Inspirational women of literature: Amra Pajalic & Demet Divaroren’s choices


To celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, with its theme of inspiring change, we asked some of our authors to pick out inspirational female authors or characters from literature. Today Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren, the editors of the new collection of stories Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia, tell us of characters that helped them in growing up and confronting their own challenges.

Amra Pajalic: Amra Pajalic with her pick Jellicoe Road

One of my all time favourite books is On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. All of Melina’s books are on my favourites list, but this one probably goes to the top of the pile because each time I read this book I feel like I discover something new. It is a book that has a bit of everything: romance, mystery, and just a touch of the otherworldly.

One of the other reasons it’s my favourite is because of the main character Taylor Markham. Taylor has had a really hard life with a lot of horrible things happen to her and she can come across like quite an unlikeable character in some respects, but what I love about her is that she is so real. I could relate to her suspicion of people, her frustration and her rage.

I think sometimes there is too much of an expectation that characters, especially female characters, have to be sugar and spice and all that nice, so that’s why I like reading about strong female characters who are tough and fierce.

Demet Divaroren with her choice, The Clan of the Cave Bear

Demet Divaroren:

When I first met Ayla, the Cro-Magnon heroine of The Clan of the Cave Bear, she was a five-year-old child playing by a creek. Within moments she was orphaned by a catastrophic earthquake and was left to wander the harsh landscape of the Ice Age lost, starving and badly wounded by a cave lion attack. While she lay collapsed from starvation and a wound infection, a clan of Neanderthal people who had also lost their home because of the quake, found Ayla and the clan’s medicine woman Iza saved her life. Ayla was adopted and raised by the Clan who spoke in signs, who found her blonde, blue eyed, straight legged physicality bizarre and unattractive and labelled her as the girl of the Others, alienating her because of her differences.

Ayla’s story of survival captivated my imagination from the first page, and her wit, persistence and will to fight against the odds, the customs and prejudices of the Clan, to follow her heart and her truth awakened my own courage. By the time I finished Clan of the Cave Bear and the four succeeding books, Ayla’s spirit, bravery and unshakable will inspired me to confront my own fears, question my choices in life and helped me realise my passion for words and storytelling.

The following month, I enrolled in a professional writing and editing diploma at Victoria University and started my writing journey. It’s been ten years since then and whenever I am overcome by self-doubt or fears, I tackle them with the same indomitable spirit as the girl of the Others.

Coming of AgeComing of Age is out now, and collects twelve powerful stories of growing up Muslim in Australia, from known and unknown Australian Muslims: a beauty queen, kickboxer, lawyer, rugby league star, lesbian, activist and atheist are amongst the contributors. The stories show the diversity of the Muslim experience, and the influence of culture, family and gender in shaping identity.

In light of the IWD theme of Inspiring Change, this is a perfect book for anyone, with Bookseller + Publisher saying it is:

“the kind of book that will change how readers look at the world… it will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs”

Tomorrow we celebrate International Women’s Day with a wonderful story from Trudi-Ann Tierney featuring her favourite character, and give you the chance to tell us your favourite inspirational women characters from literature to win a book pack celebrating inspirational women’s writing. 

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