The perfect protective membrane

Excerpt from The Membranes by Chi Ta-Wei

Photo by Ryan Loughlin on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The Membranes by Chi Ta-Wei, translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich.

The ocean made a perfect protective membrane, a thick, robust barrier that could shield humans, animals, and plants from ultraviolet radiation.

Plus, the ocean was the primordial birthplace of all earth’s plants and animals. Back when there was no life on land, it was the ocean that generated the earliest vegetation, and the ocean that eventually produced our most primitive ancestors, These earliest plants and animals evolved in water because sunlight was lethal; the ozone layer had not yet formed. Only when the collective gases exhaled by the denizens of the ocean had reached a critical mass and erupted through the surface and into the atmosphere was the radiation-filtering protective layer formed. And only under the shelter of this newly formed barrier could the first brave organisms crawl to the shore and withstand the assault of sunlight on their vulnerable bodies.

who could have imagined that eons later, in the twenty-first century, they would return to their old ocean home?

But humans, unlike fish or shrimp, were not designed to swim, so it would be necessary to build subaquatic cities. Fortunately, the ocean was abundant with natural resources, and with the right adjustments the sea floor could be adapted for human habitation. Not only that, but the technology for harnessing solar power was improving by the day and could now be used to convert great quantities of energy collected aboveground for use on the ocean floor. Since the sun had forced humanity back into the ocean, it was only fair that humanity took some of its power in return.

But the middle of the twenty-first century there was little habitable land left, and humankind finally invaded the oceans en masse, a process euphemistically referred to as “migration.” During the process of “reclaiming wasteland,” new reserves of crude oil were discovered one after another. This accelerated the rate of underwater construction, which in turn provided a solution to the problem of high unemployment, a surprise benefit of migration to the ocean floor! With great “humanity,” they told themselves, humankind “rescued” all manner of favored flora and fauna by bringing them them along to the bottom of the sea. This time, of course they made sure not to bring cockroaches and mosquitoes, but they also left behind many critical organisms, Waves of human settlers inevitably led to the ecological devastation of the ocean floor, but people felt they’d done their best to act humanely. Don’t blame us, they thought, we did the best we could.

By 2060, the majority of humanity had migrated to the ocean, with only one percent left to eke out a living on the surface. Pretty much all the main infrastructure of human civilization had migrated to the ocean floor, including industrial agriculture and animal husbandry. All that remained aboveground were those historical sites too large to be moved—the pyramids, for example, or the February 28th Incident Memorial Plaques ubiquitous on the island of Taiwan—tough archeologist and tourists still visited the surface. The new sea dwellers also left behind unwanted structures like pollution producing factories and nuclear power plants (which meant, however, that some key personnel were forced to remain on the surface to man the reactors). Also abandoned were prisons and various tools of punishment, since governments universally recognized that leaving convicts on the surface was actually a convenient punishment in and of itself. (Let them burn—who needed the electric chair!)

The earth’s surface, which had once struggled to bear the burden of overpopulation, was now almost completely deserted. Though even now humankind proved reluctant to surrender the legacy of its battles for power, still everything—everything—on the surface of the earth went the way of the Great Wall off China To think that these ambitious marvels of engineering built on the backs of the common people, wound up the playthings of the tourism industry! Their majesty was reduced to an absurd footnotes.

But new man-made landscapes were also propagated on the surface, These new landscapes would have been inconceivable to the people who came before: more extravagant than works by the twentieth-century environmental artist Christo, but also more practical. For example, there were the metastasizing “fields” of solar panel arrays stretching as far as the eye could see, used to harvest solar power for the population under the ocean.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Membranes – Summary

Here is the book summary:

It is the late twenty-first century, and Momo is the most celebrated dermal care technician in all of T City. Humanity has migrated to domes at the bottom of the sea to escape devastating climate change. The world is dominated by powerful media conglomerates and runs on exploited cyborg labor. Momo prefers to keep to herself, and anyway she’s too busy for other relationships: her clients include some of the city’s best-known media personalities. But after meeting her estranged mother, she begins to explore her true identity, a journey that leads to questioning the bounds of gender, memory, self, and reality.

First published in Taiwan in 1995, The Membranes is a classic of queer speculative fiction in Chinese. Chi Ta-wei weaves dystopian tropes–heirloom animals, radiation-proof combat drones, sinister surveillance technologies–into a sensitive portrait of one young woman’s quest for self-understanding. Predicting everything from fitness tracking to social media saturation, this visionary and sublime novel stands out for its queer and trans themes. The Membranes reveals the diversity and originality of contemporary speculative fiction in Chinese, exploring gender and sexuality, technological domination, and regimes of capital, all while applying an unflinching self-reflexivity to the reader’s own role. Ari Larissa Heinrich’s translation brings Chi’s hybrid punk sensibility to all readers interested in books that test the limits of where speculative fiction can go.

