FIVE GOLDEN APPLES
As part of our fiftieth anniversary celebrations we have partnered with some ardent Virago fans – each of our six Golden Viragos has curated a list of five Virago titles they adore – five books they think every Virago should have on their shelves.
Our second curated reading list is from Tasnim aka @Reads.and.reveries.
I will always be so glad for the fact that Virago have reissued so many of Gayl Jones’ titles, making them that much easier to access and introducing a whole host of new readers to her work- myself included!
Corregidora was my introduction to her writing and remains my favourite of her novels (so far).
It centres on Ursa, a woman wholly consumed by her hatred of Corregidora, a slave-owner who was responsible for fathering both her mother and her grandmother. She is haunted by this man even as she deals with the consequences of the violence that has been inflicted on her own body by her husband. Corregidora is a novel that can only be described as brutal and unflinching in its depiction of the trauma inflicted on the Black body- the Black woman’s body in particular- and both the immediate and far-reaching physical and psychological consequences of this.
At a time when the plight of refugees and asylum seekers is getting more desperate by the day, it is is important that we continue to highlight the stories and accounts that make known to us these realities. Melatu Uche Okorie’s short collection of stories, which centre the experiences of African women, are mostly set in direct provision hostels in Ireland. Whilst the stories are fictional, they are inspired by the author’s experience of the hostels she spent eight years of her life living in. She engages the reader with a particularly creative use of language, particularly apparent in the titular story and my only complaint is that three stories just wasn’t enough.
The book also includes an introduction from the author herself, where she discusses her own experiences, and gives the reader some insight into the inspiration behind the stories, and a final chapter by Dr Liam Thornton ‘On Ireland and Migration’, which provides additional information on the historical and political background of these hostels and the treatment of migrants in Ireland, and is an informative and important addition.
Recommending Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier feels a little like stating the obvious but, just in case anyone reading this hasn’t yet been persuaded that it is more than worth your time, I’m here to give you another nudge.
On trip to the South of France, a young paid companion receives and unexpected proposal and is whisked away to Manderley, the grand home of her new husband, where she quickly realises that all is not as it seems and she knows far less than she realised about the man she has just married and even less about his first wife, Rebecca…
Rebecca was one of my first favourite novels and remains a favourite to this day. The details have since faded but it’s one I still don’t hesitate to recommend. Suspenseful, eerie, and endlessly influential, that this novel continues to find new readers to appreciate it so many years after it was first published is no great surprise- it truly is the masterpiece so many (including me!) claim it is.
Another Virago reissue to be grateful for, Attia Hosain’s collection of twelve stories reflect the lives of a range of characters in India in the mid-twentieth century, pre-Partition but evidently on the brink of it. Hosain’s characters reflect a range of ages, religions, social classes with an intimate focus on the divides that exist between them: Muslim and Hindu, servant and master, rich and poor, as well as generational divides suddenly made cavernous at a time of rapid change. The stories are subtly dramatic, taking readers behind closed doors and into the homes of her characters, revealing the truth of who they are and the lives they lead.
Set in 1940s New York, Ann Petry’s The Street tells the story of Lutie Johnson’s attempt to create a life worth living for herself and her eight year old son, Bub. Having left her husband, Lutie moves into a less than desirable Harlem tenement and desperately tries to begin again, but this is never going to be easy for a Black woman, never mind one who is a young, poor, a single mother and attractive enough to draw the attention of those whose notice anyone would rather escape. Lutie wants to believe that if she works hard enough, she’ll find a way, but the reality proves much less hopeful.
Published in 1946, The Street provides a much needed focus on the impact of racial injustice and poverty on Black women and the specific, very real dangers they faced and continue to face. The Street is one of the most powerfully compelling stories I’ve read in some time and for this reason it just has to be my Golden Apple.