ein Kurs von Isabel-María Osuna-Montilla und Charoula Fotiadou an der Universität Tübingen mit Sissy Doutsiou als Gast: „The course ‚Female solidarity in literature and beyond‘ focuses on female solidarity within and outside the text. More specifically, we will look at how female solidarity is portrayed in Siri Hustvedt’s novel The Summer Without Men and its sociocultural relevance. Then, we will discuss the actual gender bias that female authors, including Hustvedt, encounter when their works are reviewed. Finally, we will look for solutions in real-world projects developed by women for women that address this type of gender inequality. For this purpose, we have invited the Feminist Network of Female Authors located in Greece to present their work, faced difficulties and their ideas on how to create, support and enhance female bonding.“
I want to talk about Sophia Fritz, a young german 26 years old author, who likes to write character-based stories about complicated relationships between partners, parents, friends or even god. One great sentence on her website is: „In her books Sophia makes the inner world of feelings into an open-air museum.“.
She regularly writes articles for german newspapers and has already published four books, which differentiate from one another; while two are novels, she has also released a book with short stories and a nonfiction book about God and religion.
I want to briefly present the 2021 published novel ‚Steine schmeißen‘, which made me discover her work and that is now one of my favourite books. It tells the story of the young woman Anna and her friends on New Year‘s Eve in Vienna. Excess, generations, heartbreak and mental health play big roles in the book and leave the reader wondering about the topics but also about her use of words. The author herself said that feelings like wistfulness, melancholy and self-doubt are depicted in the book because she thinks they are very present in the young generation nowadays. She also expresses the youths lack of prospects and search for footing in society with much sarcasm and cynicism and examples like polyamory or struggles with academic studies. Her play with words and unusual metaphors and comparisons draws a specific mood and leaves the reader with a warm feeling despite the largely cruel topics. Sophia Fritz‘s ability to interact with language and the way she puts depth in seemingly subclauses pulls the reader along and really gets the reader to feel.
In march 2024 Sophia Fritz is going to publish another nonfiction book about toxic femininity, in which she explores the female role in society, the way women are socialised and therefore also the problems and topics, that are dealt with in her novel ‚Steine schmeißen‘ in a new feminist cooperation.
A possibly feminist Thriller? Camilla Läckberg
Have you ever wondered what a feminist approach on thrillers might look like? The answer to that question can be found in Camilla Läckberg’s books. Her novels are characterized by their socially critical tone, alluding to many (feminist) problems that are ignored. She touches sore spots, revealing who has always been the victim of ignorant politics: women.
Contrary to popular believes, thrillers do not need to be bloody and unnecessarily brutal to achieve a lasting impact; often, reality creates the most horrifying scenarios. Likewise, Läckberg’s books address the reality faced by many women: domestic violence, sexual assault, and the question of one’s own identity in a relationship. What makes her books particularly frightening is the portrayal of scenarios that are close enough to reality to suggest that the situations could happen in real life.
In her book „No Mercy,“ three unhappy women come together, each experiencing unhappiness in their own way within a relationship. While one was forced into an arranged marriage and sent to another country, where she now lives as a housewife, isolated from society with her husband, another is trapped in a marriage where she experiences domestic violence and sexual abuse daily. However, none of the protagonists resign themselves to their fate; together, they try to find a way out of what seems to be a seemingly hopeless situation. The moral judgment of murder becomes particularly interesting in this context. Can blame be assigned to these three highly traumatized women, or can the murders be understood as a direct counteraction?
„No Mercy“ can be cited as just one example of Läckberg’s many socially critical works, as her other books also criticize female stereotypes. In the Golden Cage series for exmaple, the traditional role of the mother is scrutinized, highlighting the long-term consequences of financial and emotional co-dependence for women.
