Belletrista Blog

Archive for March, 2011

Before I started this focus on reading Caribbean authors, I’d never heard of Guadeloupe writer Maryse Condé. I’m so glad I’ve found her!

The Story of the Cannibal Woman, is a moving exploration of race, relationships, secrets and grief. Rosélie’s long-term partner, Stephen, is brutally murdered near their Cape Town home. Over the next few months Rosélie re-examines her life and her relationship with Stephen. I found her to be a sad and lonely woman searching for her place in the world. Through her grief she develops an affinity with Fiela, a woman she doesn’t know who is standing trial for the murder of her husband, feeling that there is some kind of link between their situations.

Perhaps Rosélie feels she should have had the courage to act as Fiela did.  As the novel progresses Rosélie starts to discover hidden aspects of Stephen’s character and questions why did she love him. Stephen doesn’t come out well from this story. A white English academic, he seems to enjoy the shock value of having a black partner. He’s arrogant and and Rosélie allows him to dominate her, even feeling proud of his provocative pronouncements on race.  I think she is overwhelmed by his sureness and him being so different from herself. I really identified with Rosélie and was often shouting ‘just leave him’ in my head, knowing that this relationship would crush her spirit.

Condé’s writing certainly affected me and I will be looking out for more of her work.

After a very tiring week, it’s a much-needed delight to catch up on the new issue of Belletrista.

I enjoyed the short stories by Amanda Michalopoulou and Vanessa Gebbie. Although very different, both are quite odd – in a good way.

As for the reviews, A Good Land by Nada Awar Jarrar goes onto my wishlist. Lebanon has always fascinated me so this tale of three people living through war in Beirut sounds right up my street. The Tea Lords, Hella S. Haasse’s novel about Dutch colonists in Java, also tempts me as it includes two of my favourite things – history and tea!

Posted by Char

Last Tuesday, March 8, was International Women’s Day.  It seemed to get a lot of press–perhaps because it was the centenary celebration. That morning, when I opened up my e-mail and Facebook page, I was flooded with all sorts of interesting messages in honour of the day. Each day since then, I’ve stumbled across International Women’s Day related media every time I sit down at my computer.

First, both a friend and Brightwide (makers of social and political films) sent me a link to the short piece EQUALS, with Judi Dench and Daniel Craig reprising their James Bond roles. One of their many staggering statistics is the fact that women are responsible for two-thirds of the work worldwide, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property.

Then Doctors Without Borders directed me to an article in the Huffington post on Fistual: a Horrifying Condition Affecting Women Worldwide. Caused by complications of childbirth, fistula is not a disease, but a preventable medical condition. It is a public health issue that scars women in impoverished areas of the world, particularly Africa and Asia, forcing them into lives of shame and despair. Women who suffer from this lead lives of isolation and are unable to work outside the home.

On a happier note, I also got a message from Ten Thousand Villages, a not-for-profit program that creates “opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term fair trading relationships.” I drooled over all the great products made by women from all over the globe, and felt that perhaps there is something possible beyond “shame and despair.” The key here, once again, is clearly gainful employment.

The United Nations’ theme for this International Women’s Day is Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science & Technology: Pathway to decent work for women. Which brings me to the second part of my title, women writers. Well, one woman writer; South African Sindiwe Magona, to be exact. I’m currently reading Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, which is a collection of her short stories. The first part is a series of interconnected stories that tell the experiences of various African women working as maids for white people. These stories were striking, and especially pertinent to this theme of “decent work.” Through her characters, Magona shows how domestic labour can be little better than slavery, and how it certainly doesn’t qualify as “decent work.” I’ve been thinking about this, and Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night, all week. In my opinion, the sign of a great book  is one that stays with you, and makes you think.

I’d like to say more about Sindiwe Magona’s book, but I will make myself stop here as I will be reviewing it for a future issue of Belletrista. Stay tuned for more.