Liberating literature: Five powerful books about women by women

Liberating literature: Five powerful books about women by women

These riveting novels have touched on social issues faced by women throughout time.
25 Mar, 2024

Women have played a pivotal role in shaping our history, and their literary works are a testament to that. There aren’t enough words to discuss the many women authors who have given us unforgettable stories and I want to celebrate a small yet diverse range of such authors.

Their novels have touched on social issues faced by women throughout time, from the importance of women’s independence in both body and mind to subjugation and oppression through race and gender.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I must begin with my favourite, none other than literary genius Toni Morrison. A writer who needs no introduction, a revolutionary and visionary well ahead of her time, Morrison’s Beloved, in my opinion, is her best work.

Beautifully written and layered, with each character leaving their mark, it is a story about self-worth and the resilience of the human spirit. It is a story about a mother’s ‘thick’ unapologetically fierce love for her child — the kind of love which was forbidden for black people in America and was a privilege only afforded to white folks.

The book shocks with its narrative, and the protagonist’s gruesome crime are unsettling but that is the magic of Morrison. She pushes and challenges her reader at every turn. Beloved is not merely a masterpiece but one of the greatest novels in modern history.

It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan

It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan, is an intelligently written, thought-provoking read. A compilation of essays by a diverse range of Muslim women — poets, lawyers, engineers, teachers — all voicing their experiences as Muslim women living in the West. These women are sick of being told who they are and are taking back ownership of their identity which the West and patriarchy have hijacked for far too long.

The essays discuss a wide range of issues, such as the perception of the hijab — ranging from mere head covering to the actual concept of pardah and modesty, as well as the capitalisation and monetisation of the hijab — queer identity in Muslim communities, racial discrimination, marriage and divorce.

In my opinion, the core theme of the essays highlights the evil that is white feminism, another form of cultural domination which has plagued societies and where every Muslim woman’s issue is brushed with the same stroke. The book is an eye-opening and insightful read.

Are You Enjoying? by Mira Sethi

Mira Sethi’s Are You Enjoying? is a collection of fictional short stories that portray Pakistan in transition from traditionalism to modernism while the characters of the novel navigate their lives through this dichotomy.

Each story draws attention to the various issues prevalent in the country, such as homophobia, corruption, misogyny, violence against women, drug addiction, poverty and Islamic radicalisation — matters that have dire consequences for citizens, but especially for women.

The stories are easy to read, delightfully scandalous and moving. Sethi has proven to not only be a gifted artist but also a compelling storyteller. My personal favourite short story was A Life of Its Own which is about a feudal matriarch and her daughter-in-law breaking the chains of patriarchy. We may have read many stories about feudal lords, yet little is written about the matriarchs and their role in influencing the lives of Pakistanis.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum tells the story of a newly married Palestinian immigrant and her daughter. Both women have their own struggles; the mother faces isolation in an alien country and is unable to connect with her abusive husband. Her daughter, a second-generation immigrant, has dreams and aspirations yet is stifled in her conservative community.

The author also draws attention to the importance of mental health in both men and women as she beautifully narrates: “She knew that the suffering of women started in the suffering of men, that the bondages of one became the bondages of the other”.

As this book is mainly about domestic abuse and violence against women, it is not for the faint-hearted.

Queenie by Candice Carty Williams

Queenie by Candice Carty Williams, the 2020 winner of the Book of the Year accolade by the British Book Awards, is a heartwarming story about a twenty-five-year-old British woman of Jamaican origin living in London.

What starts as a Bridget Jones-esque, hilariously fun book, takes a sharp, dark turn midway. The novel highlights the sexualisation and objectification of young black women.

I fell in love with this book because of the protagonist, Queenie, who is charming, witty, and beautifully flawed. A woman who infuriatingly keeps making the same mistakes and is unable to forgive herself for them. The honesty behind Queenie’s outlook is refreshing and evokes empathy in readers.

Williams has given us an unforgettable character and for lovers of contemporary fiction with romantic elements, this novel is sure to be a delight.


Syed Hasni Mar 25, 2024 02:06pm
Did you know that there are more female writers in America? It’s not a wide gap. But to make up 50.45% of the industry that did not recognize women authors until the 1840s is a huge victory. When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So, it is better to speak.” Audre Lorde Keep writing!
Taj Ahmad Mar 25, 2024 03:06pm
Great books, everyone should try to read it at least once in a lifetime.
lemonta Mar 25, 2024 04:33pm
thankuu, added to my tbr
Ehsan Mar 25, 2024 06:57pm
Nice compilation Btw not sure if you realize there is an add on dawn/ images website advertising for Israeli flag pins to support Israel
Laila Mar 25, 2024 08:12pm
I used to buy lots of English books on women, islam, culture etc - before prices went up in Pakistan. It would be great though if these books are translated into Urdu as the vast majority that could benefit from reading such diverse stories dont read/understand English. Other countries do it which is why their populations have more exposure while most Pakistanis remain in their insulated bubble and are shocked when they go online and by chance find out how other Muslim women/men live and think and partake in society. In fact some books should be part of university curricula as part of social, anthropological, cultural studies. Great recommendations and will definitely put them on my to read list.
Team IMAGES Mar 25, 2024 09:27pm
@Ehsan Hi, thanks for pointing this out. We'll look into it
NYS Mar 26, 2024 12:19am
I am not a big fan of reading books whenever I get spare , auspicious,in spirit and content love to read . From reference list my choice is Queenie by Candice Carty Williams. When I was child Roald Dahl was my best author to read. He reads & writes all young mind (feel) accordingly. This is how gender specified Gen-z catch