In the year 2023, I have read three of the works by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. „The Heart goes last“ (2015), a novel about a couple living in a rather dystopian world, craving freedom after unknowingly signing their rights – and thus – their lives away to participate in a project that promises them a brighter future. Dystopian fiction is a field in which Atwood excels, which may be due to the fact that she herself has admitted that she always takes inspiration in things that have really happened in the world at some point or another, instead of simply coming up with the most outlandish possible settings. This may be why her dystopian fiction is a little too close to comfort at times, in a terrifying way.
„The Penelopiad“ (2005) is a fictional retelling based on Greek Mythology about the Odysseus´ myth, though from his wife’s perspective, Penelope. By doing this, Atwood gave a voice to one of the characters in Greek Mythology that usually would not have a voice of her own, perpetually known not for herself in her own right, but as someones wife.
And while I had loved all of Atwood’s works I have read so far (in 2023 and earlier), it is her essay collection „Burning Questions“ (2022) that really made me admire her beyond her writing, as a person. Her views on life, on subjects such as social justice, the environment, feminism, the importance of literacy and giving people a voice, are exemplary, and I think it is lovely that she uses the platform and prestige she has deservedly earned in such a manner.
What I appreciate most about her writing – besides her cutting, witty writing style – is how multilayered her works are. There is always more that meets the eye, more to unravel and dissect, no matter how long you might sit there and mull it over in your head. And that is one aspect I can really appreciate in literature, works of art that entice you to take them apart into their smallest fragments.
In February 1959, Susan’s daughter was born in Zimbabwe. Susan is the first black woman in Zimbabwe to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Her daughter, Tsitsi Dangarembga, followed in her footsteps and became the first black woman to achieve literary success. Through her work she brought Zimbabwean society closer to the western world than anyone before her.
Last year, I read Tsitsi Dangarembga’s book „Aufbrechen“ and was very impressed. The novel is about a little girl in Zimbabwe, called Tambudzai, who grows up in the countryside and lives a rural life. Due to family structures and the prevailing patriarchy, which is mainly characterised by white people, she experiences injustice from an early age, but is given the chance to attend a missionary school.
The interesting thing about the book is not only the development that Tambudzai experiences, but also how the reader grows older with her and begins to question more of established structures with her. As described above, as a reader I was brought closer to Zimbabwean society.
Tsitsi Dangarembga is an impressive woman. Not only was she the first black woman to publish her novel „Nervous Conditions“, which I briefly explain above, for which she received the Commonwealth Writers‘ Prize. She is also the first black woman in Zimbabwe to make a film called „Everyone’s Child“.
Her work, creativity and involvement can be found everywhere. In Germany, she is a co-founder of PEN Berlin, and in Zimbabwe she not only founded the production company Nyerai Films, but also the International Images Film Festival. In 2021, Tsitsi Dangarembga was honoured with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the PEN Pinter Prize and the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression.
At university I´m attending a lecture called woman´s writing held by Prof. Dr. Ingrid Hotz-Davies. Each session a contemporary female writer is presented. Before session six, I just briefly knew about Mona Awad and her book „13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl“ (2016). And as shockingly as it might sound, this novel is exactly what it sounds like and more…
Mona Awad is a Canadian author born in 1978. She „received her MFA in fiction from Brown University (…) She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.“, it is stated in the beginning of the novel. Her debut novel „13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl“ was honored a.o. with the Amazon Best First Novel Award and the Colorado Book Award.
As a reader I wasn´t prepared for the truth Awad has delicately woven into her writing of this damaged and lost protagonist Lizzie. Being a woman in a patriarchal society leaves you often enough in situations of turning against yourself and other women around you. Internalized fat-shaming, misogyny and toxic relationships are the themes Awad explores through her protagonist in her novel. Even though Lizzie is not the most likable person, I believe, and I can confirm for myself, that she is definitely a very relatable character for women. In exposing and emphasizing these struggles and obstacles women must face in society, I see Mona Awad creating valuable female solidarity.
The author I would like to introduce to you today is South Korean author Han Kang.
She was born in Gwangju, South Korea, in 1970 but grew up in Seoul, where she studied Korean literature at Yonsei University. She published her first poems at the age of 23, and has since released several novels and poetry collections, some of which have been translated into English and German. Her most known works are “The Vegetarian” (2007), “Human Acts” (2014) and “The White Book” (2016).
