Tag Archive: Sexuality


It´s International Woman´s day! Usually for this day I would do a list of articles concerning Women´s rights and liberations across the world, but this year comes a decision to change things up a bit. Instead I will list a few feminist books and stories that are more than worth checking out. In order to explain what, in this list, is meant by a feminist read I´ll make a short explanation: it is a story that has three dimensional female characters and either deals with the subject of female liberation or deals with the subject of female oppression. Let´s get started.

Quick Note!: Most of these books can be triggering due to dealing with rape and violence.

1.“Changes: A love story” by Ama Ata Aidoo: This is a classic work of African literature, and for no small reason. The book takes place in the 1990´s Accra, Ghana, where the independent Esi decides to divorce her husband due to having endured a rape at his hands. After that she falls in love with a Muslim man named Ali, which leads her to question whether or not she should become his second wife. “Changes” was published in 1993 and was one of the first African books that dealt with women trying to balance home life with work as well as the stigma of being an independent woman. But it also openly deals with marital rape and its aftermath, which even to this day is still a taboo subject in much of literature and culture (including western). Esi´s struggles against expectations are shown in a complex light; while she is determined to keep her job and independence she finds herself still inclined to forgo her autonomy to please Ali and others. The book is honest and human. As the saying goes, the personal is highly political, especially for Esi.

ana

2.“Purge” by Sofi Oksanen; This novel takes place in both modern times free Estonia and the Estonia of WWII, when it was under Russian occupation. The story is about an old woman meeting a young woman; Aliide Truu, a woman who was rape and sexually tortured by KGB agents in her youth, and Oksana – a youth who has escaped from the hands of traffickers. Oksanen delves deftly, but horrifically, into a story of two forms of sexual violence; that of politically motivated rape and that of modern day sexual slavery. The novel is heavily disturbing, but the characters, especially Aliide, are wonderfully complex and the illustration of female oppression is powerfully exposed. It´s best to not say too much, since the plot´s enigmatic structure makes it a book best to read blindly.

gaoaocxfdk2nefkjdscd

3.”The Ribbon Maiden”: This fairy tale, which originates from the Chinese ethnic minority of the Miao, is about a woman who people proclaim as the maker and creator of the most beautiful sowing and ribbons found in the land. The emperor, wanting this skill only to himself, has The ribbon maiden kidnapped and held against her will unless she makes him a continuous supply of the elegant ribbons. She submits to the emperors demands, but due to her great talents she is able to make the emperors bondage of her backfire on him. The tale is laden with female power – from the Ribbon Maidens wish to return home so she can reunite with her female friends, to her refusing to submit to the bully emperor. It is impossible not to cheer on this woman as her many gifts, and powerful sowing, defeats her captors and manifests her freedom in the face of oppressions both political and ideological. A really, really cool fairy tale.

IMG_3520

Miao woman wearing traditional clothing

4.“Blood and Guts in High School” by Kathy Acker: The most absurd and weird novel on this list tells the story of a woman who endures emotional abuse, trafficking and abandonment. The writing is surrealistic and the story is told in a nonsensical order, with Ms. Acker´s own NSFW yet creative drawings. The prose is a surging gush of rage and aggression, delivering a punk-themed punch to the capitalist patriarchy. Beautifully random.

tumblr_m0ui5vSoU41qzhtsto1_500

page from “Blood and Guts in high school”

5. “Ladies Coupé” by Anita Nair: This book is formed of an assorted set of narratives focused on diverse women of Today´s India. A woman aboard a train contemplates if she should run off with a younger man she´s in love with or stay with her conservative family instead. Finding herself in the company of a group of women during her trip she asks for advice. What follows are a myriad of tales of life and struggle – the serene joy of learning to swim, of getting the last wondrous laugh against a bully husband, and the lonely tragedy of being impregnated via rape. The tone continuously pivots from the lighthearted to the cruel throughout the entirety of the narrative, with both the epic and minute of characterizations. Despite some stories being tragic, the novel leaves a clear hope in the end, depicting a happier life just around the corner.

ladies-coupe-anita-nair
6.“From a crooked rib” by Nuruddin Farah: This novel takes place in 1980´s Somalia, where a nineteen year old girl runs away from home to escape an arrange marriage, only to find herself having to marry other, equally unpleasant men, in order to survive. Beyond all hope, and needing both men to ensure her social and monetary survival, she navigates a precipice to keep secret her twin marriages from both men (she hasn´t legally divorced either one of them). Farah illustrates the economic and political challenges facing women in Somalia and minutely exposes how the social mores, and legal system is biased against women (and laying bare double standards applied to men, as opposed to women, when it comes to marriage and relationships). While the heroines husbands both indulge openly and continuously in second wives and many lovers, the protagonist finds herself mercilessly slut-shamed, tormented and ostracized by the community for falling outside of the hallow prescripts of monogamy. “From a crooked rib” was Farah´s debut novel, but you would never guess that.

51bFWoRHyyL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

7.“The Butcher´s Wife” by Li Ang: Based on real events, this story is about a Taiwanese woman, Lin Shi, who after taking years of absolutely ruthless abuse kills her husband in self defense. The story begins when the protagonist’s parents, fearing Lin Shi’s youthful behavior as signs of uncontrollable and uncontainable sexuality, marry her off to a local butcher, who it turns out is fond of making Lin Shi scream in agony. He abuses her both physically and sexually, and when she starts to defend herself he starves her. One of the toughest books I´ve ever read, but none the less this novel remains gripping and spellbinding. The novel not only showcases abuse, but critiques neighbors and family members that enable abuse through ignorance and acceptance, as well as showing a side of the local Buddhist religion which is not a flattering depiction to say the least. Thought-provoking yet brutal.

BUTCHERWIFE

8.“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros: The story of a Mexican-American family is told in a series of drabbles in this short book. Through the narration of the adolescent Esperanza these petite deft drabbles explore poverty, culture, sexual assault and hope. The stories are like extended poems, with heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. From Esperanza witnessing her father grief stricken by her grandmother’s death to Esperanza being sexually attacked by racist white boys, the novel makes a depressing, memorable quick read.