Copyright © 1995 by Chi Ta-Wei.

Translated by: Ari Larissa Heinrich

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

No love of your life

This is a quote from the book Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

Quote by Andrew Sean Greer, “We know there’s no love of your life. Love isn’t terrifying like that. It’s walking the fucking dog so the other one can sleep in, it’s doing taxes, it’s cleaning the bathroom without hard feelings. It’s having an ally in life. It’s not fire, it’s not lightning. It’s what she always had with me.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Less – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

PROBLEM:

You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years now engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would all be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of half-baked literary invitations you’ve received from around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

If you are Arthur Less.

Thus begins an around-the-world-in-eighty-days fantasia that will take Arthur Less to Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan and put thousands of miles between him and the problems he refuses to face. What could possibly go wrong?

Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Sean Greer.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Don’t you wish you were here?

Excerpt from The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

The train car emptied as it went into the country. People getting on and off stared with open curiosity at the somewhat schlumpy man sitting in seat 6A, a large plastic crate on the empty seat next to him. Inside, a large cat glared balefully out at anyone who bent over to coo at it. One child nearly lost a finger when he tried to stick it in between the slats of the crate.

The man, one Linus Baker of 86 Hermes Way, barely noticed.

He hadn’t slept well the night before, tossing and turning in his bed before finally giving up and deciding his time was better spent pacing back and forth in the sitting room. His luggage, an old, scuffed bag with a broken wheel, sat near the door, mocking him. He’d packed it before attempting to sleep, sure he wouldn’t have time in the morning.

As it turned out, he had all the time in the world, seeing as how sleep remained elusive.

By the time he boarded the train at half past six, he was in a daze, the bags under his eyes pronounced, his mouth curled down. He stared straight ahead, one hand resting atop the crate where Calliope fumed. She’d never done well with travel, but he didn’t have a choice in the matter. He’d considered asking Mrs. Klapper to take care of her in his absence, but the squirrel debacle had most likely soured any chance of Calliope making it through the month unharmed.

He hoped none of the children were allergic.

Rain sluiced down the windows as the train chugged along through empty fields and forests with great, old trees. He’d been on the train for almost eight hours when he realized it was quiet.

Too quiet.

He looked up from the RULES AND REGULATIONS he’d brought from home.

He was the only one left in the train car.

He hadn’t noticed when the last person had left.

“Huh,” he said to himself. “Wouldn’t that just beat all if I missed my stop? I wonder how far the train goes. Maybe it goes on and on, never reaching the end.”

Calliope had no opinion of it one way or another.

He was about to start worrying that he had in fact missed his stop (Linus was nothing if not a consummate worrier), when an attendant in a snappy uniform slid open a door at the end of the car. He was humming to himself quietly, but it was cut off when he noticed Linus. “Hello,” he said amiably. “I didn’t expect anyone else to be here! Must be going a long way on this fine Saturday.”

“I have my ticket,” Linus said. “If you need to see it.”

“If you please. Where are you headed?”

For a moment, Linus couldn’t think. He reached into his coat for his ticket, the large tome in his lap almost falling to the floor. The ticket was slightly crumpled, and he attempted to smooth it out before handing it over. The attendant smiled at him before looking down at the ticket. He whistled lowly. “Marsyas. End of the line.” He punched it with his clicker. “Well, good news, then. Two more stops and you’re there. In fact, if you—Ah, yes, look.” He gestured toward the window.

Linus turned his head, and his breath caught in his throat.

It was as if the rain clouds had reached as far as they could. The gray darkness gave way to a bright and wonderful blue like Linus had never seen before. The rain stopped as they passed out of the storm and into the sun. He closed his eyes briefly, feeling the warmth through the glass against his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt sunlight. He opened his eyes again, and that’s when he saw it, in the distance.

There was green. Bright and beautiful greens of waving grass, and what appeared to be flowers in pinks and purples and golds. They disappeared into white sand. And beyond the white was cerulean.

He barely noticed when the RULES AND REGULATIONS fell to the floor of the train with a loud thump.

Don’t you wish you were here?

“Is that the ocean?” Linus whispered.

“It is,” the attendant said. “Quite the sight, isn’t it? Though you act like you’ve never—Say, have you never seen the ocean before?”

