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Granta 115: The F Word
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 May 2011
Perhaps a little surprisingly given the subject matter (feminism) this edition appears to be more heavily slanted towards fiction than non. That's not a bad thing though. In fact, it's a varied selection (as usual) but the quality is consistently high. It kicks off with non-fiction and Rachel Cusk looking back on the relationship between her feminism and her divorce. It's raw in its feeling but well crafted and thoughtful. This is one of pieces that sticks most closely to the theme in hand, as indeed does the final piece by Jeanette Winterson and both make interesting observations on the feminist revolution and particularly by looking as much at what was lost as what was gained. No one uses the term post-feminism, thankfully, but it's looking very much at some of the drawbacks which is interesting.

Other pieces focus as much on women as on feminism as a movement. There are some stylish offerings from Julie Otsuka on Japanese migrant workers in the US (an extract from the forthcoming novel The Buddha in the Attic which as so often is unsatisfying in extract form because it lacks the arc of a stand alone story, but which hints at a good book - in fact this is the second Granta to feature an extract from this book), Taiye Selasi on The Sex Lives of African Girls and from Louise Erdrich in The Ojibwe Week. If you like your fiction nice and straightforward this collection might appeal less as the contributors are often a little more experimental than is usually seen - which again I liked.

As so often with Granta there is one stunning non-fiction story that really makes you think - here provided by Caroline Moorehead on the amazing story of French resistance fighting women in WW2 concentration camps.

Often with the photo essays, I feel that they are rather pointless - but this is a notable exception. As Tea Obreht points out in her introduction (incidentally, don't expect any major contribution from this exciting young author here, here contribution is just a short intro to the pictures by Clarisse d'Arcimoles) the final image is moving and gives the photo essay something of a plot or story by having an ending. I loved it.

There has clearly been an editorial decision to only include female writers - I'm not sure why male writers cannot comment on feminism as well. I'd like to have seen at least one view from the other side of the fence, although Urvashi Butalia's subject, Mona, does perhaps stretch the definition of feminism enough for balance.
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on 29 May 2011
This quarter's edition is exclusively female, something which I don't think has ever been managed in the past. The F word is indeed 'feminism' as suggested by Jeanette Winterson in a typically gnomish and ambiguous piece of writing that managed to be both enjoyable and informative about Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas. However, Rachel Cusk opens this edition with a piece of writing that seems totally self-absorbed and rebarbative. Some women want it all. Cusk wants it on a stick with which to beat her husband. Elsewhere Cusk's self-regard and lack of grace was beautifully subverted in Helen Simpson's wholly effective reversal of the tried and tested domestic roles in Night Thoughts. This said everything that needed to be said without any messy accusation or counter-accusation. Sublime.

Of the fiction I loved The Dreadful Mucamas by Lydia Davies and Edwidge Danticat writes sublimely so one wishes there was more of her Hot Air Balloons. The Sex Lives of African Girls by Taiye Selasi was promising, if a little dramatically over-egged. There was also a very welcome addition to Julie Otsuka's piece (in number 114), this time about the children resulting from the Japanese expropriation of brides for men working in America.

The most amazing piece of writing came from Caroline Moorehead and concerned the 1942 crackdown on the French Resistance that a short time later brought 230 women to Birkenau. What happened to them there, and how some managed to survive the horrendous conditions is one of the most terrible documentary stories I have come across. Only 52 of the women survived, but that in itself is a miracle.
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on 15 June 2011
The 115th edition of GRANTA is called "The F-word". Its back cover says it is about Feminism. The title may have offended some persons, booksellers and media. On Amazon.de it is now called "The Dirty Word". And, dear readers, neither title makes sense. This collection by female poets, writers and photographers is not about the four letter F-word. And dirty words are hard to find. Instead, the common theme is what it means to be a woman or becoming one.

To become one is fraught with challenges. Janice Galloway does so in a matter of fact way. But Taiye Selasi creates a 12-year old motherless child in a confused, scary tale, the longest in this volume, about growing up and what she sees in a rich man's mansion with many servants (m/f) in Ghana. Urvasha Batalia portrays in 14 pages the life of Mona, born Ahmed, who felt from his earliest days that he was born in the wrong body and lived a life of not conforming to expectations from every side.

To be a woman is shown as not to be a source of happiness either. But Helen Simpson's "Night Thoughts" is very funny, turning gender issues upside down and offering welcome relief from all the suffering presented: The bitter endings of m/f relationships and between women are well covered. So are mother and daughter feuds. The only non-fiction piece is about a group of courageous French women sent to German concentration camps to die. One of the few survivors pays an impressive tribute to them. Finally, this reader has no antenna for poetry. One or two poems accuse mothers, others are harder to understand.

A good collection of writings from all over the world about Mars and Venus, produced by women only.
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on 10 June 2011
Buy this book for the Helen Simpson story alone - a few pages of sheer genius. Each word and sentence beautifully and simply constructed. Cry at the final sentence, read some more of this thoughtful book, and get active in the struggle for gender equality.
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