CZmb4zqWEAEtSOu

9.“The House of Bernarda Alba” by Federico Garcia Lorca: This was not only an unusual play for it´s time for its open brutal criticism of Spanish honor culture, but is also remarkable by even today´s standards in being a play with a all female cast with no speaking roles for men, as well as dealing with female sexual frustration. The play is about a classist, narrow minded mother who rules over her five daughters with an Iron fist, never allowing them to socialize with others in the town or marry. This leads to a major conflict when a young man arrives and three of the same sisters are smitten with him. Things become especially disturbing when the youngest daughter is implied to be pregnant without being engaged. The sisters play off each other perfectly, and the deep seated melancholy and sense of being trapped in being an “honorable woman” echoes through the story with great strength.

program-cover-Alba

10. “Woman at Point Zero” by Nawal El-Sadaawi: the angriest and fiercest work in this list by fair, El-Sadaawi´s classic novel tells the story of a woman on death row that has killed her pimp. The woman details her life from girlhood to the point where she ended up in prison, describing her ordeal with female genital mutilation, male betrayal and violence. Through the course of the novel the protagonist makes abundantly clear how she has come to be so angry and uncompromising with the world she lives in, where, beginning with her birth as a woman, she was set up for pain. The woman´s narration bursts with a fire at the face and fact of an unjust world. It is provocative and unapologetic, an instant masterpiece.

Nawal-El-Saadawi-001

Ms. Nawal El-Sadaawi

That´s a few recommendations. What feminist novels, short stories/ fairy tales or graphic novels do you readers recommend? Comment done below and A Happy International Women´s Day to all sisters, Cis to Trans, out there!

Over at the YouTube Channel “Screenjunkies” there was a lively discussion about film adaptations, regarding a panel discussion of what were the most and least well made adaptations of comic genre and, its close companion, the Graphic novel*. The video panel discussion ended with a question to the viewers regarding what comic/graphic novel they would most like to see get adapted to film. After pondering this question for a while, I came to the conclusion that only naming a few would not be fair, since, within the entire history of Alternative Comics, some truly remarkable stories have been told, and, in their breathtaking and compelling sweep of ideas and vision, would lend themselves well to a big screen incarnation.

1.“Shortcomings” by Adrian Tomine: A cynical look on race, Tomine’s masterpiece centers on the unsympathetic Ben. His girlfriend Miko accuses him often of being ashamed of his Japanese heritage, which she in returned is extremely proud of. She also accuses him of having an obsession with white women, which Ben laughs at. However, once Miko decides to leave for New York for a couple of months, Ben decides to replace Miko with a white woman (proving Miko´s discomfort to be accurate). When all does not go as planned, Ben flies to New York to meet Miko and becomes obsessively jealous when it turns out Miko is dating someone else.

shortcomings-resized

“Shortcomings” is about flawed people engulfed in a racist society, mixing character study with harsh social commentary. Ben in his hypocrisy claims he does not want to be a victim, but simultaneously has become so unlikeable and hypocritical because of the white supremacist emasculation of Asian men. Miko has her own prejudices as well, but ultimately finds empowerment in her pride. The comic also addresses race fetishazation, and explores the myth of White normativety as desirable. A film adaption that would also include the comic’s social commentary would be a brave move, but no doubt an ultimately enjoyable film.

Cover of "Shortcomings"

Cover of “Shortcomings”

2. “X-Day 1&2” by Setona Mizushiro: This manga is famous among those who like their manga and anime more close to “real life”. The plot centers around three students and one teacher who due to personal difficulties, decide, via an internet chat room, to blow up the school they attend and work at. The biology teacher, using the pseudonym “Jangalian”, due to being stalked by the principals daughter; is engulfed in a sense of powerless exasperated by the unending claims of the school’s principal that Jangalian has slept with his out of control daughter (he hasn´t). The school principle continually foists the blame for her behavior on the victimized Jangalian. Mr. Money, a male student, has an abusive mother. 11, a former popular athlete, is entrapped in the insecurity that other women continually strip her of boyfriends and friends, and Polaris is crippled by shyness unless she wears gothic Lolita clothes, which the school prohibits.

XDAY08

While the beginning of this Manga feels like it will be a dark terror story, the four start to reach out to each other and common bound circumventing the planning the attack through friendship. Mizushiro doesn´t shy away from depicting youth sexuality and loneliness, and boldly illustrates four lost souls who find solace in each other. The characters captivate and possess you, making the reader cheer for the melancholic protagonists to overcome their situations. With protagonists like these, this adaption could very well become a classic Anime movie.

Read left to right, dear folks!

Pages from “X-Day 1”. Read left to right, dear folks!

3. “Tuuli ja Mursky” (“Wind and the Storm”) by Tiitu Takalo – In a time where every woman is in one way or another affected by the misogyny of rape culture, it seems like an appropriate moment for an adaptation of a Graphic novel which addresses every aspect of that said culture. The comic centers around a group of young feminists who discover the fact that one of their members, Miira, has been raped at a party. Miira doesn´t want to report the horrid incident of abuse to the police, but still wishes her rapist to be exposed. Her friends do what they can by putting up posters, talking to people who had attended the party, and so on; but after being constantly shut down and silenced in their quest for justice, the young women grow angry and begin to consider more lethal means.

tuuli-ja-myrsky12

The comic discusses repressions and prejudices victims of sexual abuse face, and the rampant misconceptions people have of the rapist and the culture that empowers their acts of violence. The boy who perpetuates the abuse to Miira in this tale, is an unquestioned friend and wildly known to be a pleasant fellow resonating the plot of the story with one of the most popular misconceptions about rapist/sexual abusers as a repulsive persona, mean-spirited and outside of society. Holding strong with the truth of rapists in a rape culture this comic confronts us with the reality of the nice fellow simultaneously hiding the most abusive of tendencies.
Miira had passed out at the party and the collection of friends find that many of the people involved in their inquiry try to convince the group that the incident was Miira fault, ignoring the fact that her abuser intentionally choose to extremely violate both her body and trust.

Cover for "Tuuli ja Myrsky"

Cover for “Tuuli ja Myrsky”

The novel also addresses how rape culture affects men. The male ally of the group talks about how men are also afraid of walking alone during the night but due to the extreme pressures of an overburdening Macho culture are not allowed to admit such a simple fact. He also subjects within the story, when confronted with the rapist and his actions, merely berates the rapist for his behavior, stating that the abusers actions makes all men look like would-be rapists and chews the rapist out for ignoring the sphere of pain the act caused in action and aftermath to the actual victim of the molestation.

Ms. Tiitu Takalo

Ms. Tiitu Takalo

This Graphic Novel is regrettably underrated and is an exciting story that subverts the Rape-Revenge genre, while also addressing the issue of sexual violence in an in depth and serious manor. The issues it discusses cannot be more relevant and urgent, and the comic, while it should become more of staple stock to the lovers of the Graphic Novel genre, would do superbly as a filmic work.

The posters, saying: "Warning! Rapist!"

The posters, saying: “Warning! Rapist!”

