Five novels with strong women protagonists | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 11, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:45 AM, March 11, 2021

THE SHELF

Five novels with strong women protagonists

It is a truth universally acknowledged that books shape ideologies and play a major role in creating societal changes. The lives of women, their struggles and advocacy for equality have been a common theme in the works of many notable authors, be it in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) or Rokeya’s Sultana’s Dream (1905). These five books explore the lives of women with nuance and compassion—fitting choices for the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), 2021.

HELLFIRE

Leesa Gazi

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(Westland Books, 2020; trans. Shabnam Nadiya)

 

Hellfire is at once a book about patriarchy and the toxic strand of matriarchy that supports it. Through the lives of sisters Lovely and Beauty, both kept from socialisation and even attending school deep into middle age, the novel captures near perfectly the convoluted blueprint of life for South Asian women.

 

 

 

 

WITH THE FIRE ON HIGH

Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperCollins, 2019)

 

Revolving around the Afro-Latina, Emoni Santiago, the novel presents a wholesome recipe of life by way of a teen mother. Unexpected motherhood does not stop Santiago from chasing her dreams as she continues to create her magic in the kitchen. What would normally be a cautionary tale instead highlights the free-spirited nature of women and the one proudly independent girl who defies societal norms.

 

 

 

 

 

CIRCE

Madeline Miller

(Little Brown, 2018)

 

Miller's inventive second novel is an upended retelling of Homer's Odyssey, bringing to the foreground the women who were otherwise kept to the back. Its title character, a minor character in classical antiquity, is a witch, an outcast, and the perfect vehicle for Miller's brilliant feminist reframing. "Humbling women seems to be a chief pastime of poets", says Circe. "As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep".

 

 

 

 

THE NIGHTINGALE

Kristin Hannah

(St Martin's Press, 2015)

 

Set in German-occupied France during World War II, this historical novel follows the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and their journey of endurance against Nazi invasion. While Vianne continues to persevere for the sake of her family, Isabelle carves out a path of her own. What makes this novel beautiful is the powerful representation of persistence, strength and grace.

 

 

 

 

 

SHATKAHON

Samaresh Majumder (Ananda Publishers, 2004)

 

Set in Kolkata, the book focuses on the life of Deepabali, a rebel from within. By connecting her life with the circumstances prevalent in a newly independent India, the novel describes the various struggles of a woman far ahead of her time. Deepabali is rightly regarded as one of the most popular feminist protagonists, representing the strong-willed nature of women, undefeated by life's atrocities.

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