1) Leone Ross/All the Blood is Red
Synopsis: All the Blood is Red tells the story of four very different black women in 90s London. There is Jeanette, the original good-time girl, whose enthusiastic promiscuity defines her freedom; Nicola, a beautiful actress who creates an alter-ego to face the world and her own insecurities; Alexandrea, a borderline alcoholic who finds herself sexually harassed by a man she trusts and the mysterious Mavis, whose disembodied tale of prostitution in Jamaica weaves a poignant voice throughout the novel. These four women are brought together when one of them is savagely raped by a black man, and they discover that those who wear the cloak of friendship – family, community, lovers, peers -often cause the greatest pain, the pain of rejection and violation. This is the story of three women who learn how to love and be loved, how to be strong, how to be free…and of one woman who does not.
This compelling first novel traces the fortunes of three generations of women from the small Caribbean Island of Dominica. Matilda, descended from African slaves, was a famous healer and possible murderer. The story of her hanging was handed down in songs. Her daughter, Iris, was famous as the jilted lover of a rich man and the victim of a horrific rape. Her subsequent insanity and death also became legendary. Iris’ daughter, Lillian, was raised by her devoutly Catholic stepmother. Until the age of 15 she remains unaware that the infamous women of song are her legacy. Now living in Washington, D.C., the fragile, adult Lillian returns to Dominica to try to unravel the history of her family. The richly told narrative alternates between time periods, building suspense and compassion for all of the characters. Marta Segal Copyright © American Library Association.
3) Leila Aboulela/Minaret
Aboulela’s U.S. debut is written in the voice of Najwa, an upper-class Sudanese woman, and covers, episodically, 20 years of her life. A Khartoum teen, Najwa flees to London with her mother and brother when the coup of 1985 leads to her father’s arrest and execution. With her mother soon dead and her brother in jail on drug charges, Najwa attempts to negotiate work, love and the ways they get twisted around emigré politics—and religion. An affair begun in Khartoum with devout, politically engaged, working-class fellow émigré Anwar is threaded in with a later one with Tamer, the contentiously devout, college-age son of the family for which Najwa works as a nanny when in her 30s. The denouements of the two relationships, though separated by more than 10 years, come one after the other; both lead, painfully, to a deepening of Najwa’s religious faith.
4) Andrea Levy/Fruit of the Lemon
Levy’s follow-up to the Orange Prize– and Whitbread-winning Small Island explores how racism reveals itself to a young British-born woman of Jamaican descent, and how the pain can be healed by knowledge of one’s roots. Faith Jackson is having a rough go after college: she’s fired from her apprenticeship at a prestigious textile designer’s and her parents are planning to move back to Jamaica. Though Faith has experienced racism throughout her life, she begins to fear her ethnicity will hobble her career. As she becomes more aware of subtle forms of racism at her entry level job in the BBC costume department and elsewhere, she witnesses a hate crime and, in its aftermath, is sent to Jamaica by her parents for a helpful holiday. It’s there, in the second half of the book, that Faith learns a great deal about her extended family and understands why her parents may want to return. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
5) Meera Syal/Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee
Synopsis: Meera Syal’s second novel features a trio of close and somewhat unlikely childhood friends. Sunita, a former law student and activist, has married her university sweetheart Akash, and is settled into a life of overweight, underappreciated motherhood. Tania is a raven-maned beauty who’s rejected marriage and anything traditionally Asian for a high-flying TV career and a compliant Indophile boyfriend. And then there’s Chila. Innocent, kind, funny Chila, with her simple soul and her glass animal collection, has just, to everyone’s amazement, snared Deepak–the “most eligible bachelor within a twenty-mile radius.” What comes after that, alas, is infidelity and envy and betrayal. True to its stoic title, Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee encompasses not only the strengths but the limits of female friendship. Yet the author retains her sense of humor and cross-cultural irony to the very end. –Lisa Gee