4. “My friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf: This is a chilling graphic memoir that came out just couple years ago. The story focuses not on the author himself, but his former classmate, Jeffrey Dahmer. In a society which obsesses over serial killers and the atrocious crimes they commit, “My Friend Dahmer” shifts the focus from the gruesome killings to an investigation of a teenage Dahmer who pointlessly grows to adulthood to become a monster. Backderf, who had acquaintance with Dahmer, puts together his own memories as well as memories Dahmer gave in interviews, envisioning for us a lonely, weird teenager who already at a young age showed disturbing behavior. Despite the red flags that even a teenage Backderf recognized, the adults revolving around the teen Dahmer didn’t ever pick up on the deviant behaviors, neither did they interact with him to exasperate his deviations. We find a wildly out of control Dahmer, in an attempt to get rid of his fantasies of necrophilia and killing, turning to heavy drinking, and where Dahmer’s only laughter is found with students who through their clumsiness hurt themsleves and others. Yet no adult ever intervenes.

myfrienddahmerreview

The story is powerful in it´s message: the troubled child didn´t have to end up killing people. Backderf wisely says that while our sympathy for Dahmer must end when he started killing, it should be still be noted that he once was a troubled teenager who adults failed. In this extreme case, “My Friend Dafmer” makes a convincing case for social and psychological support for children and teenagers. Ignoring young ones with problems will not make the problem go away. It will only be a problem which will lead to more evils. In worse case scenarios, ignoring a child who is having difficulties may cost innocent lives; a truly unnecessary sacrifice.

My_Friend_Dahmer

5. “Epileptic” by David B.: Here is another memoir which does not star the author. Instead the story concentrates on the plight of the struggles of David B’s epileptic brother and the labor of a family attempting to cope. It depicts a happy childhood until one day, Davids brother Jean-Christophe gets a seizure. This leads the family to seek hills and mountains for a cure and, as time goes on, makes a once cheerful child into a bitter, mean spirited youngster and a depressed adult. This graphic novel starts off with a child’s perspective, where imagination and stories run wild and, as it unfolds, turns towards the surrealistic, where we find David and Jean-Christophe entrenched and entrapped within a fantasy in order to merely communicate. Jean-Christophe is put through several trials, in which he often is met with ableism. When he has seizures, people stare and make insensitive comments, as if he is childishly acting up or merely play-acting for attention. Jean-Christophe, in his spiral of suffering, becomes isolated from his peers, and as a teenager, while in the simple act of befriending a small boy, finds himself instead being accused of child molestation. David notes how the stigma of his brothers struggle haunts him into his adult life, when he recounts a conversation with a girlfriend which ends with the ultimatum that if they have a child, he has to make sure his genes are perfectly healthy since she “does not want any of his families illnesses”.

2012-05-13_131403

Image from “Epileptic”; illustrating the prejudices aimed at David´s Brother

The book is spell-binding and tragic in its depiction of family life and society, where everything always seems to go wrong. David´s depictions are cryptic, but also loving towards his unfortunate, impossible brother. A truly remarkable read, it would no doubt be a film that would give animators free hands to simultaneously make wild drawings while also clutching the viewers hearts.

3281100_f520

6. “Elfriede – en dystopi” (“Elfriede – a dystopia”) by Åsa Grennvall: Now here´s a graphic novel that would be a real challenge to adapt. “Elfriede”, unlike the other graphic novels on this list, does not tell a straight story. In fact this tale is entirely a character study. It follows a middle age woman named Elfriede, who is extremely cynical and bitter about the world. She takes us through her job where she condescendingly describes her boss (whom according to her shouldn´t be able to get his job done but somehow does), how she tries not to get involved when a female co-worker ask for comfort and advice regarding her physically abusive boyfriend (since Elfriede´s attempts to help her before only end up with the co-worker getting angry at Elfriede and going back to her boyfriend anyway), and how she hates her happy-go-lucky friend. She talks about her children, who she hopes don’t hate her as much as she hates her parents. Elfriede speaks frankly of how she is doing a countdown to her death and how she believes humanity is doomed due to it´s own ignorance. This story should fail, but due to Grennvalls gifted talents it is instead a work of genius in its unique concept and visualization. Elfriede’s life becomes fascinating in a tale where the reader is brought to understand Elfriede and dreadfully notices that Elfriede has legitimate points within the context of her life.

innen04

Bitterness is a very uncommon theme in fiction, which is a shame because, if used well, can make for a uncomfortably interesting read and an fascinating exploration of what we are in an indifferent world. “Elfriede – a dystopia” is a good testament of the many alternatives of life and our emotional responses to it, and a film adaption would make an interesting addition to the animated exploration of the existential.

Elfriede_en_dystopi_Åsa_Grennvall

7. “Smile” by Raina Telgemeler: Remember when you were a teenager who hated the way you looked? Well, then you should definitely read this graphic memoir “Smile”. This tale follows the struggles of the protagonist with her dental care, where, after an accident, her teeth need intensive management and repair. Raina feels painfully insecure about her reconstituted teeth, and her teeth become the focus of fear about being different from her fellow classmates. Raina faces a lot of peer pressure and frustration when growing up, while also feeling the pain of bracelets which engulf her teeth and expose her as different in the mere acts of smiling or talking.
This graphic novel is an honest memoir that shows Raina at times as unpleasant as the worst about her, but also as sweet and secure at the oddest of moments.

Smile-Braces

The best parts in the memoir, though, are the details about her friends, who, instead of being a reserve of comfort and connectedness, belittle and seem to find joy in bossing her about in her new outsider state. Though it takes time, as Raina grows older within the story, she acquires the strength to say no to her friends and in her blossoming confidence is even able to find less toxic friends.

This memoir is funny and very relatable and speaks to the growing pains that ring so true to many young girls and women. Now, with Young Adult film adaptation’s so popular, this tale, with its insightful teenage explorations, would make perfect sense to adapt to the filmic media. As an extra bonus, Ms. Telgemer has recently published another graphic memoir titled “Sisters”, which I for one can´t wait to read!

Bird-t_CA0-articleLarge

8. “Moomins: The policeofficer´s nephew” by Lars Jansson: Technically cheating since this is a comic strip, but this supposedly younger readers graphic tale would be an interesting and extremely brave adaptation. Over at Flavorwire this “storybook” is found listed this as one of the children´s books that deserve a re-boot, and indeed, while the cartoon show which was based on the books is good, it still lacks a lot of the more philosophical and political themes which the Moomin books are famous for. The comics, while not always as good, were at best as sharp as the original stories. Especially we can note this comic series springing from the originals, where the police officers nephew comes for a visit to Moomin valley and decides he suddenly wants to become a policeman himself. Unfortunately this leads to a slew of over-enthusiastic actions leading him to harangue and arrest the innocent populace of the tranquil valley. To thwart the worst of the Nephews actions his Uncle claims there is an illegal drug trade in Moominvalley, hoping this will distract him. Yet instead of diverting the authoritarian behavior of the nephew it only makes things worse.

