Multicultural Voices of Women

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH each of these volumes is a collection of writing by Asian or African women - filling a need for more "multicultural," non-Western literature by women in classrooms, libraries, and readers' hands - the scope and the editorial concept as to what constitutes an anthology is quite different in each case. Indian women have their say

With its two-tome, 1,180-page heft and 2,600-year time frame (600 B.C. to the present), the monumental "Women Writing in India" is a ground-breaking and visionary work. It was assembled in India over several years with a small army of researchers, translators, and contributing editors and from a dozen regional languages. The editors have overcome the neglect and obscurity created by centuries of male bias against women's writing, the deterioration and scattering of handwritten manuscripts, and the difficulties of translating archaic dialects.

Presenting 140 texts never before available together, this anthology reveals the diverse contours of a veritable subcontinent of women's voices. Without simplifying the complexity and heterogeneity of India's history and culture, the editors make the literature of India's women - and the lives from which that literature emerges - accessible and vibrant to non-Indians. Painstaking research and passionate commitment inform the illuminating introductions to each period, literary movement, and author; sensitive translators have rendered regional-language contributions in lively, natural English; and pages of bibliography give suggestions for additional reading.

Despite its size and sweep, this anthology never weighs heavily, except perhaps in parts of the introduction. General readers could bypass the lengthy critique of Eurocentric Western feminist literary criticism, and go on to what the Indian women writers have to say for themselves, about themselves, their society, their region, and their century. These are sure to become classic texts in the study of South Asian cultural history, literature by women, and women's studies. Insights into Iranian life

"A Walnut Sapling on Masih's Grave and Other Stories by Iranian Women," edited and in large part translated by Persian literature scholar John Green and Near Eastern specialist Farzin Yazdanfar, is a handsome paperback. The editors intend no literary canon, but simply a collection of readable and interesting stories written between 1945 and 1989 by Iranian women - some prominent authors, others prominent women with few literary pretensions.

The volume has all the features of careful scholarship - a foreword by eminent Arab women's literature critic Evelyne Accad; a glossary of Iranian terms; a note on transliteration systems (one by pronunciation, one the Library of Congress standard for Farsi); a selected bibliography of original Farsi-language works - all of which should appeal to the academically inclined.

Their universal concerns - romance, infidelity, family crises, societal roles - especially those incumbent upon women in a male-dominated, gender-segregated Islamic culture - should give these stories broad appeal. But the first few selections seem obscure and inward in their cultural references, and their stream-of-consciousness style might be evocative in Farsi but does not translate well. …