Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s AMERICANAH has been selected by the New York Times’s staff book critics as one of “15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.” This list of fiction books, each of which features a woman at its center, was compiled to mark Women’s History Month.
The Times’s staff book critics — Dwight Garner, Jennifer Szalai and myself, Parul Sehgal — sat down together to think about these writers who are opening new realms to us, whose books suggest and embody unexplored possibilities in form, feeling and knowledge.
“As we put together a reading list, we introduced a few parameters, for sanity’s sake. We confined ourselves to books written by women and published in the 21st century. And we limited our focus to fiction, but not without some grief.”
The books we selected are a diverse bunch. They are graphic novels, literary fiction and works inflected with horror and fantasy. They hail from Italy, Canada, Nigeria and South Korea. They are wildly experimental and staunchly realist.
Every one of these books features a woman at the center. She is brainy (Rachel Cusk’s “Outline” trilogy), grimy (“Homesick for Another World”), terrorized (“The Vegetarian”) and all of the above (the new mother in “Dept. of Speculation”). Each book’s utterly distinct style emerges as its women try to invent a language for their lives.
You could say these books are on the vanguard, but to suggest just one vanguard feels so insufficient. What makes these books so rich is their plenitude, the variety they contain and embody. “My story flows in more than one direction,” Adrienne Rich once wrote. “A delta springing from the riverbed/with its five fingers spread.” — Parul Sehgal
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