Muumit Brysselissä

This comic is as bizarre as it is funny and takes enormous risks, inside of this genre, in making references to both marijuana, cocaine as well as opium. Naturally, this comic is a critique of the social ideal of the police officer having definitive, unquestioned power within all encounters and situations, and of the drug panic which our society reacts to blindly (and criminalizes). While it can be argued that perhaps this comic is not exactly for young children, it still could pass for young adults and adults. The comic isn’t afraid of poking fun at authority while keeping the Moomins pure hearted and kind towards the misguided nephew. It is a truly odd, fun read and would most likely stir debate and laughter as a film.

Not from the same story line, but still funny!

Not from the same story line, but still funny!

9. “Army of God” by David Axe and Tim Hamilton: This is journalism in the form of comics, similar to the work of Joe Sacco (author of the classic “Palestine”). A little while back there was a lot of controversy over the video “Kony 2012”. Most reactions and opinions were spontaneous, though heartfelt, but few really got to get a clear picture of the ideology and actions perpetuated by the Kony “movement” in the Congo. In this comic, two journalists give a short introduction to the Congo´s modern history, what exactly the “Lord Resistance Army” (Kony´s terrorist group) is, about the international movement to stop “LDR”, and most importantly tells the story of few of Kony´s victims. It would be a great documentary film if adapted, and a much needed one, since it is hard to get real, concrete facts and information about the horrors LDR have committed.

armyOfGod

10. Nearly the entire comic output of Nina Hemmingsson: Ms. Hemmingsson is a Swedish comic artist who has become famous for her short comics about a socially inept young woman. Her collected works include “I am your girlfriend now”, “My beautiful eyes” and “It´s hard to be Elvis in Uppsala”**. Her works are witty, dark and hilarious. Addressing gender stereotypes and norms, her work details in a personal and bizarre fashion telling of the tireless exploration of characters pushing against convention while continuing the battle of being themselves. In a film adaptation it would be a interesting experiment of following multiple story lines and situations, bursting with awesome social commentary.

resizer.php

For example, the story “I dated a Buddhist”*** is a sharp, funny commentary of white westerners who practice a form of “Buddhism”, simultaneously watering it down and not being entirely understanding about the real roots of the faith (i.e. committing cultural appropriation), all the while using their “enlightened faith” to elevate themselves amongst their peers and depress-shame others who inadvertently find themselves in their company. Another story depicts a young girl getting on a buss after a riding lesson. The driver makes a comment about all girls loving horses to which the young girl responds to gently point out that boys can also like horses and horse riding. This insight gets the young girl shut down in the conversation as soon as she indicates the sexist assumptions and absurdity of the discussion.

1nina2

One of Hemmingssons strips……” The young man encourages the older woman to express herself, the woman conveys her frustration and suggests a sexual liasion between them. The man quickly notes that some self-censorship is still advised.”

A common core to the story arc of Hemingsson’s tales is the positioning of the weird and wondrous protagonist to reflect the conditions of real life in a melancholic yet hopeful way. In the end of the day, a film version of these kind of stories would be great. Who doesn´t need some laughter nowadays?
So there´s my list. What do you readers think? Any other comics/graphic novels/graphic memoirs you would like to see a film adaption of?

————————————————————————————————————————-
*For anyone interested, the very best comic/graphic novel adaptations done to date are “Persepolis” and the television adaptation of “The Boondocks” (specifically season 1 and 2).

persepolis** My own translations.

*** My own translations.

botero-fernando-the-letter-1976-cuadros-fernando-botero

“The Letter” (1976) by Fernando Botero

Kreetta Onkeli (born in 1970 in Jyväskylä) is a Finnish writer who won several awards and has been a bit of a critical darling. This year she won the Finladia Junior Prize (one of the major literary prizes in Finland for young adult/children’s books) and also received the “Kalevi Jänti” award for her debut novel, “Iloinen Talo” (“A Happy House”). Her work has encompassed narrative satire, biographical novels, shorter essays as well as opinion journalism.

Onkeli’s  debut novel, “Iloinen Talo” (1996), was based on her childhood memories and chronicles the life of two young girls living with an alcoholic mother and the occasional foster family. In Finnish the title plays on the ironic and inclines to the double entendre. The novel is anything but happy and the context of the word “happy” in its “double sense” alludes to prostitution (prostitutes are sometimes referred to as Ilotyttö, “Happygirl”). Ironic tittles are a favorite trope of Ms. Onkelis; her fifth work “Beige: Eroottinen Kesä Helsingisä”(2005), in English “Beige: An Erotic Summer in Helsinki”) does take place in Helsinki, but it is anything but erotic.

Kreetta Onkeli at the Finlandia Prize Ceremony

Kreetta Onkeli at the Finlandia Prize Ceremony

“Beige” focuses on the protagonist Vappu, an overweight girl who is painfully insecure. She is a complete outcast, being nearly completely friendless. Her homelife, mirroring her disconnection with humanity,  is composed solely of a oblivious father with whom she has no real connection. Onkeli starts her novel describing the depth of this disconnection with Vappu declaring the sun “was not a friend. It laughed at my figure, my pale and clumsy body.” Musing about a previous and unseen scene in the narrative Vappu reflects on being unable to find a swimming suit and whether the reality was a purposeful forgetting to hide her shape from others. Attempting to get into the building she lives in, at the end of this dire contemplation, her landlady denies she recognizes her and refuses her admittance to the building claiming she doesn’t know anything “that fat”. Already on the first two pages Ms. Onkeli establishes two of the most important themes in “Beige”: Vappu’s immobilizing belief that her “undesirability” justifies her rejection by others and how others around her define and magnify this self-doubt through their commonplace cruelty.

onkeli

Vappu lives in a small town, where she develops a habit of escaping into daydreaming mixed in with her awakening sexuality. Vappu deeply desires sexual intimacy, but, due to the compounding of her unfortunate circumstances and the mental state this creates, is unable to. She invents an imaginative boyfriend, which she then goes onto graphically describe having imaginative sex with. She tells people around her she has a boyfriend, even if no one believes her. As times goes on, Vappu turns  18, which means she is no longer a minor. Her father takes advantage of this fact and sends her off to live in Helsinki so he can have more time with his new girlfriend. Vappu’s father informs his daughter that in Helsinki she will find a guy quite easily. Using the details of language Onkeli lets the reader know that Vappu is aware of her father’s true motivations but Vappu cannot but help to embrace a hope of finding love and sex in Helsinki. Onkeli masterfully indicates each of her characters motivation while showing how the crux of the human relationships revolving around Vappu is far from the ideal and is founded on a grim combination of the malicious, deceit and hope . It works perfectly for setting up the main conflict in the book as well as getting the reader to sympathize with Vappu.

