From exhiled witches to warrior women. These incredible books all have one thing in common: Sisterhood. Whether that’s two witch sisters fighting off a family curse to Iranian women finding a sacred orchard on their path to freedom or four women bonding in a dovecote as they each share their stories of love, heartbreak, childbirth, sexuality and survival. All these novels are beautifully written and will transport you to another world. A world of magic and the sacred feminine.
“They say that a woman who practices magic is a witch, and that every witch derives her power from the earth. There was a great seer who advised that, should a man hold a witch in the air, he could then cut off her powers, thereby making her helpless. But such an attempt would have no effect on me. My strength came from water, my talents buoyed by the river. On the day I swam in the Nile and saw my fate in the ink blue depths, my mother told me that I would have powers of my own, as she did. But there was a warning she gave me as well: If I were ever to journey too far from the water, I would lose my power and my life. I must keep my head and not give in to desire, for desire is what is what causes women to drown.”
This is a historical-saga fictional novel with slices of magical realism woven softly into the narrative like silk. This book has been called Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece, her most ambitious and mesmerizing writing, and I surely agree. This is the richly told story of four strong and mysterious women from diverse paths who find themselves drawn together as sacred dovekeepers for the 900 Jews who held off the fierce Roman army for months in the Judean desert at the mountain fortress Masada. Hoffman explores themes on ancient magick, sexuality, freedom, gender, love, eroticism, daily life, family, war, childbirth, landscape, historical facts and much more all within this epic tombe!
Each word, each sentence and each paragraph felt precious and personal as though reading a diary. All 4 women had beautifully strong personalities and stories that interlinked with each other and it was such a breath of fresh air reading a novel where the secondary characters were male which allowed the female characters the opportunity to tell their tale and be deep and complex beings in their own right- love and relationships was a strong theme in the book but each woman had other important tasks to concentrate on than centering their livelihood around the men in their lives.
Seductive. captivating. factual and thick like desert air. This story is gorgeous.
Buy the book here: The Dovekeepers
Women without Men by Shahrnush Parsipur
Shahrnush Parsipur was – is – persecuted in Iran, where she’s from, for this book (among other things). Partly because she dares talk about, sex, virginity, female sexuality. Topics that are not to be mentioned ever.
‘Women Without Men’ does reference the title of the Hemingway work ‘Men Without Women’. I haven’t read the latter, but in the afterword to this book, it says it’s a book where ultimately a life without women isn’t particularly satisfying. The same (but in reverse) is the case of ‘Women Without Men’, in a way.
consists of five stories of five vastly different women, who
nonetheless have a lot in common. They’re all confined by their family
and society to a very narrow way of life. They all have very little
freedom of movement or thought, and each strive, in their own way, to
break their captivity and be free to pursue a different way of life.
It’s a mixture of harsh reality and magical-realism. The magical
elements add depth and great character to the novel. The odd,
fantastical elements are very poignant and quite stunning. It’s an odd
novel, because it moves in so many ways, and the ending may seem
somewhat disappointing or anticlimactic, but there’s a strength to it,
an insistence that women are allowed to become their own people, to talk
about sex and virginity and politics. Each character present a
different story, each needing the same and separate things, each getting
their own ending, and the result is a complex, strange and wondrous
Buy the Book here: Women without Men
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This is a book of subtle magical realism meaning that it is set in the contemporary world but that magic exists almost as another force of nature, interwoven within the choices the characters make-almost serendipitous. The characters in this book don’t get involved with spells and potions but they live in a world where some people have power which affects others and where wishes can do real damage.
Gillian and Sally are brought up by their elderly guardian aunts who perform magic and divination for the inhabitants of their small town, mainly the women. The aunts are odd and almost frightening and some of the magic has lasting effects, not always for the good of all. The sisters reject their way of life and flee their home with one traveling widely and the other marrying. The sisters have little contact with each other or with their aunts until one sister commits an act which means that she needs help and the two of them and their daughters come together to realise their legacy.
