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7 Classic and Contemporary Books by Phenomenal Women Writers

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photo Fernando Dinis

Tania Ganho is one of Portugal’s most respected literary translators with an impressive number of authors and their books to her name. Her list includes Anaïs Nin, John Banville, Gay Talese, H.G. Wells, E.L. Doctorow, Siri Hustvedt, and Garth Risk Hallberg; she also translates books from French such as the best-selling author Marc Levy. But she is especially attuned to women writers, finding a certain literary sisterhood, because, she says with a touch of impatience, she lives in a very traditional society. Bookwitty spoke with her during the Literatura em Viagem festival in Portugal, where she took the stage with the British author Rachel Cusk, who she also translates, to talk about the importance of literary classics. We are living such troubled times, Ganho said, who added that she had been re-reading Virginia Woolf. “It’s so important not to forget the classics, what people have been through. We can read about what Virginia Woolf saw in the 1930s. It’s essential to revisit what it means to be human in the classics and build on top of this.”

But Ganho, who has written several books of her own which are considered examples of new feminist writing in Portugal, also likes Virginia Woolf because she finds her writing about women still so relevant to women’s place in society in Portugal today. I asked Ganho if she could recommend Classic or contemporary Portuguese women authors, unfortunately very few of them (including Ganho’s books) have been translated into English. In fact she could only find three: Lídia Jorge (b. 1946), Teolinda Gersão (b. 1940) and Dulce Maria Cardoso (b. 1964). Publishers take note, there’s work to be done here!

So I asked Ganho for a reading list that she would recommend to a daughter (she has a son). Following is a list of her authors, with Ganho's comments.  

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own, one of Virginia Woolf's most influential works, is widely recognized for its contribution to the women's movement. 

"It's so relevant. When you read it within Portuguese society, it remains so contemporary, we still don't have that room of inner silence. Time and time again she talks about the importance of integrity, and not having a patronizing voice telling you what to write."

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London Observed

Across eighteen short stories, Lessing dissects London and its inhabitants--a place of nightmares and wonder for her. "I love the way Doris Lessing depicts relationships, frustrations, and female expectations."

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Bonjour Tristesse

"Bonjour Tristesse was deemed scandalous when it came out in 1954 and I believe that it is still so relevant today in the way it depicts a 17 year-old girl's right to use her body as she will without being punished for her boldness, her freedom. It is so amoral, sensuous and sad. I can still feel the scent of the Mediterranean pines and hear the cicadas when I read its pages."

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The Bell Jar

"Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar depicts the struggles women had to face in the 1950s if they wanted a career and had artistic ambitions, and I find her portrayal of a disillusioned woman still so true. I often remember these lines which capture the essence of frustration and depression: wherever I sat - on the deck of a ship or a at a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air."

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

"What I love in both Maya Angelou's and Marjane Satrapi's books is the way they interweave the personal and the political, private life and public life, and tell us a story through the eyes of a little girl trying to find her voice and her way around the world. Both main characters are inspiring in their intelligence and strength. We can imagine them becoming 'phenomenal women' like in Angelou's poem."

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The Complete Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi's internationally acclaimed memoir-in-comic-strips is here in one volume. It's the story of Satrapi's childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. 

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Olivia is a journalist and editor and manages the editorial content for Bookwitty in English. She is based in Paris.

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