I received a package in the mail a few days ago. Yours truly won a giveaway a while back on Quarto Explores’ Twitter account. Opening the package, I was greeted by a beautifully-illustrated mint-coloured book dubbed, I Know a Woman: The inspiring connections between the women who have shaped our world. This book, about the lives of 84 women from different cultures and backgrounds, is a beautifully written and illustrated book that takes you on a journey of her-story (the feminist equivalent of his-tory).
It took me a couple of days to decide on the angle of this post. I didn’t know where to start. But reading the first few pages of this female-centric book by British writer Kate Hodges, it became ever so clear that the angle had to be about writing from the heart.
Each woman in this book has at least a full spread to herself with a few hundred words about her mark on the world. But what is interesting is how Hodges internalises the successes, struggles and painful journeys of some of these women. When you read their stories, you don’t only get a glimpse of their glamourous or painful achievements, you also feel what Hodges felt writing about their special corner in history.
I teared up a good number of times learning about some obscure side of these historic female figures. Achieving fame was not the focus of the stories. It was more about the human side of these female figures and celebrities, who have experienced their own share of challenges, just like everybody else.
I fell in love with how Hodges’ stories ebbed and flowed; each story was unique in the emotion it imparted. The writing gives us a taste of impossible romantic histories, idealism, moral degradation, disappointment, chaos, sexism, social injustice, determination, intellectualism, artistic expression, among many other facets of the human condition.
Each story left me wondering about the reasons behind the writer’s choice to highlight this part of the character’s life, not that, which really gives the writing its own unique flavour.
The way I Know a Woman is structured could be compared to a relay race, where each woman hands over the baton to the next woman she’s inspired. And on every page you can see small notes revealing hidden connections between the heroine of the page and other women from around the book, such as shared venues they sang at, wars they fought in, or historic moments they helped create.
I have to say how utterly glad I am to see that my personal hero, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is among the women featured in the book. In a previous post I wrote for my series, Illustrated Women Who Can, I quote Adichie on her observations about deep-rooted racism in the US. I cannot yet tell you about her bit of biography in I Know a Woman. The reason is, I am reading the book in chronological order to capture the connections Hodges worked so hard for us to appreciate and see.
The illustrations by Sarah Papworth are equally captivating. They not only convey a taste of the era, but also capture something unique about the characters, like a certain sadness in the eyes, or resilience in posture.
This book is a must-have for any woman from any age interested in creating sacred bonds with the woman sisterhood of the world. It’s a place to be reminded that women leave their mark on the world in so many different ways. I Know a Woman features writers, singers, fighters, artists, actresses, activists, performers, ballerinas, TV hostesses, philosophers, doctors, First Ladies, and more.
But what is most striking about this book is the true diversity of the woman experience. How each one of them managed to challenge social constraints that came in varying degrees to follow her passion and her heart for a life well-lived.
Photos by illustrator and artist Yaansoon
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