The last two years usurped the sense of known normality we had constructed as a society over years and most of us took refuge in books. The escape into imaginary worlds felt welcoming and calming amidst the chaos of the pandemic. Some books authored by women created magnificent universes and unforgettable characters as the world coped with the pandemonium of a health crisis and turbulent global politics. Here are some memorable books of 2021 authored by women that helped us cope:
1. Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is an American writer with Indian roots, who is famous for her short stories, essays and novels in English and Italian. Whereabouts is an English translation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2018 Italian novel Dove mi trovo. Centered on a nameless 40-year-old university teacher, the novel traces her journey from stasis to movement. The unnamed city comes alive as the unnamed narrator struggles with the sense belongingness and estrangement.
Lahiri’s recurring themes of exuberance and attachment find new dimensions as the main character interacts with her nameless acquaintances. Lahiri challenges her own linguistic abilities and succeeds in creating a world that is gendered and can be universally recognised.
2. Club You To Death by Anuja Chauhan
Anuja Chauhan is an Indian author know for her books like The Zoya Factor, Battle For Bittora, and Those Pricey Thakur Girls among others. Her latest release Club You to Death revolves around a murder mystery. Set in a posh club in Delhi, the novel brilliantly portrays the hypocrisy that plagues the aristocratic society.
In a rather witty and sarcastic way, Chauhan showcases the inequalities that exist within the upper-class society of Delhi. Though the murder mystery of the gym trainer Leo takes the center-stage, it is through the eyes of Kashi Dogra, a lawyer and ACP Bhavani that the inner layers of prejudices and exclusionist attitudes of the members of the club are revealed to the readers. In a classic Anuja Chauhan fashion, the author also includes a love-story in the plot that brings back nostalgia from her much loved novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls.
3. The Last Queen by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Like her previous novels, Chitra Divakaruni’s latest, The Last Queen too centers on a woman from history. Famous for interpreting history and mythology from a female perspective, the author’s attempt in this novel is to tell the story of the last queen of Lahore, Rani Jindan.
Set in 1839, at a time when Maharaja Ranjit Singh was ailing, the novel traces Rani Jindan’s journey from being the daughter of the royal kennel keeper to becoming the queen who later sacrificed her life in a battle against the British. ‘I am Rani Jindan, Mother of the Khalsa. That is my identity. That is my fate’, quotes the novel. Through a classic tale of loyalty and betrayal, Divakaruni’s novel reincarnates the tale of one of the most fearless women from the forgotten pages of Indian history.
4. The Lesbian Cow and Other Stories by Indu Menon
Indu Menon is an author who writes in the south Indian language Malayalam. Translated from Malayalam by Nandakumar K., Indu Menon’s short story collection The Lesbian Cow and Other stories revolves around the intrepid spirit of women.
The bloody, gory, gruesome violence that surrounds the ingrained spirit of womanhood lies at the center of her themes. The stories plunge the readers into a world that is inhuman, surreal and intense in the metaphorical and sometimes the literal sense.
5. Rumors of Spring by Farah Bashir
Former photo journalist and communications consultant Farah Bashir’s debut novel Rumors of Spring is a hauntingly simple recollection of her adolescent years spent in Srinagar in the 1990s. As Kashmir became a battleground, and violence painted the cityscape, life in Srinagar was forced to find a new normal.
Amidst the abnormalities of constant vigilance, simple and mundane tasks become extremely laborious and anxiety-ridden especially for a adolescent girl, the protagonist. Through this coming-of-age memoir, Bashir meticulously portrays how years of occupation and conflict affect everyday life in Kashmir.
6. Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa
Susan Abulhawa is a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist. Her novel Against The Loveless World begins with Nahr, a young Palestinian refugee who finds herself locked up in solitary confinement. As she reflects on the events that led to her capture, the novel unfurls further.
In a lyrical style, Susan Abulhawa writes the story of this young Palestinian refugee who radicalises herself in the hope of a better life. The novel moves through the Middle East as Nahr is forced to leave Iraq after the US invasion and move temporarily to Jordan and finally to Palestine where her life unfolds under Israeli occupation.
7. What We Know About Her by Krupa Ge
Krupa Ge is an author based in Chennai, and her debut fiction novel What We Know About Her explores the different forms of defiance seen in personal, public and domestic spheres.
The story begins with Yamuna and her mother’s conflict regarding their ancestral home in Chingleput. But soon, the narrative moves on from the friction of domestic lives and investigates difficult relationships, the baggage of inter-generational resentment and trauma.
8. A Death In Shonagachhi by Rijula Das
Longlisted for the JCB Prize 2021 and shortlisted for the Tata Lit Live First Book Award 2021, A Death In Sonagachhi is the debut novel by Rijula Das.
The plot revolves around a sex worker in the red light district of Sonagachhi, her quest for financial mobility, love and mystery of the death of a young woman who lived next to her.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section