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. …