On Sisterhood: Kris Radish’s The Sunday List of Dreams

I’ve blogged incessantly about my love for Kris Radish’s My Elegant Gathering of White Snows which is fairly obvious considering I named my blog after it. I’ve been too scared to read anymore in case they aren’t as good. I was totally wrong. I’m about 15% of the way into The Sunday List of Dreams and it is fabulous. I’ll write a proper review later but I love this bit so much I had to share it now:

It is female communion. That astounding crossing of cultures and ages and time and place that wraps women together and makes them one. It is a holy moment, a sacred sharing of estrogen, a remarkable gift of love. It can happen in a public waiting room when a stranger asks another woman to hold her baby – her beautiful baby – when she needs to go to the bathroom. It can happen when you see a woman on a street corner and two guys are hassling her and you open your car door and she gets in without hesitation. It can happen when you see a woman at the grocery store crying because she is a dollar short and you pay her bill and carry her groceries to the car with kids and then slip her another 20 bucks. It can happen when you are at a play and that woman you saw arguing with that asshole man won’t come out of the last toilet stall of the bathroom until you hand her some toilet paper and then she cries into your shoulder and you give her the phone number of the women’s shelter. It can happen when your mother tells you about her first love and your heart stops because you realise your father was her second choice. It can happen anywhere – this female communion where women feel safe and close and absolutely as if they have touched a piece of heaven because of you. 

Is that not utterly beautiful? 

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible was the most recommended book on the Mumsnet Feminist Book Club board when I started my #readingonlybookswrittenbywomen. Honestly, you’d think I’d admitted to kicking puppies for shits and giggles due to the level of shock by my admittance that I hadn’t read it.

For those heretics who have not yet read it, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of an American family who travel to the Congo as missionaries in 1959. The father is an emotionally abusive, misogynistic and racist evangelical Baptist who drags his wife and 4 daughters across the planet in order to “save the savages through Christ”. He’s an arsehole whose arrogance tears his family apart. The redemption of his daughters in postcolonial Africa is the story of women paying for the crimes of men but it’s also the story of sisterhood and the binds of family that tie us together. 

I could go on forever blathering about my love for this book but the best review was from a woman sitting near me on train who told me she was jealous that I was reading it for the first time. Now, I feel the same. I am jealous of those just reading it for the first time.

Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam

Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam series are some of my favourite children’s stories. I love Stella’s imagination and her utter joy at life. I love the simplicity of Stella and Sam playing together and the beautiful stories Stella tells Sam: about being Star of the Sea, Queen of the Snow, Fairy of the Forest and Princess of the Sky. I love Sam’s never-ending questions and his innocent trust in the infinite knowledge of his big sister.

These books are the celebration of the real beauty in the relationships of siblings (when they aren’t arguing over whose turn it is to clean the hamster cage or empty the dishwasher) but also how powerful the gift of imagination truly is. 

Needless to say, we own them all. 🙂

(image reproduced from here)

Aminatta Forma’s Ancestor Stones

“After I married  learned a lot. I did not learn so much about men – after all, Osman Iscandari was not all men. Rather I learned about myself. I learned about women – how we shape ourselves, how we shape each other.”

The first book I read by Aminatta Forna was The Memory of Love which I loved but I love Ancestor Stones more. Normally, the first book I read by an author remains my favourite but Ancestor Stones is so powerful and wise that I just want to reread it all over again today.

Ancestor Stones is set in an unnamed place in West Africa, although Forma has since confirmed that it is indeed Sierra Leone, the country in which she was born. The novel is narrated by four women, Asana, Mary, Hawa and Serah, within the Kholifa family whose mothers are all married to the patriarch Gibril; a man rich enough to have 11 wives. It is simply the story of women: of loss, friendship, desire, and motherhood set within a culture slowly destroyed by misogyny, racism, colonialism, independence and civil war. These ‘simple’ stories, much maligned by male literary critics, are never simple but the reality of women’s lived experience is always dismissed as irrelevant in the face if men’s lives. 

I knew I was going to love this one a few pages in when I read this (referring to arrival of Portuguese soldiers near Cape Verde islands):

The sailors saw what they took to be nature’s abundance and stole from the women’s gardens. They thought they had found Eden, and perhaps they had. But it was an Eden created not by the hand of God, but the hands of women.

Women’s work is consistently devalued and elided from history. When men aren’t taking personal ownership for our work, they are attributing it work to God.

I believe, with all my heart, that women are the keeper of stories:

“For the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person’s history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. Safe from fire or floods or war. In stories. Stories remembered, until they are ready to be told. Or perhaps simply ready to be heard.
And it is women’s work, this guarding of stories, like the tending of gardens.”

We create beauty and we remember beauty. We pass on our stories. After all, what is the much maligned toddler group but a way for women to gather and tell our stories to the only people who will listen: other women.