Ms.Onkeili's first novel

Ms.Onkeili’s first novel

However nothing goes as Vappu hoped. She is ridiculed and mocked at work. When the few episodes of kindness are expressed to Vappu, her reaction is based on the rejections she has endured and she becomes too frozen to respond. Her time in Helsinki becomes a spiral into the paranoid about herself, and even the exposure of being outdoors becomes saturated with the feeling of shame for Vappu. A continual monologue is channeled through those around Vappu detailing how she resembles a man and how she should exercise to counter all of the faults which she has. Pushed by this continual stream of chatter about her defects Vappu begins to lose control of her situation and dwells more and more within her sexual daydreaming, which begins to take a violent turn.

6a00e550913f36883300e55349bb318833-800wi

“Benefit Supervisor Sleeping” (1995) by Lucien Freud

The usage of people daydreaming to escape their reality is a common theme in fiction. Such as the short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber, where a bored man has regular daydreams and fantasies as a means of escapism. The man is timid in life, but fearless in his daydreams, much like Vappu who, though remaining a virgin throughout “Beige”,  has constant sex with every man she meets in her daydreamed life. Other literary examples are the Finnish writer Joel Lehtonens “Rakastunut Rampa” (1922, “A Lame in Love”) where a poverty-stricken hunchback fantasizes about being a ladykiller while in real life he faces prejudice and hatred. This theme also appears in a Moomin novel, “Moominpappa at Sea” (1965) by Tove Jansson . In the novel Moominmamma, who can barely stand having to leave Moominvalley, paints a garden similar to the one in Moominvalley as a wall mural, which, motivated by her extreme homesickness, she finds she enter. Onkeli takes this classic theme and does an incredible twist to it. She uses it to describe female sexual frustration, a nearly unrecognized subject in literature. She also makes the subject modern by making the person who faces constant rejection from society an overweight person. An acerbated problem of the contemporary era as consumerist culture endeavors to create a model of the “attractive women” more and more out of reach to the normal human.

images

Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (he used plus-sized women almost exclusively)

Kreetta Onkeli illustrates a world where Vappu is constantly being punished for being overweight. People shun her, laugh at her and ignore her. She is mistreated because she doesn’t fit a norm and standard others expect her to. Onkeli goes into detail regarding the shame that is placed on Vappu, how Vappu internalizes this monologue into herself (and how she only “sees” through this horrible model), and how this sends her into a horrible spiral of impossible resolutions. She slowly loses grips on reality. As time passes, her self-hatred overwhelms her, as it must in this skewed image of self, ending in tragedy.

That this novelette is not translated is unbelievable. It has a great main character while dealing with intense, current and timely issues. This narrative erupts to the surface of our real experience as it speaks of a society which ridicules people who don’t have the perfect body, a society which openly despises people outside of the norm. Vappu represents women who are not considered beautiful or desirable in the narrow perimeters which are aggressively set by a culture of consumption and image. Vappu’s narrative exposes a world where women are constantly judged on the altar of advertising media normativity for their body. Vappu is laid bare in the story as the excluded and ultimate other, as her father’s girlfriend states, “a different type of women”. Vappu becomes sexually frustrated since society does not allow her to be sexual, to be a desirable woman. She is not allowed to be a whole person, a person whose sexuality is equal to others.

“Beige” is a perfect depiction of how women are stripped of their sexual positions and possibilities and how this is founded on the obliteration of even the most meager right to exist as their own persons established on their own considerations of being.

kreetta+onkeli+jyväskylän+kirjamessut+2010

A more relaxed Kreetta Onkeli

“Beige: An Erotic Summer in Helsinki” is a real gem that should be much, much more known. It speaks of people who face a new and terrible form of alienation. It should be translated; it is a crime that it is only available in Finnish.

“I think most human beings go through some sort of depression in their life. And if they don’t, I think that’s weird” – Kirsten Dunst

Yu Dafu (郁达夫) was born in Fuyang (a country-level city under jurisdiction of Hangzhou, which in turn is the provincial capital of Zhejiang, an eastern coastal province in China) in 1896. He died in 1945, probably executed by the Japanese during the final moments of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Yu Dafu lived his yearly childhood years in poverty. However, he was able to study due to receiving several scholarships from the government of the time. Mr. Yu studied at several Universities, for instance the Hangchow University, which he only studied at for a short time since he was expelled for participating in a student strike. He then moved to Japan, where he met several Chinese intellectuals. Together they founded the “Creation Society”, which promoted modern literature. Around this time he also started publishing his earliest works in Japan; in 1921 he published the short story “Sinking” (“Chenlun”, 沉淪), his most famous work.

Yu Dafu

Yu Dafu

“Sinking” was mandatory reading for a university class I took last term. When discussing it, the class was fairly divided; many accused the story for depicting an egotistical person who does nothing. One woman in my class however stated: “This man seemed fairly isolated and hasn’t received any affection, any love from anyone. I think this character could have used some therapy”. Her thoughts reflect exactly the take this review will have of the protagonist in “Sinking” and what the story, arguable, describes: A man with severe emotional difficulties due to an unbalanced society.

The protagonist in “Sinking” is never named. He remains just simply an anonymous “He”. However his back story has many similarities to that of Yu Dafu, such as his father dying at the age of three and living in poverty as a child. It has been stated that Yu’s short stories and poems often reflect his emotions and are influenced by his experiences in life. However, this is a little questionable as a major theme in “Sinking”, found as well as his other works, is the feeling of being alienated from women, while the author in actuality was married three times with three different women. On the other hand similarity to Mr. Yu can be found in the stories protagonist is pursuing a study course in Japan and this is the environment which we explore with him. “Sinking” begins with the protagonist lost in a field of alienation triggered by the deep well of “lonesome” which engulfs his person. So begins a story tightly focused on the main characters feelings and moods which unmoored by the feelings of disconnection cause the mental state of the protagonist to uncontrollably (and drastically) undulate over the short span of the narratives unfolding.

One of the very first covers for "Sinking" (Unfortunately sexist)

One of the very first covers for “Sinking” (Unfortunately sexist)

Depression has only recently become a topic which our society can openly confront and discuss. And even if a new openness has been conceded to the subject within Western cultures, it is still one which finds an “uncomfortableness” in the normal conversations of the public and one which finds some stigma lurking in the background. In the midst of this silence and awkward speech, however are to be found some wonderful and insightful works of fiction that depict depression. The most famous example within this “genre” for the Western Reader is Sylvia Plath’s magnus opus, “The Bell Jar” and interestingly, Yu Dafu’s young, lonesome “He” shares similar traits with Esther, the protagonist of “The Bell Jar”.

bell-jar

“Sinking” is, frankly, another great literary depiction of depression and the whirlpool of desperate emotions it entails.