Linus shook his head minutely. “Only in pictures. It’s so much bigger than I thought it’d be.”

The attendant laughed. “And that’s only a small portion of it. I reckon you’ll see a bit more when you depart the train. There’s an island near the village. Takes a ferry to get to it, if you’re so inclined. Most aren’t.”

“I am,” Linus said, still staring at the glimpses of the sea.

“And who do we have here?” the attendant asked, bending over Linus toward the crate.

Calliope hissed.

The attendant stood quickly. “I think I’ll leave her be.”

“Probably for the best.”

“Two more stops, sir,” the attendant said, heading for the door at the opposite end of the train car. “Enjoy your visit!”

Linus barely heard him leave.

“It’s really there,” he said quietly. “It’s really, really there. I never thought—” He sighed. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The House in the Cerulean Sea – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Copyright © 2020 by TJ Klune

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

Classics to read for Pride Month

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.


Are you tired of reading classics by boring old white men? Here’s your chance to read some queer friendly classics!

Even though most classics represent heteronormative relationships, there have always been people who exist outside those norms. There’s a small portion of classics that represent people within the LGBTQIA2S+ community and I think it’s important to highlight them.

Everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more classics with a range of sexualities portrayed, but sadly, it’s not surprising. Especially since homosexuality has been illegal, and remains illegal in many countries around the world (source).

However, it does make me think about the many works of art that have been lost to history due to society’s limited acceptance of people.

With all the barriers authors faced to get these types of novels published, I think it makes the ones that do exist that much more valuable.

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Five classic LGBTQIA2S+ books

Here’s a list of five classic books that represent some aspect of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
  3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
  4. Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

by Oscar Wilde

  • Year Published: 1890
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, lgbtqia+, literary, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Oscar Wilde’s only novel

Summary:

In this celebrated work Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Links:

Orlando (1928)

by Virginia Woolf

  • Year Published: 1928
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, magical realism, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • Considered a feminist classic

Summary:

As his tale begins, Orlando is a passionate young nobleman whose days are spent in rowdy revelry, filled with the colourful delights of Queen Elizabeth’s court. By the close, he will have transformed into a modern, 36-year-old woman and three centuries will have passed. Orlando will not only witness the making of history from its edge, but will find that his unique position as a woman who knows what it is to be a man will give him insight into matters of the heart.

Links:

Giovanni’s Room (1956)

by James Baldwin

  • Year Published: 1956
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Considered a classic of gay literature, and helped foster discussions of homosexuality and bisexuality in mainstream readers

Summary:

Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.

Links:

Maurice (1971)

by E.M. Forster

  • Year Published: 1971 (written in 1914)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Forster wrote the book in 1914 but wouldn’t let it be published until after his death.

Summary:

Maurice is heartbroken over unrequited love, which opened his heart and mind to his own sexual identity. In order to be true to himself, he goes against the grain of society’s often unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.

Forster understood that his homage to same-sex love, if published when he completed it in 1914, would probably end his career. Thus, Maurice languished in a drawer for fifty-seven years, the author requesting it be published only after his death (along with his stories about homosexuality later collected in The Life to Come).

Since its release in 1971, Maurice has been widely read and praised. It has been, and continues to be, adapted for major stage productions, including the 1987 Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.

Links:

The Color Purple (1982)

by Alice Walker

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance: Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize (making Walker the first black woman to win the prize)

Summary:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

Links:

Final thoughts

I’ve only listed five books here, so it’s only a small portion of the classics available. But hopefully something caught your eye.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite classic that represents part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Boredom

This is a quote from the essay Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag.

Quote by Susan Sontag “There is, in a sense, no such thing as boredom. Boredom is only another name for a certain species of frustration.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Notes on Camp – Summary

Here is the book summary:

The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.’

These two classic essays were the first works of criticism to break down the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, and made Susan Sontag a literary sensation.

Penguin Modern: fifty new books celebrating the pioneering spirit of the iconic Penguin Modern Classics series, with each one offering a concentrated hit of its contemporary, international flavour. Here are authors ranging from Kathy Acker to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Stanislaw Lem and George Orwell to Stevie Smith; essays radical and inspiring; poems moving and disturbing; stories surreal and fabulous; taking us from the deep South to modern Japan, New York’s underground scene to the farthest reaches of outerspace.

Copyright © 1964 by Susan Sontag

More details can be found here on Goodreads and on Storygraph.

