If you're looking for something to read this winter by a woman author, something that'll engross you, take you to new worlds and introduce you to characters you'll never forget, I have some suggestions. These books are among my all-time favorites -- to be included, they had to be on my list of favorites for at least a decade.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Just about everything written by Barbara Kingsolver is entrancing, but this one is mesmerizing and haunting. The novel follows the experiences of a family of American missionaries in the Congo in the 1950s. This was a historical period of tremendous change in that region of the world, and Kingsolver brings us into it through interweaving narratives. Four voices tell us this story -- each chapter told by a different family member in her own voice. It is brilliant and beautifully written, and you’ll want to read everything else by Kingsolver after experiencing this. And on that note, I have to mention that I just finished her latest novel, Flight Behavior, and it's fantastic.
Song of Solomon and Sula by Toni Morrison
I can’t decide which of these two books is my favorite by Toni Morrison -- so I'm just going to suggest both. They're novels that suck you into people's lives, dreams and struggles in a way that's like traveling to another time and place. Especially if you've never read the brilliant Toni Morrison, read one of these!
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
This short novel moves back and forth in time, from 1967 Haiti to present-day Florida, and from one character to another. Each chapter reads as a short story, yet a horrific past connects them all, a tension that pulls us through the stories. Danticat, originally from Haiti, is a masterful writer -- each sentence and scene is captivating, vivid and complex. This book is a powerful introduction to recent Haitian history and to the legacies of violence.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
I've read every book by Isabel Allende, and yet this one remains my favorite. It's epic and sweeping, and carries us through a hundred years of Chilean history and politics, but it also has séances, ghosts, and wild, fierce women. This is a page-turner, and a classic in Latin American literature.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Do you ever read a book and love it so much that after a while you want to re-read it -- but you're afraid that, if you do, you might not like it? That's how I felt about this book -- and then, 25 years from the first time I'd read it, I did re-read it, and I loved it just as much. The Mists of Avalon is a recreation of the King Arthur legends from the perspectives of the women behind the thrones, primarily Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay) and Guinevere. Zimmer Bradley depicts the struggle between Christianity (which was sweeping the British Isles at the time that Camelot was believed to exist) and the pagan, goddess-worshiping cultures. The Arthurian legends are turned on their heads, and this might just have been the history of that time period -- untold, of course, because only the victors write history. This is a perfect winter read of almost 900 pages.
All of these books explore what it means to be a woman in the midst of social and political change, some more directly than others. They examine how socio-political forces can shape identities. And they're all compelling, engrossing reads. Happy winter reading!