Both Esther and “He” find it impossible to enjoy literature. In the “The Bell Jar” Esther describes with great alarm to her psychiatrist and her mother that she “no longer reads books”. The protagonist of “Sinking” is described as picking up books, reading “out of sequence”, deceitfully deciding to himself that it would be a pity to just gulp down a book, and abandoning the text . Yu describes the fragmented thoughts engendered by this depression: “Everytime he closed a book, he made up similar excuses for himself. The real reason was that he had already grown a little tired of it”. Both start irregular sleeping habits, such as Esther describing that she “no longer sleeps”. “He” from “Sinking” starts to over sleep, also developing irregular eating habits: “Without bothering with lunch, he slept until four o´clock”. Other than that, the main character in “Sinking” has also a habit of crying spontaneously as well as has mood swings. “He” is prone to self-pity, a common trait of depression in men.

s300_d9add5e0de18f3cc2aa84daefbfbbd78

Naturally one can’t claim this story purposefully wants to solely illustrate a person with depression due to its simultaneous political agenda, however the text openly states that the character suffers from “melancholia” and arguable depression is the terrible and tumultuous state which Yu Dafu is hoping to explore.

Chinese symbol for "hopelessness"

Chinese symbol for “hopelessness”

Yu Dafu was a known critic of society and was known for highlighting government incompetence. During the 1920s, Chinese intellectuals (especially the ones who participated in the May Fourth Movement) believed that in order to improve Society one had to begin by looking, not at the State, but at the individual. To tone up the “I”, so to speak. “Sinking” is purposefully about a man who is not feeling well due to society. Similar to Esther’s depression in “The Bell Jar” being primarily triggered and horribly engendered by the rampant sexism in the American society, Yu’s protagonists depression is caused and sustained by the unstable economical and political situations in China, the alienation and racism he faces in Japan, and a Society which stoutly refuses to recognize its own problems placing it on the individual instead.

10540151

Critics have often pointed out that “Sinking” is highly nationalistic, which of course resonates differently today then what it did back in 1921. Personally, this inclination in the text bothers me little since it was mostly expressed as a sense of wanting to be just seen as equally good as others (Yu Dafu as we find in “He” is a Stranger in a foreign land)*. In Sinking, the protagonist laments: “Isn’t the scenery in China as beautiful? Aren’t the girls in China as pretty?”. “He” does wallow about in fantasies of revenge and violence, which is assuredly unnerving to the reader, but the statements and questions do strike a sort of truth regarding “He’s” chaotic, alienated mental state and the veiled hostile abandonment a society and State imposes on the “outsider”. The Japanese students who “He” continually encounters in the milieu of his study treat him coldly and venture into the adjacent terrain of alienating indifference and covert intimidation to which “He” naturally reacts to with insecurity and anger. It can be said for all that when engulfed in a shadow of forces beyond control and sense even the sanest of us respond with insecurity, confusion and resentment. Using the Plight of “He” Yu Dafu endeavors, along with this question of the inhumanity of person to person, to lay a ground to motivate China to reform and improve itself. To look at the how the State may encourage and nurture the individual and consider a Society formed at the best intersections of Personnel and Political, the individual and the Nation/State.

Yu Dafu was also fairly shocking for his time with his frank dealing with sexuality. Indeed, “Sinking” makes frequent references and depictions of the protagonist masturbating. This works as a way to demystify self-pleasuring, but also a way to portray the protagonist’s alienation. He is insecure and uncertain of himself and barely can find the courage to approach women (or any person, really). He is friendless and unable to bond with another human being. The masturbation scenes are not for shock value, but an honest way for the author to speak of his protagonists’ feelings of guilt and his hopeless earning for love.

Other works by Mr. Yu

Other works by Mr. Yu

The story also is interesting in how openly the protagonist is, in his own way, a little bit too romantic for his own good. He even considers suicide since, as he puts it: “And what would life be without love?”.

scary-heart--large-msg-11974301227

Not much happens in “Sinking”, Yu just lets the story of a sad man’s life unfold. “Sinking” is a tale about emotions, deep unhappiness and despair. No doubt the story will speak to anyone who has ever felt lonely or hopeless at some point in their life. It is a raw, honest and painfully candid tale with timeless themes.

index

——————————————————————————————————————
*As a person of Finnish descent, I can relate strongly to the insecurity of being in another countries “Shadow”. In fact I have asked similar questions to myself as “He”. Here’s a music video recorded by a Finnish Band about living in Swedens shadow (My apologies for the title, it was written in the fifties). No English, just Swedish and Finnish sorry.

“Pain, without love/ Pain, I can’t get enough pain/ I like it rough ‘Cause I’d rather feel pain than nothing, nothing at all” – Three Days Grace, “Pain”

(This review will not be spoiler free. This review also may be triggering for discussions of rape and violence.)

Hitomi Kanehara was a high school dropout and wrote her debut, “Snakes and Earrings”, when she was nineteen years old. It won the “Akutagawa Prize” (one of the most valued literary prizes in Japan) in 2003. One of the judges was the well-respected bestselling novelist Ryū Murakami. In a foreword he wrote for “Snakes and Earrings”, Mr. Murakami praised the novel for its perfect depiction of the angst and existential troubles one can suffer while being (as well as due to existing as one) a teenager. He speculated that one of the reasons why Ms. Kanehara succeeds in this so well would be because she wrote the novel when still a teenager herself.

Ms. Hitomi Kanehara

“Snakes and Earrings” starts with the nineteen-year old Lui meeting the punk-styled Ama and his split-tongue. Lui becomes immediately and extremely eager to get her tongue pierced, the first step in getting it split. She suddenly wishes to cover herself in tattoos and piercings, much to Ama’s surprise, since she’s a so-called “Barbiegirl”. When the two become a couple it turns out that Ama is a very sweet-natured and cuddly lover despite his “scary” looks. However he is violently overly protective of Lui and therefore beats a man to possible death after the man harassed Lui. Lui fiercely claims that she does not care much about Ama. She then tries her best to make sure Ama doesn’t get caught by the police, contradicting her many statements.

Ama and Lui, from the cinematic adaption of “Snakes And Earrings”

However, despite Ama having a clear dark side, Lui is frustrated by his mild and loving care of her. Her longing for roughness and self-destruction are found in the sadistic tattoo artist Shida, who she starts an affair with. Shida constantly threatens Lui that he may end up killing her eventually. Shida makes it clear that he also would enjoy such an act very much. He’s also extremely violent towards Lui during sex. Kanehara uses those narrative sequences to describe Lui’s relationship to herself, her body and sexuality: exploring the thoughts which Lui has regarding what Shida will do to her, and playing these against musings about what other men have done to her during sex, some of which she strongly disliked. However it seems Lui wasn’t able to protest against these events. An eerie feeling is created that suggests Lui doesn’t ever get a say or control of the situation when having sex – in a way she’s always literally at the mercy of the men. But when with Shida, Lui becomes intoxicated with the possibility of her own annihilation.

