Prayers for the Stolen
For Ladydi Garcia Martinez, it’s a dangerous thing to be a girl. While growing up in Guerrero, Mexico, a lawless town ruled by drug lords, Ladydi and her friends mar their appearances and hide in holes to avoid being taken by the cartels. Even once she gets out, following the promise of a better life, she can’t escape the iron grasp of the cartels. But in the face of adversity, our heroine unfailingly proves her strength and determination.
The Woman Destroyed
Simone De Beauvoir
In the three sections of this revelatory book, women grapple with their identity in the world and their place in society, the idea of what they’ve had to sacrifice versus what they’ve been able to keep. At times bitter, dark, and always honest, Beauvoir bled for her writing, and it shows.
Though it takes the shape of a novel, Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon can also be called memoir. It’s the story of Ginzburg’s own family, her and her siblings’ coming-of-age in Turin, Italy, in a household helmed by a Jewish scientist and a lapsed-Catholic mother. Ginzburg’s classic might be an ordinary family novel, were it not for Mussolini’s Italy raging in the background, shaking the foundations of their lives and country.
Fates and Furies
This view of a relationship told from both sides is an examination of gender roles, artistic ambition, and the many complexities of marriage. As I moved into the second half, which follows the wife, I couldn’t help thinking that Lila would have loved Mathilde: her ruthlessness, her quiet determination, and how she pulled the strings, always three steps ahead.
Morante’s novel, set in World War II Rome, follows the lives of a single mother and her two sons. The setting of Rome, the soldiers, the bombings, and the politics are all etched irreversibly into the characters, melding history and humanity together masterfully.
Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie follows the lives of several characters in Nigeria in the late 1960s during the Biafran War. With a seamless blend of the personal and political, we see how her characters struggle to live, love, and stay human when their home is suddenly wracked with violence.
Dept. of Speculation
Offill’s prose is dreamier and her structure more fragmented, but this slim book examines many similar obsessions: the narrator’s artistic ambitions, somewhat thwarted by motherhood and wifehood, and then infidelity. Her stream-of-consciousness prose lends a diary-like intimacy to the narrative.
Never Let Me Go
Ishiguro is a much more restrained writer, but the introspection, honesty, and world-building in this book simply contains its boldness in a different way. The setting is powerfully vivid and the fictional boarding school, Hailsham, and its special students will stay with you long after you’ve finished the novel.
Love Me Back
A fitting word for this book is fearless. Tierce is so unrestrained and unapologetic in her depiction of a self-destructive waitress, at war with how she feels unfit to love her young daughter, that I often caught myself holding my breath as I turned the page.
A Long Petal of the Sea
Isabel Allende’s newest takes place in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, when Fascists overthrew the government. Among those fleeing the country is pregnant widow Roser and army doctor Victor Dalmau, the brother of Roser’s dead husband, who are forced into a marriage in order to survive. They board poet Pablo Neruda’s SS Winnipeg for Chile, living as exiles and dreaming of the day they can go home.
Pride and Prejudice
An oft-quoted blurb for Ferrante from John Freeman: “Imagine if Jane Austen got angry, and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.” This novel of manners is an anchor of explorations of class, society, and marriage.
The Woman Upstairs
Nora Eldridge is a polite, responsible schoolteacher who secretly nurses wilder artistic dreams. When she meets Sirena, a beautiful, enticing European conceptual artist, their relationship unleashes Nora’s desire to find a similarly enthralling identity, and her fixation with Sirena is at times obsessive, nurturing, and deceptive.
Toni Morrison’s Sula is a masterwork in capturing the complexities of female friendship as impacted by the cruelties of the world around them. As girls in Medallion, Ohio, Nel Wright and Sula Peace bond over a dreadful secret. But their paths diverge, and as adults they become closer to enemies. One reviewer’s apt description: “As mournful as a spiritual and as angry as a clenched fist.”
My Struggle: Book One
Karl Ove Knausgaard
Many think that Knausgaard and Ferrante represent two poles of the same type of writing: titanic, multi-volume novels that are firmly evocative of their settings, whether Naples or Norway, heavy on introspection, violence, and the effects of fear. Though their writing styles are very different, if you’re interested in another long saga, perhaps begin this one.
In certain circles it was all anyone could talk about—Ferrante, Ferrante, Ferrante, like an incantation. When the last installment of the Neapolitan novels was released, many of us mourned their finale. Elena Ferrante’s four-volume saga centers on two extraordinarily bright friends who grow up in the violent, poverty-stricken Naples remaining after World War II. The books delve into issues of class, ambition, equality, and, most masterfully, female friendship. They are extraordinary for a number of reasons: the powerful grasp on social issues, the clean yet explosive prose, and the display of femininity in all its messy, passionate power.
Soon after devouring the last volume, I ached for more Elena, more Lila, more Naples. Whether you’re searching for the bold prose, the meticulous understanding of female friendship, or the vivid description of a crime-ridden hometown and a society in flux, try one of these books to help soothe your Ferrante hangover.
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