Read around the world: Mollie Hoben: How many books by writers other than Americans have you read?

Mollie Hoben is the co-founder of the Minnesota Women’s Press and publisher of BookWomen (Courtesy Photo)

Quick, how many women writers from Mexico can you name? From the Middle East? From Africa? How many books by writers other than Americans line your shelves or appear on your books-I’ve-read list? 

For most of us, the number is pretty small. Yet today, in this troubled time of misogyny, increased nationalism and fear of “others,” seeking out and reading books written by women from other countries and cultures is more important than ever. Delving into literature written by women from around the world can open our eyes and broaden our minds and hearts. 

Here at Minnesota Women’s Press we’ve learned this lesson over and over again in the past 20 years, as we’ve organized and led book trips to other countries (as well as to other parts of our own vast and diverse country). 

A key premise behind our book trips is our belief that literature can help us understand the lives of women and the cultures they live in. We aim to discover women writers we haven’t heard of before, then read their works and visit their countries, letting our experience of being there enrich what we had read. 

For example, readers in groups that traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, read and discussed “Lovesick” (“Mal de Amores”) by Angeles Mastretta, an epic novel that taught us about the impact of the Mexican Revolution on women’s lives and challenged the limited images we might have held about the role of Mexican women in that country’s history. 

In New Zealand, our traveling readers learned about Maori culture through the novel “Potiki,” by Patricia Grace, and saw how the threat of development to native people and their land is not limited to the United States. In Iceland, the novel “Night Moves” by Frida Sigurdardottir reminded us that no matter where we live, we are shaped by female connections across generations. 

Everywhere we’ve traveled, we’ve discovered great books by women that entertained and enlightened us. But you don’t actually have to travel to gain new understanding from reading globally. You can experience the world’s richness in your favorite reading chair at home.

There are gifted women writing in every part of the globe, telling the stories of their lives, the lives of their sisters and neighbors, their cultures. Finding them can take a little effort but is well worth it. The starting point is making a conscious decision to read globally. 

Mollie Hoben is the co-founder of the Minnesota Women’s Press and publisher of BookWomen – a readers’ community for those who love women’s words.

Here are some suggestions of a few titles selected over the years by readers in MWP book groups, book trips and reading retreats as “Great Books”:
God of Small Things by Arundahti Roy, India 
Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif, Egypt 
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zimbabwe 
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Iran 
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigeria 
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang 

What’s On Your Bookshelf? 

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