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32 Countries, 32 Women: Group C

The White Rose of Athens, a post modernist, a sculptor and a Graphic Novel Series for your enjoyment

We continue our series on interesting women around the world- today showcasing Greece, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan and Colombia

Football on my mind

Earlier this week when we first started working on a feature to represent one woman from every country playing this World Cup, we realised how little we knew about so many of these countries outside the colour of their team jersey. If this feature inspires you to seek out a little bit more about any of these places- and especially its women- we will consider all this effort worthwhile.

To read Part 1, click hereToday we look at Group C:

Greece

Certain voices become a part of the national consciousness in an indelible way (think Lata Mangeshkar crooning “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon“), and for the Greeks, that voice is Nana Mouskouri’s. In a way it seems wrong to refer to her as just  Greek though, becauses Nana’s voice has reverberated across the world. She has sung in languages as varied as Greek, English, French, Dutch, Hebrew and Spanish, and enjoyed fame as a recording artist on both sides of the Atlantic.

Nana’s international career began with a song in a German documentary in 1961- almost prophetically called The White Rose of Athens. Over the next decade she recorded prolifically in multiple languages and collaborated with artists as varied as Harry Belafonte, Michel Legrand and Quincy Jones. Her rich husky alto lent itself just as easily to Jazz standards as it did to jaunty French tunes or the American Songbook or Classical Conservatory pieces. Our personal favourite story about her though- is that of her refusal to sing without her lovely eye glasses (As girls with glasses we are partial to women who adopt them as a style statement)

Nana also leveraged her fame  to enjoy a stint as a Member of the European Parliament for 5 years in the early 90’s, a period during which she also worked with Audrey Hepburn as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

2012 marked the 50th Anniversary of  The White Rose of Athens. Although 80 year old Nana has rarely performed in the last few years, her voice lives on in best-selling LPS all across the world.

Japan

“This world of ours is piled high with farewells and goodbyes of so many different kinds, like the evening sky renewing itself again and again from one instant to the next-and I didn’t want to forget a single one.”

We picked up our first Banana Yoshimoto book (Asleep) because of the name of the author and it did not disappoint. If Haruki Murakami with his pop culture references and labyrinthian plots represents the angst of a teenage boy, Banana’s heroines are like his spunky younger sisters. Her characters are quirky, but their idiosyncrasies are not just for the sake of ‘cuteness’ but in service to the story. A good representational novel to begin with would probably be Hardboiled and Hard Luck- a novella with two stories that mixes some of Banana’s favourite themes- urban alienation, surreal flights of fantasy, and the bizarre workings of the human mind.

Banana is fiercely private about her personal life, but her writing speaks to readers with the immediacy of your favourite blog or even a loquacious friend. The language is simple, the characters believable and the voice often sounds like what your inner thoughts would if expressed by a much better writer. Inspired by writers as varied as Stephen King, Isaac Balshevic Singer and Truman Capote, Yoshimoto’s novels/novellas are immensely readable and entertaining. And we can’t think of a better representation of Japanese femininity than her.

Colombia

Western pop culture reduces Latin American women to “hot tamales”, objectifying their bodies and treating their ethnicity as a particularly shiny bauble for the fulfilment of male fantasies. That is why a brilliant dancer and singer like Shakira is remembered more for her hips than her music, and gifted comedienne Sofia Vergara’s cleavage gets more notice than her considerable talents.  And that is one of the reasons that  Doris Salcedo, a world famous sculptor, known for her political installations stands out so much. Salcedo specialises in building installations comprised of household objects suffused with history and meaning. She transforms everyday objects into images of horror, to highlight the terrible truths that live beside us everyday.

One of her most famous works- The Shibboleth installed in the Tate Modern in 2007  consisted of a chasm made on the floor of the museum, representing the different ways people alienate others. In her own words.

It represents borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred. It is the experience of a Third World person coming into the heart of Europe. For example, the space which illegal immigrants occupy is a negative space. And so this piece is a negative space.

Doris has held exhibitions all over the world from Lisbon to Sao Paulo to Istanbul to San Francisco, and remains a woman to admire and learn from.

Shibboleth

Cote d’Ivoire

Only about 13% of the Ivorian population consists of literate women. It is almost ironic in that case to talk about yet another writer as our representative Ivorian, but the more we read about Marguerite Abouet the more we like her. Her graphic novel series about a young plucky heroine, Aya, owe a lot to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Just like the latter, they use gentle humour and beautiful images to narrate stories about a misunderstood part of the world and to depict that all childhoods are happy and unhappy in the same ways. More than anything else, Abouet strives to show that her heroine in Cote d’Ivoire is ordinary, leading a ‘normal’ life, a narrative that often gets missed out in conversations from Africa. The Aya Series is available in both French, and in English translations, all over the world. If you are looking for something diverse  to add to your children’s library, get yourself a copy today.

Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

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