new writings inspired by her childhood, relationship with her sister and her pet, battle with depression, and all the things that have gone wrong! The graphic memoir is laugh-out-loud funny and the illustrations are a familiar sight to many on the internet.
What If? : An Infertile Graphic Novel, Barrie Arliss, Illustrated by Dan Louis Lane
From IUI to IVF, What If? follows Arliss on her journey through the ups and downs of infertility. The author opens up about her struggles with side-effects, low morale, dilemma of motherhood, and the stigmas attached to infertile women.