This theme is continued in a scene where, while eating dinner with Ama and Shida at a restaurant, Lui wonders whether it will be Ama who will kill her (due to him finding out about her unfaithfulness) or Shida (who even at the restaurant whispers to her how much he longs to kill her). Lui states this as a matter of fact and as a curiously indifferent quiz question. Lui bathes herself in destruction and the threat of death is all a part of the new life of suffering.

Kanehara cleverly describes how Lui feels such disconnection from the society and life that she can`t care about herself nor keep herself safe in the midst of the acts of her own living . She longs for pain, since as she frankly states: “I need it to feel anything”. Lui isn’t close to her family and doesn’t seem to have any close friends (only one appears briefly in the novel and Lui doesn’t seem that close to her) and hates the only job she’s ever had. The job in question being to serve and host rich men who have “important business” meetings at the bar where she’s employed. The job is illustrated as a work place where young girls giggle and smile and act as cute as possible to please men, i.e. acting out a role usually expected from women in patriarchic societies. Lui states she is very good at this job. So good in fact that many men leave her their phone numbers. Lui then adds: “But it’s not me their interested in, it’s the role I play that their interested in”. In a following inner thought Lui comments on how most people mistake her for an orphan. This is a subtle hint that Lui as a person comes off as quit alone and separated from all in the world.

Lui, being unable to make meaningful connections and being forced to act cute by society, rebels destructively by just adapting another submissive and self-annihilating role. Society, being both empty and colorful, has driven Lui to seek the exact opposite. Yet due to the operations of the patriarchic world, even her rebellion can only lead to her being exploited.

Lui is not only self-destructive by staying in relationships where she may end up dying, but she’s also an alcoholic. Ama points out how Lui is basically dependent of alcohol, which she disregards with anger. Kanehara uses the addiction to drink, and the deadly spiral it creates, to depict Lui as a person consumed by nihilism. But this nihilism is founded on the deadly, but logical, reaction to society which gives her no choices or possibilities of action. Lui’s decisions are clearly not healthy. While her nihilism stops her from making better decisions in life, what alternative is possible in a life stripped of possibility?

Cover of the Finnish translation of “Snakes and Earrings”

“Snakes and Earrings” is a great portrayal of harsh numbness. However, in the novel, the presentation of bisexual men is more than a little troublesome. Shida, the sadistic tattoo artist, mentions early to Lui that he enjoys sleeping with men (when he’s about to sleep with Lui). That Shida is sexually disturbed is hinted at from his very first interaction with Lui when he states in a serious tone to her, during their first encounter, that he would like to stab Lui in the neck. His most disturbing traits are continually displayed in the novels narrative through the token of his bisexuality. Along with this troubling thread in the tale we find throughout the novel Kanehara has her characters, consistently position the act of the bisexual as peculiar, and moving, always, on the fringe of meaningless destruction. To explain furthermore, I’ll have to explain the turning point of the novel.

Cover of Swedish translation of “Snakes and Earrings”

Near the novels end, Ama goes missing. He is later found dead with clear signs of being brutally tortured before being killed. Lui’s reaction to this news is surprisingly emotional. She suffers depression and feels guilty over not getting to know Ama more (she worries that their last exchange of dialogue was so nonchalant). She stops eating entirely and only drinks. Lui, for a mere moment in the text, starts to care for something and engage with relations. However, she is quickly called in by the police who have discovered that Ama was raped before being killed. The Policemen start off asking Lui, before telling about their recent discovery, if Ama had any “bisexual tendencies”. Lui says she doubts it and that she is certain that Ama was completely heterosexual. A conclusion she makes since as she says: “his way of having sex was so normal that I was sometimes fairly bored”. A policeman then explains that they discovered that Ama was also raped before being murdered. This whole sequence boggles the mind on so many levels. Why did the policemen assume Ama was bisexual? They state that he was raped by another man, not having consensual sex with one. It is highly problematic that the policeman makes assumptions of a victim’s sexuality due to the crime committed towards them. A crime such as rape should never be seen as a reveal of sorts on the victim’s personality, besides that they have experienced something horrid. The way the policemen put it makes it sounds as if they would be trying to find out if Ama was somehow “asking for it” or somewhat responsible for getting raped (i.e. Victim Blaming). Portraying a situation like this wouldn’t be problematic if the author included a critical tone to the prose or had her protagonist question such mentality, but such protests, or even hints of disquiet about the direction of the conversation, are completely lacking in this scene. Also, by having the novel’s protagonist decide that Ama couldn’t possibly be bisexual since he’s way of having sex was too “normal”, Kanehara makes the implication that bisexuality is similar to having an appetite for “unusual” sex. Such viewpoints boggle the mind and we hope, and not find within the narrative, any alarm with this train of thought.

Lui then figures out that Shida was the one who raped, tortured and killed Ama. Lui however still decides to stay with Shida, this decision being her final act of nihilism. This is a great ending since it does demonstrate Lui’s complete lack of caring, feeling or belief for anything. However by making Shida, the most disturb person in the novel, into a complete monster and also the only non-heterosexual character in the novel, this twist ends up also sending the message that bisexual men, just by nature of being bisexual, are dangerous and predatory. This is a stereotype that has been detailed many times in fiction regarding the bisexual man, and one which also rears its ugly head regarding gay men as well. “Snakes and Earrings” therefore just repeats an old nasty caricature of the non-heterosexual men, and takes what should be a great and forceful ending and undermines it (not to mention makes this strong story have the taste of extremely non-progressive morality tale).

“Snakes and Earrings” is a very short, but disturbing and intense read. Despite its huge flaws, “Snakes and Earrings” is well worth checking out.

“The Music man” (1962) is a musical directed by Morton DaCosta and tells the story of Harold Hill (Robert Preston), a conman who travels around scamming people by promising to make a musical band for kids, but running off after he’s gotten all of their money. He comes to River City, Iowa, a silent and sulking town, hoping to use their naivety to gain money, but after a while has a change of heart.

I know, sounds simple and stupid, but trust me: this movie has good and sometimes even experimental songs and great characters! Especially the female lead is refreshingly strong, smart and independent for a 60’s movie! This film has also some very interesting critique of American conservatives.