Virtually all the magic done in this book is by women and concerns love or the consequences of love. The sisters live real lives in a recognizable world and they struggle to make a life for themselves in the shadow of this power. In the end, this book is about family, power, consequences and reconciliation. It is amusing and thoughtful in places and very different from many other novels about magic where it seems to solve all problems. Here, magic is a power which can be used or abused and its practitioners are ordinary women with their own lives and wishes.
Buy the book here: Practical Magic
The Red Tent: A Novel by Anita Diamant
This is an epic tale based on the Biblical character Dinah and her life. I found the story very moving with poetic sentences throughout, giving the entire story a dream-like feel within a historical context. I found myself being envious of the close, nurturing relationship that the women share in the book, especially when they are in the red tent (birthing or menstruating). It’s rather sad that men have nothing equivalent and what passes for “male bonding” is, in my opinion, quite pathetic and immature in comparison (beers and football? Gimme a break!). And may be it’s even sadder that, as far as I know, now there is nothing remotely like that for women either.
There is a strong theme of Goddess worshiping and celebration of the female power in the story. The contrast between Jacob’s masculine god and Dinah and her mothers’ gods/goddesses is quite stark and it left me wondering just how our modern world might have been different had the masculine Judaeo-Christian God not supplanted the Goddess pantheism which had existed for thousands of years before. This a story that very much appealed to me on an emotional and intellectual level. Highly recommended!
Buy the Book here: The Red Tent: A Novel
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
I am lost for words with this book, firstly I am overjoyed Alice decided to do a prequel to the original story (book & film) of ‘Practical Magic’ and now upon reading this second book, it goes beyond expectation, it is so beautifully written! Maybe I am biased because I truly love Alice Hoffman’s writing style because I also fell in love with her historical, magical realist fiction ‘The DoveKeepers’ but this book did not disappoint. I particularly love the small anecdotes about herb & nature magic and of spells- Hoffman must have researched so much into this subject- Counting knots on a lilac bush could predict the number of cold spells, black pepper for aching muscles, fever-few for migraines & vervain for unrequited love. Amulets carrying apple seeds bring the wearer love- for apples signify the heart, rosemary oil with holly & hyssop protected you from your enemies and a bird flying into your home meant it could take your bad luck out the window. I felt like a starved creature devouring all this information, panting & howling at the moon thinking “Where have you been all my life?” and I want to know what books or resources Hoffman studied so that I may study them too!
But the story of the two sisters & their brother is also just as exquisite. The characters are very well developed and I felt connected to them almost instantly- Franny was my favourite.
In the first book Practical Magic– Franny & Jet are aunts to the main protagonists Sally & Gilly and actually don’t appear very often in the story, in the film they play a bigger part to the plot but still not much is known about these two women, they remained in the background but jumped out every so often like mysterious black cats. In The Rules of Magic, Franny & Jet take centered stage and we learn so much more about them, including the discovery they have a brother named Vincent, this is a shock to most Practical Magic lovers because the Owens history is extremely matriarchal- in that each woman usually births two daughters- one with black hair, the other with red hair- both with Grey eyes. It is stated in the prequel that boys are born every hundred years, meaning Vincent is a very powerful wizard, probably much more powerful than his sisters. As the story unfolds, you are acquainted with their gifts- Franny calls to the birds and learns to craft herbal medicines, Jet can read peoples thoughts & Vincent’s powers of seduction brings him trouble through out the book.
This book is enchanting from beginning to end, each word is crisp like autumn leaves and each chapter as sweeping as a soft summer’s day. The plot is as rich and earthy as a wild garden with so much grit and heartbreaking humanity interwoven like a spider casting a thick web-like spell over the reader- you can’t help but fall in love with the characters. This is a story of love, loss, cherishing life and being at peace with death (in all its forms). You’ll be reminded to live life as though its your last day on earth, have courage in your heart regardless of fear in your stomach and fall in love whenever you can because isn’t that what we are all here to experience?
I do hope they adapt this prequel into a film also, it would be a stunning visual origins tale of the Owens family, of the curse and of all the magic interlaced through out like delicious creeping vines.
Buy the Book here: The Rules of Magic
I hope you enjoyed this review? These are possible books that you can bring into your own women’s circles, use the quotes or inspire an art project or poem? Here are two more I have written for the Be Woman Project Blog