The best books by European authors with female anti-heroes characters through time

Why am I passionate about this?

Núria Añó is a Spanish novelist and biographer. She writes on authors like Elfriede Jelinek, Patricia Highsmith, Salka Viertel, Alexandre Dumas fils, Franz Werfel or Karen Blixen. Her writing centers on the characters’ psychology, often through the use of anti-heroes. The characters stand out most about her work; they are more relevant than the topic itself. With an introspection, a reflection, not sentimental, but feminine, she finds a unique balance between the marginal worlds of parallels. Her novels deal with important social and current themes like injustice or lack of communication between individuals.

I wrote...

The Salon of Exiled Artists in California

By Núria Añó, Joannes W. M. Groenewege (translator),

Book cover of The Salon of Exiled Artists in California

What is my book about?

The Salon of Exiled Artists in California is a biography of Salka Viertel, a Jewish actress who emigrated to Hollywood and was popularly known as the screenwriter of the Swedish actress Greta Garbo. Besides, she had a salon in Santa Monica, California, which was attended by a large part of the European intelligentsia in exile. Salka was a very modern and interesting woman for her time who should be recognized as such.

The book deals with topics such as Salka Viertel's alleged bisexuality and the number of friends she had, to name but a few: Albert Einstein, Charles Chaplin, Sergei Eisenstein, F. W. Murnau, Max Reinhardt, Arnold Schönberg, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Greta Garbo, Montgomery Clift... Also, like Gertrude Stein and other notorious women, she had her literary salon through which writers like Truman Capote, Christopher Isherwood, Gore Vidal, and many other writers passed. Other themes she covers are the Berlin of the 1920s; the transition from silent to spoken film, as seen from the Mecca of Hollywood. Then, the rise of Hitler and what it meant for the Jewish condition; the exile of those intellectuals who could not return to their respective countries because of the Second World War. Later, the Cold War and the witch-hunt against communism. The truth is that the background to the life of Salka Viertel and her circle of friends encompasses the great events of the 20th century.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Doll's House

Núria Añó Why did I love this book?

A controversial play because of its end. Nora Helmer is the main character, a Norwegian married woman, wife of a bank manager, and a mother of three. Her life elapses day after day without opportunities for self-fulfillment in the last decades of the 19th century. I can’t say this female character is a feminist for its time, because she lives in a world full of laws made by men; so, in this sense she is like a doll, a superficial and wasteful person, and she changes slowly from act to act; she feels empty, she contemplates killing herself and at the end of the play Nora leaves her husband and family trying to escape from a stifling male-dominated society. Although this play was not intended written as a feminist, it has a great historical value in this field. If after reading you try to imagine what kind of life she could have out of the dollhouse, then you can read Elfriede Jelinek’s play Was geschah, nachdem Nora ihren Mann verlassen hatte oder Stützen der Gesellschaften (What Happened After Nora Left Her Husband or Pillars of Society) to check if in 1984 a woman with ambitions in a capitalist background has significant changes.

By Henrik Ibsen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Doll's House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the best-known, most frequently performed of modern plays, A Doll's House richly displays the genius with which Henrik Ibsen pioneered modern, realistic prose drama. In the central character of Nora, Ibsen epitomized the human struggle against the humiliating constraints of social conformity. Nora's ultimate rejection of a smothering marriage and life in "a doll's house" shocked theatergoers of the late 1800s and opened new horizons for playwrights and their audiences.
But daring social themes are only one aspect of Ibsen's power as a dramatist. A Doll's House shows as well his gifts for creating realistic dialogue, a suspenseful…

Book cover of Dubliners

Núria Añó Why did I love this book?

Gretta Conroy is Gabriel’s wife in the final short story The Dead by Joyce published in 1914. Although Gabriel Conroy is the main character and the most talkative in this novella, Gretta is probably well-known as the female character that ends finally a long silence. After a Christmas dinner, when they both are leaving the party, Gretta is standing at the top of the stairs and she appears lost while hearing a song. The song reminds her of a young man she was in love with. Then, she reveals her husband for the first time about Michael, he was seventeen years old; he was her first love, both were profoundly in love a long time ago; it was a genuine love and a true loss. Is it possible to continue as usual after telling this pain that comes alive again? The complexity of these emotions casts them as both as anti-heroes, and the prose of Joyce are a must-read.

By James Joyce,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dubliners as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A definitive edition of perhaps the greatest short story collection in the English language

James Joyce's Dubliners is a vivid and unflinching portrait of "dear dirty Dublin" at the turn of the twentieth century. These fifteen stories, including such unforgettable ones as "Araby," "Grace," and "The Dead," delve into the heart of the city of Joyce's birth, capturing the cadences of Dubliners' speech and portraying with an almost brute realism their outer and inner lives. Dubliners is Joyce at his most accessible and most profound, and this edition is the definitive text, authorized by the Joyce estate and collated from…

Book cover of The Lover

Núria Añó Why did I love this book?