Around the world in books: Five books from Indian authors

The month of May is often an opportunity to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander people and their heritage. In America the month is called Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and in Canada it’s called Asian Heritage Month. For this month, I’ll be sharing books by Asian authors.


Have you ever wanted to visit India? Here’s your chance to visit India through reading!

As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit India. I haven’t had the chance yet, but I know one day I will end up going. But until that time I will continue reading books from India to learn more about the country and it’s culture.

Interestingly, English is the second official language of India, with Hindi being the first official language. There are also an additional 22 scheduled languages considered official languages for use in government proceedings. These 22 languages are either widely spoken or considered an official language at a state-level.

India has a very diverse language landscape. There are 122 major languages, with an additional 1,599 used in India. In the 2018 census, there was a total of 19,569 unique mother tongues listed on the census. But a vast majority, 96.71%, of the population have one of the scheduled languages as their mother tongue (Source).

Since there are so many languages used within India, you’ll notice that Indian literature spans many languages. Many Indian authors also write books in English. You’ll see a similar diversity in the books listed below.

I believe this also poses unique accessibility barriers for Indian literature. Books written in English are easily accessible to the rest of the English speaking world, but often times the lesser known languages may have difficulty getting translated.

Photo by Debashis RC Biswas on Unsplash

Five books from Indian authors

Here’s a list of five books with Indian authors.

  1. The Crooked Line: Terhi Lakir by Ismat Chughtai (1944) – translated from Urdu
  2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997) – written in English
  3. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (2008) – written in English
  4. Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree (2018) – translated from Hindi
  5. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (2019) – written in English

They are listed in order of when they were published. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

The Crooked Line: Terhi Lakir (1944)

by Ismat Chughtai, translated from Urdu by Tahira Naqvi

  • Year Published: 1944 (English version in 1995)
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, lgbtqia+, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance: An influential work of Urdu fiction from a feminist writer of that time

Summary:

In India’s colonial past, in a time of political and social revolution, Ismat Chughtai masterfully unfolds her magna opusThe Crooked Line: the semi-autobiographical tale of a fiery-spirited, middle-class Muslim girl bent on exploring the shape and nature of consuming desire. Writing with the same honesty and passion as her scandalous short-story, “The Quilt,” Chughtai exposes the complex relationships developed between women living and working in relative seclusion, and the intellectual and emotional contradictions lying in the heart of a rebellious country on the brink of independence from the British Raj and ultimately Partition.

Links:

The God of Small Things (1997)

by Arundhati Roy, written in English

  • Year Published: 1997
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, historical, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, slow-paced
  • Importance: Winner of the Booker Prize in 1997, and the Dublin Literary Award Nominee in 1999

Summary:

Compared favorably to the works of Faulkner and Dickens, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel is a modern classic that has been read and loved worldwide. Equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama, it is the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevokably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie. It is an event that will lead to an illicit liaison and tragedies accidental and intentional, exposing “big things [that] lurk unsaid” in a country drifting dangerously toward unrest. Lush, lyrical, and unnerving, The God of Small Things is an award-winning landmark that started for its author an esteemed career of fiction and political commentary that continues unabated.

Links:

Sea of Poppies (2008)

by Amitav Ghosh, written in English

  • Year Published: 2008
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, historical, literary, adventurous, challenging, medium-paced
  • Importance: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008
  • Part of the Ibis trilogy

Summary:

At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Her destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean shortly before the outbreak of the Opium Wars in China. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners on board, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton.

Links:

Tomb of Sand (2018)

by Geetanjali Shree, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, literary, emotional, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Language: Hindi
  • Importance: Winner of International Book Prize in 2022

Summary:

An eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a hijra (trans) woman – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

At the older woman’s insistence they travel back to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.

Links:

Burnt Sugar (2019)

by Avni Doshi, written in English

  • Year Published: 2019
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, contemporary, literary, dark, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance: Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize
  • Originally published in India under the title Girl in White Cotton

Summary:

In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless ‘artist’ – all with her young child in tow. Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid’s wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.

This is a love story and a story about betrayal. But not between lovers – between mother and daughter. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery, choking cord of memory and myth that binds two women together, making and unmaking them endlessly.

Links:


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books written by Indian authors.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite book written by an Indian author, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five classic women poets from around the world

Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?

For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.


For this week, I wanted to share five women poets that are considered classics. I tried to give a range of options from around the world and from across the centuries.

All five of the women poets discussed below lived before the 20th century (so in the 1800’s or earlier).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more women poets, each week moving closer to present day.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Five classic women poets

Here’s a list of five women poets that lived before the 20th century.

