Six Women's Day reads

08 August 2021 - 00:00 By and jennifer platt

There's a vociferous debate on whether we need a Women's Day - what it means, what it commemorates, what it celebrates, and what it conveys. Whatever you feel, it is, nevertheless, an opportune time to highlight some exciting new titles written by women.

A good place to start is with An Island by Karen Jennings (published here by Karavan Press). Jennings, along with fellow South African Damon Galgut (for his outstanding novel The Promise, published by Umuzi), have made the longlist for the prestigious Booker Prize. An Island tells the story of Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper whose isolation is disrupted when a young man washes up on the island. This leads to Samuel remembering his life on the mainland, of war, fighting and independence. As the blurb says, it is "A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home."

Then there's You Have Struck a Rock: Women fighting for their power in South Africa by Gugulethu Mhlungu (NB Publishers). This is an important book, exploring what women have gone through in SA since that momentous march in 1956. Mhlungu goes beyond that to show how women have always been organised and how they work relentlessly for equality.

Soul Sisters by Lesley Lokko (Pan Macmillan) is a saga of love, race, power and secrets centering on the lifelong friendship between two women: Scottish Jen McFadden and South Africa-born uKwemisa Mashabane. (Available for pre-order).

The wonderfully named When Secrets Become Stories (Jonathan Ball Publishers) is a collection edited by Sue Nyathi. From the blurb: "In this book, women from all walks of life, across racial lines, age and income demographics, boldly speak out. Many women are overcome by shame when they are sexually or emotionally abused but sharing what was once a secret helps to break shame's hold. And that is why these true stories must be told."

"I am not defined by the abuse I have suffered," writes Nyathi. There are many spine-chilling and life-affirming stories, notably by Lorraine Sithole, Desiree-Anne Martin, Mamokgethi Phakeng, Shafinaaz Hassim, Cathy Park Kelly and Olivia Jasriel, who was sexually abused as a child by tennis star Bob Hewitt.

Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa by Desiree Lewis and Gabeba Baderoon (Wits University Press) is another worthwhile collection, with contributions by some of the finest writers and thought leaders, including Patricia McFadden, Sisonke Msimang, Yewande Omotoso, Zoë Wicomb and Pumla Gqola.

I Am a Girl From Africa by Elizabeth Nyamayaro (Jonathan Ball Publishers) is a memoir that sticks to the insides. Nyamayaro was eight years old when a devastating drought hit her village in Zimbabwe and had no idea that this moment would come to define her life's purpose. Incapacitated from hunger, her life is saved when a United Nations aid worker gives her a bowl of warm porridge. She vowed that day to dedicate her life to giving back to her community, her continent and the world, and she did just that - by becoming a UN adviser. Most movingly, Nyamarayo explains what dreams are and how a dream can be one not only for oneself but for a whole community. #Inspiring.