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These books about inspiring women, from witty Ali Wong to poignant Mariane Pearl, will make your 2021 richer in every way – time to put your reading hat on!
This lockdown period had me finally getting around to reading the books I buy greedily (plus all my e-books which seem to be a collector’s item!) Out of all the books and genres I read – those about women’s stories are by far my most favourite.
These books celebrate women – those who have raised children, upheld their self-worth and dignity, endured hardships and battled storms no one would ever know, but them.
Here are a few of my favourite books about inspiring women; books that celebrate women and their glorious roles, whether as a leader, daughter, sister, wife, friend, or guardian.
I’m confident these books will make for some great reads in 2021.
I came across the story of Daniel Pearl when I was a teenager. He had been kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. He was a reporter, as was his wife Mariane, and they were both working in Pakistan. This story gained global global attention at the time and was also covered by Oprah Winfrey in 2003.
A Mighty Heart describes Mariane’s emotional and mental journey, from when he was first kidnapped, to when she learnt of his death a month later and then, the aftermath. She describes her thoughts during that time in heart-wrenching detail. She takes us through how she, along with her friend in Karachi, would pore over every single detail till the night Daniel was kidnapped, trying to figure out all possible clues.
Over the course of this month of searching, there were times of utter frustration, when the leads led to dead ends and rumors took them off track. She constantly touches upon their memories as a couple, from the time they met to being in Mumbai and their experiences in the city.
One of my favourite parts of the book is when she talks about his love for making lists for absolutely everything. While scouring through his computer for clues, she stumbles upon a list entitled – “Things I Love About Mariane”. One weeps when reading this part of the book, though it is difficult to imagine what she must have felt in that moment- to share such love and only to then have to desperately search for it.
At the time of his kidnapping, Mariane was heavily pregnant. Having to take care of herself for the sake of their baby is what she says she chose to focus on. She talks about how she had to keep a check on her thoughts to ensure that her child is not affected by them.
The last few chapters which talk about the final revelation and the cruel manner in which she learns the truth and the details of his death feel like a physical blow to the reader. For some reason, despite knowing the ending, I kept wishing for it to be different. Reading about their story and their bond as friends (more than just lovers), kept making me hope to the very end that he would be found. Danny’s personality as an honest, hardworking and affectionate man was highlighted beautifully by his wife, honouring him in the best possible way-through her words and memories.
When Mariane returned to Paris and gave birth to their son alone, she made one thing to herself – “that if the aim of the terrorists is to terrorize, she will not be terrorized.”
Such is the strength this woman has that she says “I swear I will not dishonor my soul with hatred, but offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, as a healer of misery, as a messenger of wonder.”
As if there isn’t enough to admire about this phenomenal woman – here comes a book to add to your reasons!
Michelle Obama is without a doubt one of the most iconic women in the world. As the first African American First Lady of the United States of America, she aimed to serve others and became an advocate for women and children across the world.
In her autobiography, Becoming, she talks about her childhood and the difficult times she had faced, growing up on the South side of Chicago. One can pick up on her values and ideas of family as she describes her parents and brother. She details how important education was in her life, with her mother as the driving force, more so after the loss of her father. There are so many moments in the book that make one ‘weep happily’.
The best part of the book is that it does not focus on political aspects but humanizes both her husband and herself, beyond their larger than life worldly titles. She talks, just like any woman, about her journey into self-discovery and reflection, especially once she becomes the First Lady.
Michelle writes with extreme sensitivity and attention to detail so that one is almost taking her journey with her. It’s the story of a real person – not a glorified one of a ‘celebrity’. Her story mirrors who she is – dignified, empathetic and confident.
To lead such a public life is surely not easy but she manages to do so with such grace that you see her as the First Lady but also as a mother, a fun person with crazy dance moves, a storyteller & an amazing crusader for human beings.
Her posts on Instagram too make her so relatable and even today, when she is no longer the First Lady, her views and opinions about humanity and changing political scenarios are held in high esteem.
If you are a voracious reader like me, then chances are, you have heard of this author! 16 years ago Elizabeth Gilbert embarked upon a journey that changed her life forever (and probably inspired many women along the way).
After the release of her book, there was a surge in women of all ages travelling the world, becoming their own persons and revelling in their own company, irrespective of their marital status.
Eat, Pray, Love takes you on the most incredible travel story and allows you to travel too, while stuck at home! As Gilbert heads to her first destination, Italy, you can picture the historical monuments and taste the incredible Italian pizza. The tides seems to start shifting for Elizabeth as she builds connections along the way, the strongest being the one with herself.
The book is an insight into the expectations that plague women all over the world – to get married, have children and raise a family. And how not being ready or simply not wanting the above can induce anxiety, panic and guilt in women.
Elizabeth then finds her way to India where she hopes to attain spiritual enlightenment, which is no easy task. It’s difficult to clear all the clutter in our minds, stemming from our roles and experiences. Allowing one to just breathe and take in the moment –to be present-seems impossible but necessary. Her final destination, Bali, makes you envision lush green paddy fields! Here she tries to figure out how to continue enjoying herself while seeking out a ‘medicine man’ to ask questions about her life and what her future holds.
This book is a candid account of Gilbert’s personal journey and is the push you probably need if you too feel this gnawing need for change in your life.