  1. Sappho
  2. Mīrābāī
  3. Phillis Wheatley
  4. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  5. Emily Dickinson

I’ve listed them in order of when they lived. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Sappho (620 BCE–550 BCE)

  • 620 BCE–550 BCE
  • Archaic Greek Poet
  • Counted among the greatest of poets in Greek Antiquity

Very little is known about Sappho, a well-renown poet from Greek antiquity. Details of her life are often inconsistently reported or are simply unknown.

Additionally, most of her poems have been lost over time, and what has remained are mostly just fragments of poems. Her poem “Ode to Aphrodite” is one of the only complete poems that remain.

But in antiquity Sappho was considered among the greatest of poets. Just as Homer was called “the Poet”, she was called “the Poetess”, and Plato considered her the “tenth Muse”.

She is from the island of Lesbos, and is considered a symbol of love and desire between women as many of her love poems were about women. Due to this, the words lesbian and sapphic were inspired by her.

Links:

Mīrābāī (1498–1546)

  • 1498–1546
  • Northern India
  • Hindu mystic poet and devotee of Krishna

Mīrābāī was a 16th century mystic poet, with most of her poems and songs about Krishna (the Hindu God of Protection, Compassion, Tenderness, and Love). She considered Krishna to be her best friend, lover and husband.

Millions of hymns are attributed to Mīrābāī, but only a few hundred are considered to be authentically written by her. The rest are likely written by others who admired her. Also, many of her compositions continue to be sung today in India, with one of her most popular compositions being “Payoji maine Ram Ratan dhan payo” (पायो जी मैंने राम रतन धन पायो।, “I have been given the richness of Lord’s name blessing”).

She is also the subject of many legends and folk tales, but with very inconsistent details across them. However, one consistent aspect is that most legends discuss her fearless disregard for social and familial conventions.

Links:

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

  • 1753-1784
  • Died at age 31
  • Former slave, and first Black American woman to publish poetry
  • Key book:
    Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was then kidnapped and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston when she was seven or eight. In addition to her domestic obligations, the Wheatley family did provide her with an extensive education and encouraged her to pursue writing. However, she was not emancipated/manumitted (set free) from the family until after she published her book of poetry.

Phillis Wheatley was the first Black American woman to publish poetry, and considered the first to make a living from her writing. Even after she was interviewed by 18 prominent men in Boston to prove that she wrote her own poetry, no one in the Americas was willing to publish her poetry. She was finally able to publish this collection of poetry in London in 1773.

Despite international recognition, she was unable to find anyone to publish any further volumes of poetry. She was able to publish some poetry in pamphlets and newspapers, but only in limited amounts.

Unfortunately, she ended up dying in abject poverty, with many of her poems lost due to lack of support.

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

  • 1806–1861
  • English poet of the Victorian era
  • One of the most respected poets of the Victorian era

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most respected poets of the Victorian Era. She started writing poetry at a very young age and was primarily self taught in the areas of literature and the languages of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

She published her first collection of poems as an adult in 1838, and then wrote prolifically through 1841-1844. Her volume Poems published in 1844 was very successful and caught the attention of her future husband Robert Browning.

She was successful and quite popular in the UK and the United States. She heavily influenced both Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe.

Elizabeth held strong liberal values, especially for that era, and actively campaigned against slavery and in favour of children’s rights (against child labour).

One of her most famous poems is Number 43.

Number 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height 
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight 
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace. 
I love thee to the level of everyday's 
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight. 
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; 
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise; 
I love thee with the passion put to use 
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith; 
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose 
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath, 
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose, 
I shall but love thee better after death.

Links:

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

  • 1830–1886
  • Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
  • One of the most important American poets

Emily Dickinson is regarded as one of the most important and original American poets, but was little-known during her life and lived most of her life in isolation.

She was a prolific writer, but only 10 of her poems were published in her lifetime. Her sister discovered her extensive poetry collection after Emily’s death, and her poems were later published by her acquaintances.

Many of her poems were heavily edited before her acquaintances published them, especially with regards to her dedications and references to Susan (her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson). Scholars often interprete this relationship as romantic, but edits were often done to hide the true nature of their relationship.

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Final thoughts

I hope I was able to do these women some justice. Each of them had a significant influence on the world and within the realm of literature.

Since this only includes five poets, this is a small sampling of the classic poets. It’s simply a way for you to discover a new poet or learn something new about these incredible ladies.

Have you read any of these poets’ work?

Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?

I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.