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The Fabulous Feminist, by Suniti Namjoshi.

December 9, 2012

The Fabulous Feminist, by Suniti Namjoshi.  Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex Press, 2012.

An Indian feminist describes the absurdity of our world in fables, poems, and excerpts from her longer writings.

Suniti Namjoshi’s response to the absurdity around her is to write fables, simple stories to point out the absurdities and the imbalance of power they reflect.  She began writing her fables in the 1970s when she came to London and met feminists who understood and were ready to laugh at her tales.

Namjoshi is proud to be a radical feminist. She prods us to face the roots of our problems.   As a feminist, she understands that gender imbalance is not the only problem we face.  She uses words and her own literary tradition to reveal the myriad ways that inequality distorts our lives.

Over her life, Namjoshi has written in a variety of forms.  Spinifex Press has published several of her books. She has also held academic positions.   Gradually her stories and poems have become more sophisticated, but they retain her sense that power and oppression need to be called out. In The Fabulous Feminist, Namjoshi’s writings are arranged chronologically and she has written helpful introductions providing the context for them.  I found special resonance in several of her pieces.

Feminist Fables began Namjoshi’s writing career.  These are gentle and humorous tales that name the absurdity we all encounter.  They are short; some only a paragraph and the longest under three pages.  Talking animals and imaginary kingdoms fill the stories.  Some, but not all, question gender issues and traditional definitions of womanhood.  In her next book, The Bedside Book of Nightmares, Namjoshi set out “to explore the things I couldn’t laugh about,” but here, as throughout her writings, her touch is light.  Namjoshi not only chides those whom she views as having power over her; she finds absurdities even within her own radical lesbian community.  In “Conversations with Cow” she reveals her ability to laugh at herself and those she loves.

“Mothers of Maya Diip” is about an imaginary, matriarchal society in which only a few “pretty boys” are allowed to survive.  Most male babies are left exposed under a tree in the forest.  The matriarch’s daughter rescues these infants and creates a society in which the young men “mother” the next generation of deserted babies.  The scheme is threatened when the two societies interact and hear from a visitor about lands where men dominate.

Namjoshi writes about her princely grandparents and the nurse who loved and raised her as a child in India. In “Goja: An Autobiographical Myth,”  she brings a childlike awareness to the differences between her mother and her ayah, between wealth and poverty, and calls the gap between rich and poor immoral.

“Building Babel” is an experimental piece that takes “cultural building blocks” and rearranges them to be “neither sexist or misogynous.”  According to Namjoshi, as different generations of women create, their words mutate, forming ever-changing new patterns.  Recognizing that feminism itself is always changing, she and Spinifex Press created a website where readers can contribute to the conversation.  Namjoshi urges, readers, “Out of the shards of my poem, write your own poem.” (http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/BabelBuildingSite/)

In her most recent work, Namjoshi writes movingly of aging and death and of friends who have died. And she continues to write the short fables which characterize her work.

I recommend this book to all who love to play with words and ideas and to see the world around with fresh, feminist, perspectives.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2012 2:06 pm

    I bought this in 1989, and my appreciation for her has really changed and deepened over the years. so glad to see her on this space!
    Btw, I don’t know if you read much kidlit, but she’s also written a fantasy series for kids featuring a young girl Aditi. The book are very good, very thoughtfully written.

  2. December 14, 2012 10:55 am

    Thanks. I was glad to discover her. This was reprinted by Spinifex Press in Australia which publishes an amazing group of international women’s books.

    I don’t see many children’s books–or children–but i can easily imagine what a good author for them she would be.

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