The Lover was published in 1984. It is set in the French Indochina in 1929 and tells the story of a clandestine romance between an older rich Chinese man and a fifteen-year-old girl from a French family that has family difficulties. This book is not only important for the period and the love story itself, there is something more, like the way it’s narrated in the first person by the young woman, with the pain and challenges between mothers and daughters. Also on the opposite side, there is the father of the Chinese man and a society that would not accept a relationship between Asians and Europeans. The text as it was written seems alive, and I think that is because The Lover is an autobiographical book.

 Duras said some decades after their love story, that when she was famous, the Chinese man contacted her and told her by phone he still loved her. Then, when she knew he died years ago, she stopped her project and needed to write the same story a second time, in a more novelistic style, built upon her memory of her first literary creation and the pillars it established. If you loved the first, you’ll also like The North China Lover.

By Marguerite Duras, Barbara Bray (translator),

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Lover as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sensational international bestseller, and winner of Frances' coveted Prix Goncourt, 'The Lover' is an unforgettable portrayal of the incandescent relationship between two lovers, and of the hate that slowly tears the girl's family apart.

Saigon, 1930s: a poor young French girl meets the elegant son of a wealthy Chinese family. Soon they are lovers, locked into a private world of passion and intensity that defies all the conventions of their society.

A sensational international bestseller, 'The Lover' is disturbing, erotic, masterly and simply unforgettable.

Book cover of The Piano Teacher

Núria Añó Why did I love this book?

Elfriede Jelinek has many anti-heroines in novels and plays, but I pick Erika Kohut, a repressed Austrian piano teacher who in her late thirties is still living under the power of her stifling elderly mother. Vienna, the city of music and great composers like Franz Schubert, is seen not only through the Vienna Conservatory but inside peep-shops that Erika frequently visits to escape from her mother. Although she is a masochist and self-mutilates, she begins a relationship with Walter, a new student, and gives him the instructions through an atypical letter. Jelinek's work makes me feel many things, not only due to her stories and characters but also the depth of her writing! The importance of her voices in novels and plays is extraordinary, her prose is satirical and very critical. She looks at their characters psychologically, from the deep of human behavior.

By Elfriede Jelinek, Joachim Neugroschel (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Piano Teacher as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Elena Ferrante's Top 40 Best Books by Women

Erika Kohut teaches piano at the Vienna Conservatory by day. By night she trawls the city's porn shows while her mother, whom she loves and hates in equal measure, waits up for her. Into this emotional pressure-cooker bounds music student and ladies' man Walter Klemmer.

With Walter as her student, Erika spirals out of control, consumed by the ecstasy of self-destruction. A haunting tale of morbid voyeurism and masochism, The Piano Teacher, first published in 1983, is Elfreide Jelinek's Masterpiece.

Jelinek was awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature in 2004…

Book cover of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Núria Añó Why did I love this book?

Janina Duszejko is a Polish mature woman that loves astronomy and she is an activist and a vegan. She lives with her two dogs in a small village in a landscape that has many hunters near the Czech border. One day, her dogs go missing, a neighbor is dead, and more dark crimes are committed. She believes that maybe animals killed the hunters. The background of this novel examines people without empathy, of a society full of avaricious, and the neglect of nature by humans. This book, through its main character and some good friends, brings a heartbreaking look at our globalized society, but still with some gaps on the map.

By Olga Tokarczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator),

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD, Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk returns with a subversive, entertaining noir novel. In a remote Polish village, Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman in her sixties, recounts the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. She is reclusive, preferring the company of animals to people; she's unconventional, believing in the stars; and she is fond of the poetry of William Blake, from whose work the title of the book is taken. When members of a local hunting club are found murdered, Duszejko becomes involved in the investigation. By…

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The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

Book cover of The Midnight Man

Julie Anderson Author Of The Midnight Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical crime fiction, and my latest novel is set in a hospital, a real place, now closed. The South London Hospital for Women and Children (1912–1985) was set up by pioneering suffragists and women surgeons Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley (the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons) and I recreate the now almost-forgotten hospital in my book. Events take place in 1946 when wartime trauma still impacts upon a society exhausted by conflict, and my book choices also reflect this.

Julie's book list on evocative stories set in a hospital

What is my book about?

A historical thriller set in south London just after World War II, as Britain returns to civilian life and the men return home from the fight, causing the women to leave their wartime roles. The South London Hospital for Women and Children is a hospital, (based on a real place) run by women for women and must make adjustments of its own. As austerity bites, the coldest Winter then on record makes life grim. Then a young nurse goes missing.

Days later, her body is found behind a locked door, and two women from the hospital, unimpressed by the police response, decide to investigate. Highly atmospheric and evocative of a distinct period and place.

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

What is this book about?


Winter 1946

One cold dark night, as a devastated London shivers through the transition to post-war life, a young nurse goes missing from the South London Hospital for Women & Children. Her body is discovered hours later behind a locked door.

Two women from the hospital join forces to investigate the case. Determined not to return to the futures laid out for them before the war, the unlikely sleuths must face their own demons and dilemmas as they pursue - The Midnight Man.

‘A mystery that evokes the period – and a recovering London – in…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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