From A Woman’s Perspective
By Farzana Hakim
When I was approached by Rabbits Road Institute Library for an opportunity to read and respond to some books, I was delighted. With my local libraries closed due to the pandemic, this was definitely a breath of fresh air. I quickly agreed; and Ruth and Amy came over to drop a box of fifteen books, plus one shelf, to me at my home. Of course, it was a socially distanced, sweet but short visit.
I found the ideal spot on the upstairs landing beneath a long mirror to place the bookshelf; a heavy traffic area of my home; whereby I’d be reminded of the task every time I went upstairs or came down, no doubt…
And what a perfect spot it proved to be because it kept the books on my mind and in sight. Over the next two months, out of the fifteen books on my list, I read all fifteen!
What more could be expected from a reading addict, huh?
I started my task by making notes on each book as I went along the list. I admit I had my favourite authors selected from the bunch and did read them with more zest. And although some of the other authors were new to me, I managed to find some joy in their voices too.
So, as my creative response, I’ll be sharing with you the best bits from my readings and my critique also. And I promise to be fair and respectful to the author. Being an author myself, I know how hard a writer works before and after a book or novel is published. We open up our hearts and souls by sharing our stories with you with only the hope of impacting you in some way as a result. Be it positive or negative, we aim to stir your emotions and make you think.
Before I introduce my first set of books, I’d like to make it known that I’m an advocate for women’s voices, believing that all women have stories which need to be told and heard. After all, we are the mother of all storytelling. Every aspect of our lives is a story. Our bodies carry stories, and our genetics pass on these stories from one generation to the next. Having recently hosted a series of creative writing workshops for women called ‘Hear My Voice,’ I am amazed at how many women actually seek a way to talk and share stories close to their hearts to the world. Therefore, the following books were thought-provoking and relevant for me to read alongside hosting these workshops, as they are by women and about women, their voices and their stories:
Finding a Voice. Asian Women in Britain, by Amrit Wilson.
I really enjoyed this book. Although it was first published in 1978, a lot of the themes and issues the author describes are still very relevant to the women in Britain today belonging to the Asian diaspora. For the most part the book is structured like an interview, in a question-answer format between the author and a diverse range of women, of different ages from across the Asian spectrum, which made it authentic and relatable to me. I picked out many issues which are still rife in the British Asian community today, like racism, forced marriage, honour-related crimes and restrictions, and the clash between culture and country.
Newham Women, Lives, Memories, Opinions, by A Stratford City Challenge Community History Publication.
This is an anthology which I thoroughly enjoyed. I grew up in Newham and reading each of the short stories in this compilation, gave me goosebumps because I could relate to each woman in every story. What an authentic and diverse collection of stories and voices! It reminded me of my childhood. My Grandma came to Newham from Pakistan in the late Sixties to join my Grandad who already worked in a bread factory in Forest Gate. My Mum would come later in 1976, with my new born brother, to join Dad who grew up in Manor Park. And this reminded me of some of the struggles and joys both Mum and Grandma would often tell me about as I was growing up. Many memories were reflected in the stories in this superb collection. In fact, this anthology has inspired me to do something like this myself. I know many women in both Newham and Barking and Dagenham who have so many interesting stories about their pasts and now, which would make a great new anthology. Because real stories are the best stories in my opinion.
Asians in Britain, 400 years of History, by Rozina Visram
Another amazingly factual book about a history all too familiar to people like myself. The author has undergone an extensive study using primary sources. It dates back to times when English superiority and colonialism was all the rage and rife. For anybody studying colonialism and migration, this is an important text. Her references to British female attitudes in India, the use of Ayahs, and the sheer hypocrisy and unfairness are so vivid, at the same time thought provoking.
The Power to Choose, by Naila Kabeer
This book I had to skim through rather than read wholly because although it’s an important study of Bangladeshi women and their contributions to the textile industry in Bangladesh, at times I found the book was repetitive and made me loose interest. But of course, for anyone studying globalisation and females in the workplace, this is probably an important course book.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
I feel terribly guilty for not having read any of Maya Angelou’s works before this. I cannot believe how I could’ve missed such an important and impactful woman’s voice all this time. Maya Angelou is regarded as one of the most influential female writers of all time, and after reading this book, I now completely understand why. Her voice is both poignant and poetic. She is truthful and unashamed of her story and history. She tells it as it is. And this is what makes this book a powerful account of a Black American woman’s struggles in the 1930’s onwards. Her depictions of poverty, segregation and bigotry of the Deep South made this memoir authentic and relatable to women growing up in the Deep South today. In my workshop, I actually discussed this book, and a participant from Mississippi told me she faces some of the same dilemmas. So, isn’t this history by Maya Angelou a history of all Black women striving to balance society and culture in many parts of American society?
And Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou
This book is a collection of Maya’s poetry. I thoroughly enjoyed these and because I read both Maya’s books on my list together, I could make connections between the two. The poems are written like songs. Some are playful, some are witty, a few are thought provoking and some are light hearted. I enjoyed them very much. Maya is able to use her language skills beautifully to evoke emotions through these verses. Alongside her usual themes, this collection also reflects on nature.
Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
Unlike all the above, this novel is fiction. A historical novel about slavery. The female protagonist is able to jump from modern times into the past which isn’t a new concept or theme to be honest. Nevertheless, I found it an easy read.
The next selection of books are authored by males and are very different from the above. They are all fiction novels and were interesting in their own unique ways:
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Husseini
Brilliant. I had already read this year’s back, however I thoroughly enjoyed reading it for the second time. It’s a superbly written story in a dramatically moving backdrop. Mariam and Laila, the protagonists, go through hell in this story, yet it’s is the bond between the two which keeps the plot moving. My only question, or critique rather, is why the author thought it was okay to make Laila give birth via a C Section without any anaesthesia or sedation? Why? Does she not have enough suffering already? How could Khaled Husseini even know how it feels to give birth like that? Only a woman can write about child birth or how it feels to have a C-Section, because this is about her body, her emotions and her sentiments. And sorry Khaled, but your childbirth chapter ought to have come with a trigger warning because my wound where I’d recently had my baby via C-Section, almost ruptured when I read that part!
Selected Short Stories, by Rabindranath Tagore
The stories are short and often sad. The backdrop is Calcutta, Bengal and mainly include the riverbank. The themes of monsoon and rain are vivid in setting a scene. Yet my qualm here, is that the women in all these stories are described as second-class citizens. I know Rabindranath Tagore is a world-famous poet and writer from the Sub continent, and I have seen some great depictions of his stories on Netflix, but I think maybe some of his authenticity has been lost via poor translations in this book. And I would’ve enjoyed it more if some of the females in the stories were braver. However, this could simply be a reflection of the times Rabindranath is writing in.
The Buddha of Suburbia, by Hanif Kureishi
Brilliant. I loved this. Set in the 70’s, it also reflects on society today. I liked the fact that the author includes some of the struggles of women in the novel too. Themes of honour and forced marriage are explored, as well as racism and discrimination from the ‘Whites.’
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan
Funny and witty. I don’t often do crime fiction, but this book was so rich in colour and culture that I am looking forward to reading the sequels.
So, my final set of books are all non-fiction works and because I am an ardent fan of history, (having studied Modern History and Politics for my degree many moons ago), I did enjoy revisiting some of this history. And because my latest novel is about the Partition of India and Pakistan, the following books were superb factual reads and really gave me much insight and refreshed some of my knowledge and research for my novel.
This list included the following:
Indian Summer, The Secret History of the End of An Empire, by Alex Von Tunzelmann
Orientalism, by Edward W. Said
The Crusades through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf
A South Asian History of Britain, by Michael H. Fischer, Shompa Lahiri, Shinder Thandi
Wow, what a range of books I had the pleasure of reading and talking about. My list was a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, memoir and anthology. And all were important and interesting as tools of knowledge and enlightenment in their own right.
One thing I learnt from this whole experience is that books are gold, no matter how old or contemporary. Books record our past and books are our tomorrow. And it is our life experiences, our histories and our voices which make stories worth reading, sharing, telling and re-telling.
Thank you, Rabbits Road Institute Library, for thinking me worthy of housing and reading these fantastic books. I look forward to connecting with the Library again real soon.
In the mean time you can stay connected to me through:
Farzana Hakim fast captured the hearts of her readers with her debut, ‘Sweethearts of Ilford Lane.’ Branded an authentic writer with an exciting new voice, Farzana set out to write a contemporary romance her readers could relate to. She bravely tackled themes such as forced marriage, betrayal and honour. Farzana was mentored by award winning author Barbara Nadel. Barbara also mentored Farzana for her second novel as part of a prize she was awarded by the Arts Council funded, Pen to Print Project. Her second novel, ‘The silence of a Deep River,’ based on the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, won firstprize in the Pen to Print Book Challenge 2017.
Farzana is currently a stay at home mum. Her youngest is twelve and her twins are at University. Farzana holds a BA Honours degree in Modern History and International Relations. Her passion to explore international settings as well as her locality stem from her interests in current and foreign affairs. Since March 2020 Farzana has been a page editor for Write On! Extra magazine. Her Thursday Connectors is a hugely popular page where each week, Farzana has been connecting to writers and people from around to world bringing you their lockdown and Coronavirus stories. Farzana is also an associate editor at Write On! magazine.