One of my favourite quotes from the book is, “Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”
Oprah is my absolute role model! I remember watching the Oprah Winfrey Show every day after school. I loved the hard hitting interviews and stories she covered as a talk show host. Unsurprisingly, I started to read up on her story and was fascinated to learn about her difficult childhood, the sexual abuse she endured and how she broke into reporting.
She was once named the richest woman, of color, in the world – truly a rags to riches story. This biography by Helen S Garson takes you through the story of the woman behind it all. It is a well-researched account of her life, providing intriguing facts that shaped her personal life as well as her career. It further talks about her influences and her rise in the male dominated world of media.
An inspiration in every sense of the word, Oprah teaches one never to give up and always rely on themselves. A book lover herself, she always talks of the power of the written word and how much it teaches and liberates us as women.
She believed in herself and created a remarkable life. As she once said, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”
I absolutely adore women who say it like it is, and, on top of that, manage to put a hilarious spin on it! Ali Wong is a woman who does just that. Wong is a comedian who came out with Dear Girls in 2019, as a collection of endearing letters to her daughters.
She wrote about life itself, and how to navigate through it – from dating advice to being a working mother. She describes with immense wit her opinion and experience with sex, marriage, being an Asian and generally about being a woman. A few pages into the book and you would be laughing out loud at her take on life-from her childhood to adulthood and now as a mom.
She shifts from being funny to emotional to being totally honest with such ease that it keeps you hooked right till the very last page.
Ali Wong also has two hilarious specials on Netflix where she talks about dating, men, marriage, birthing experiences and motherhood.
Ali Wong is what we need – someone who tells it like it is!
In The Namesake, the renowned author Jhumpa Lahiri touches upon the immigrant experience and the generational gap that tends to develop. Something about Lahiri’s book makes you visualize each description so beautifully that you can almost place yourself in the characters’ shoes – Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli.
An arranged marriage that takes the couple from Calcutta to America highlights two major transformational journeys that these individuals go through – that of strangers now figuring out how to be a couple and of Ashima learning the ways and norms of a new country.
The simplicity and innocence with which their bond develops while raising a family is indeed remarkably described by Jhumpa Lahiri. The story further unfolds into the children getting older and being first generation children in a Western country with little idea of the culture that binds their parents to India.
Lahiri weaves a powerful story of one’s identity whether it be the journey of a parent, child or just individuals coming into their own.
Though her work tends to be controversial, this particular book, Speedpost, by De is heartfelt and touching. Published roughly twenty years ago, it compiles a series of letters to her children covering various topics from adolescent issues to cultural changes, sex, religious background etc.
She talks about her own years as a child and the woman she became, her various experiences and learnings which she wishes to pass on to her children.
What is most interesting about the book is how she includes conversations she has with her children. Describing things she may have discussed with them, incidents in their school/college and many such teenage/young adult experiences helps understand how such conversations are so required in our country.
Keep in mind that twenty years ago when she wrote this book, such open dialogues between parents and children were rarer than they are today. We have seen times change since then and her letters certainly help understand how far we have come as a country with parents and children trying to bridge the gaps in their upbringing and understanding of the world.
This beautiful book, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, details sibling relationships, between women, highlighting the importance of rebuilding bonds and allowing room for forgiveness.
The story is of three Punjabi sisters, born in the UK, who weren’t particularly close while growing up and lead their separate lives as adults. Their mother’s dying wish is for her final rites to be performed at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Difficult as it is for the sisters to clear their schedules and make time for each other, they arrive in India to honor their mother’s wish.
The story unfolds with the sisters discovering stories about their mother as well as of one sister’s narrative who, in fact, visited India many years ago. The journey is not just geographical, but is also one of discovering oneself and their family. It is a beautiful story which reminds us that no matter where we are or who we become, we always carry the past with us, and of those who came before us. Those are the ties that bind.
Calling Sehmat narrates a story of a young woman who gave up her life to serve the nation and protect it at all costs. By agreeing to marry into a Pakistani family where the men served in the Army, she worked as a spy to provide information to India during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. She exposed Pakistan’s plans of war and so, she not only saved the lives of many Indian soldiers but also the lives of many Indians by hindering Pakistan’s plans. The book is a testament to the grit and courage of a woman who fearlessly devoted herself to a larger cause.
The book was later adapted as a Bollywood movie, Raazi.
I expected Inside Out by Demi Moore to be a tale of a celebrity detailing her life experiences without much hardship in the narrative. Girl, was I in for a shock!
Demi Moore, an American actress who has been at the absolute top of her career, wrote her memoir with such poignancy that it will move you to tears.
The raw honesty with which she describes her childhood and her relationship with her mother is heartbreaking. From working at a young age to facing gender discrimination in a highly male dominated industry, Moore writes of her fears and insecurities that followed her for most of her life.
She was labelled a ‘cougar’ for marrying a much younger man, followed by a very public divorce after his cheating. Aside from all the glitz and glamour that we think is all a celebrity has, she sheds light on dealing with addiction, issues with her body image, parenting and relationships.
No amount of fame and money was able to shield her from what she was going through as an individual, such is the sheer hold of trauma and pain. They don’t spare anyone, no matter how successful they may seem from the outside.
Moore provides quite a whirlwind of emotions by looking back at her life and finding her true self today, finally facing her demons and setting herself free.
We hope these books about inspiring women will give your 2021 the power reading quotient it needs!
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