The town’s people are a populace that gets sucked into Hills scam due to their paranoia of the “evils of the modern world”. By believing that Hill is a man standing for old fashion standards, Hill has the whole town fooled – except for the librarian, Marian (Shirley Jones). Marian is viewed as odd and a bad influence due to the books she lets teenagers read (Omar Khayyam’s poetry collections, Balzac etc). Marian bravely argues for literature and doesn’t let the town’s people’s gossip get to her. When Hill arrives, she sees right through his sweet talk and lies. She even tells some of the town people off for letting themselves get wrapped up in Hills empty words. Marian doesn’t let Hills sly attempts to seduce her work. There is also a scene where she cheers up a young girl suffering from unrequited love. So Marian is a women that isn’t easily fooled, stands for her own beliefs and is able to give good advice. Marian has good sides, the movie is fair enough to show that Marian isn’t the perfect person – she has her weaknesses like any other person.

Even if Marian is sharp, cleverer than anyone else in the town and knows a lot about books, the movie hints that socially she’s doing terribly. Being an outcast, she hasn’t really had any kind of relationship with men. This is a result of her having to high standards for men and for demanding them to be “super-smart”. Her mother advices her to have a relationship with Hills for the sake of finally having a relationship. Marian argues at first, but later after realizing Hill might actually have some good in him, she agrees to go out with him. It is at this part the viewer finds out that Marian is a virgin and is, in fact, sexually frustrated. She just hasn’t admitted this to herself because of her hopes of finding someone to match her high standards. Marian tells Hills on their date that she knows he’s leaving town soon, but has decided that she still wants to have a short relationship. Meaning that she’s ready to have sex.

Here’s where I find “The Music Man” to have an almost feministic portrayal of Marian’s character. She’s confident and independent, but has her flaws. She has good, strong sides and bad sides; like any person, men and women, there are things she can do and things where she’s a bit clumsy. The movie avoids making her a Madonna, helpless damsel or “whore”, three categories movies to often put their women characters in. But this movie, in a more feministic way, shows that women aren’t that simple. They are actual human beings; just like men they are only human. I also liked how Marian wanting sex wasn’t shown as a bad thing; it was actually a part of her character development, since she allows herself to feel new feelings. For a woman character in an old movie, Marian sure is modern!

Also Hills change of heart is unusually non-sentimental and believable. He actually learns to now the people, which make him want to help them a little, even if he still does try to scam them. Even him falling in love with Marian feels real. The best part is that the movie doesn’t make it too sweet; almost anyone can tolerant the low amount of sweetness used in the romantic scenes.

And of course, what makes a good musical are the good songs. The movie makers have actually tried to experiment with sound while writing the songs. For example, the opening song to the movie is trying to copy the sound of trains. Another good example is a song in a scene when Marian and her mother are discussing Hills for the first time; while actually having a conversation they are trying to match the tune played by a girl practicing on the piano. This scene has been referenced in “Family Guy”, where Brian the dog and Lois (the wife of the family) have the same kind of talk, similar to this singing/conversation, which is also based on a tune coming from a piano practice. (“Family Guy” has also referenced this movie by a performance of “Shipoopi”, another song from this movie).

“The Music Man” is a fun musical that’s sadly quiet underrated. If you have the chance, see it.

Taslima Nasrin was born Mymensingh, Bangladesh in 1962. After taking a degree in Dhaka Medical College, she turned to writing. She has published several volumes of Poetry and non-fiction. But Nasrin is probably best known for her works in fiction, where the most famous works are “Lajja – Shame” and “Shodh”. Nasrin is known for being a fiery feminist, whose works deal mostly with oppression. “Lajja -Shame”, for example, told the story of a Hindu family who become victims of violence they receive from fundamentalist Muslims. In case you don’t know, Hindus are a minority in Bangladesh and have faced extreme violence both in 1990 and 1992 riots in Bangladesh. Nasrin lives in exile, in Europe. She has gotten a fatwa for being critical of the religious oppression towards women.

I’ve read both “Lajja” and “Shodh”. “Lajja” was decent, and had a good plot and good intention, but as a fictional work didn’t really capture me. “Shodh”, however, was brilliant. The word “Shodh” means “getting even”, and tells a rather complex revenge tale. It starts with Jhumur, a young woman with a good education, marrying the first man she falls in love with. She becomes pregnant and tells her husband, hoping to make him happy, but he instead in confusion starts accusing her of cheating on him before they got married, since they have only been married for six weeks and it is “not possible to become pregnant in six weeks”. Since Jhumur has had male friends, her husband assumes she has had an affair with one of them. He takes her to an abortion clinic and forces her to take an abortion. The incident leaves deep mental wounds, especially since she has allowed herself to become a housewife, not be in touch with her old friends and family, and lets his mother boss her around. She has done everything for him and he in turn shames her by accusing her of infidelity. The incident haunts her and drives her having an affair, in attempt to get even, but she realizes her chances of truly getting even are slim, for the society she lives in doesn’t give women any other chance but to serve men and be housewives, while men can do as they please.

“Shodh” is told in an angry and bitter, but not self-pitying voice. Jhumur takes out her revenge only to see that it ultimately is useless. She, as all women around her, is chained to the home. Jhumur makes sharp examinations of the women around her. She envies Afzal, the man she has an affair with, for his freedom to paint and travel. She sadly realizes that her husband doesn’t really care much about her; he just wants children (mostly a son). An interesting way how Nasrin keeps are sympathy with Jhumur is how her husband is shown never to tell her anything, not even what he does for a living. Jhumur states that he is a business man and that he goes to “the office” every morning, yet refuses to tell her what he does, since she wouldn’t understand it. It is also easy to sympathize with Jhumur when she describes how her husband keeps reminding her of the abortion by saying “soon we’ll have a child of our own”. You can’t help but understand why Jhumur does what she does to get even; she has no other way to get back for the cruelty she receives.

Nasrin is also surprisingly understanding towards Afzal, the man Jhumur has an affair with. Nasrin shows him as being in love with Jhumur and wanting to be with her, asking her to run away with him. Jhumur says no since she doesn’t love him, which leaves Afzal heartbroken.

“Shodh” is an interesting take on the position women are in. How they are forced into lives that are not for them, but for the men they marry. Jhumur rebels in the only way she can, but since her life is still not her own it brings her no real satisfaction – or not very much.

But the book is not completely pessimistic; Nasrin believes that women, if they only want to, rise up against the oppression that is inflicted upon them. Jhumur finds a way to be independent even if she is married.

On a last note I’ll like to mention Monica Ali’s “Brick Lane”, which also is about a Bengali woman who finds her own way to be independent while being married. This book is pretty good too, but I think I enjoyed “Shodh” better. It is more sharp and biting in its critic of the world. It also has a clearer ending. “Brick Lane” is more comic and not as brutal, which might explain why it is better known than “Shodh”. But personally, I think “Shodh” is a lot more interesting in its subject.