I first came across her in 2016, when I saw her work “The Vegetarian” ’s newly into German translated edition in a book shop and it caught my eye due to the pretty cover art. The book was actually released in 2007 and had gained international acclaim after being translated into English in 2015, which earned her and the translator the Man Booker International Prize 2016.
In her work, Han Kang deals with Korean society and history and how they impose struggles on her characters. In “The Vegetarian”, Yeong-hye, who is described by her husband in the very first sentence of the novel to be wholly unremarkable in any and all ways, decides to stop eating meat, which causes her life to dramatically change due to her environment’s reaction to this decision. The book was originally published in the form of three short stories, all of them telling Yeong-hye’s descent into madness through the perspective of others. The book is quite triggering and was described as bizarre and extreme by Korean critiques upon its release.
When I started reading the book in the original Korean, I was very impressed with the immense beauty and elegance of her writing style especially in contrast to the brutality and violence her words describe. Recurring themes in Han Kang’s work are erasure and characters struggling against inhibitions imposed upon them by others.
Laura Alina Magg:
A female author I want to talk about is Suzanne Collins. Collins was born in the United States in 1962. She got known on a broad spectrum through her dystopian novels “the Hunger Games”. The books and the characters are very well written, and the female lead in the books left a big impression on me. I think it is a great novel and you can tell that the book and especially the lead character were written by a woman which made it easier for me to relate to the character. The main character, Katniss, seems like her own person with issues and flaws, she is not perfect and that is what makes her story so captivating. Furthermore, it was one of the first dystopian novels which I read that was written by a woman and as such inspired me a lot.
Her own books are among the most important works of contemporary Italian literature, but her popularity has bled to the entire world. Translated into many languages and sold in the millions, her books explore sensitive and intimate topics: being an educated women in modern society, dealing with motherhood, wanting and not wanting children, the tedium of sex, and the struggle to preserve an identity within a traditional marriage.
Besides her first novel, notable works of hers are, for instance, „The Days of Abandonment“ (2002), „The Lost Daughter“ (2006), and „My Brilliant Friend“ (2011). The latter is the first volume of the Neapolitan Quartet and a generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. This captivating drama is a portrait of these two women and their friendship, and the story of a nation at the same time – written in Ferrante’s inimitable style.
More often than not, I find myself grimacing when reading fantasy books. The male characters are described as heroes and knights, whereas the female characters are either perfect creatures of un-relatable nature (because they are the main character) or evil and foul women you would never befriend in real life (likely a product of projected internalized misogyny by the author). Wynne Jones does not fall into that trap. All her characters are shaped around both positive and negative qualities, making them flawed and human. Sophie, the main character, is kind yet mean whenever angry. She has a great bond with her sisters and finds support within a circle of fellow female characters. Howell, the love interest, is charming yet cowardly and ridiculous. He’s shown to be powerful, but not more so than Sophie, who he sees as his equal.
What really surprised me most when reading „Howl’s Moving Castle“, however, was Wynne Jones’s perfect depiction of female youth in an ageist society. Sophie accidentally talks—and curses—herself into living as an old woman, because she believes it is what is expected of her as the eldest of three. For that reason, she believes her purpose in life is to prepare her sisters for a more exciting future, in a motherly way. She takes care of Howl’s castle by keeping it tidy and clean, because she believes it is all she is really good for. Despite all of her convictions, everyone around her does their best to remind her she is so much more than what is expected of her.
Sophie finds freedom in her aged self, without the constraints of youth and the pressure of becoming *someone* before it’s too late. At the end of the book, we have a renewed Sophie, who has finally understood that her life can be so much more exciting as long as she decides to take on the adventure, because she is the only who can dictate her fate. For a novel written in 1986 with children as its target audience, I would say it was a most inspiring message to send to young girls navigating the idea of being a caregiver and a person of their own with dreams and aspirations.