Books on Democracy

A Sneak Peak at Women, Power and Politics' BookList

Here is a selection of must-read books written by women about democracy in Mexico, South Africa, Iran, Russia and Burma. For a more comprehensive list of books about Women, Power and Politics, see our book list.
Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South AfricaView Larger >


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood View Larger >


A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia View Larger >


The Book of Lamentations View Larger >


The Voice of Hope View Larger >

Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

By Antjie Krog
1999/2004. South Africa. Political Nonfiction. English/French

This emotional book by South African poet and journalist Antjie Krog follows two years of the reparations trials of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, begun in 1999, to investigate human rights violations under apartheid. The book is part transcriptions of wrenching testimony by victims, part reportage, and part personal meditation, and Krog writes honestly and graphically about the abuse, violence, and torture that flourished under apartheid. She also writes about the severe emotional and psychological toll that daily chronicling of such abuses took on her own health and those who both witnessed and bore witness to such trauma.

Country of My Skull is a brave book that shows the truth behind apartheid, and it gives voice to those who suffered its atrocities.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

By Marjane Satrapi
2004. USA/Iran. Graphic Novel/Autobiography. English/French/Spanish

Marjane Satrapi was nine years old when the Shah was overthrown in Iran and a new fundamentalist Islamic Revolution was ushered in. Her autobiography, told in simple yet powerful comic book format, chronicles Satrapi's childhood and early adolescence during this tumultuous, political time. Through her childhood eyes, we see the horrors of war and totalitarianism: a favorite uncle imprisoned and executed, playmates killed, neighbors' houses bombed during the Iran-Iraq War. Interspersed with more universal experiences of adolescence, such as listening to punk music or experimenting with cigarettes, are the unique changes of life in Tehran under a fundamentalist regime. In expressive black and white images, Satrapi shows the day girls are required to wear veils at school.

This fascinating autobiography ends when Satrapi is 14 and sent to Europe as her parents fear for her safety.

A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia
By Anna Politkovskaya
2007. USA/Russia. Political Diary. English.

It's hard not to read Politkovskaya's riveting diary without a sense of sadness and foreboding, for this fearless journalist was murdered outside her Moscow apartment shortly after completing the book. The entries, written in diary form, span the years 2003-2005 and detail the growing corruption and encroaching power of the Russian government under Putin. Drawing on interviews with politicians and citizens as well as her own recollections, Politkovskaya eloquently chronicles the crumbling of democratic freedoms and civil rights under Putin, the abuses in the Chechen War, and the brutality of security forces.

From the media who she accused of being too afraid to report on corruption to the lack of adequate response to the Beslan school siege, Politkovskaya writes openly and with a sense of outrage at growing totalitarianism.

The Book of Lamentations
By Rosario Castellanos
1962/1998. Mexico. Novel. Spanish/English.

You've heard that history repeats itself, but in this novel, first published in 1962, Rosario Castellanos seems to prophecy the current political unrest in Chiapas, Mexico. In her epic tale, set in the 1930s, Castellanos imaginatively blends real political uprisings of the 1700 and 1800s to tell a story of race, class and gender conflict. The novel is told in the omniscient third person and features complex, memorable characters who clash with one another --rich landowners, politicians, corrupt religious officials, exploited Indians, and powerful women. One of the central characters is Catalina Diaz Piulia, a Mayan prophetess who chronicles the devastation she sees all around her.

The last fifty pages of this widely-acclaimed novel will keep you spellbound, though the subject matter is, as the title says, one of lamentations.

The Voice of Hope
By Aung San Suu Kyi with Alan Clements
1998. USA/Burma. Political Autobiography. English

This book recounts 9 months of conversation between Burmese pro-democracy and human rights leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Burmese expert and former Buddhist monk, Alan Clements. Though Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest, imprisoned by the ruling junta, her conversations are hopeful and optimistic, as she continues to meditate and work for peace. Like the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi advocates nonviolence, and she and Clements discuss compassion, truth, freedom and Buddhism. With chapters entitled such as "It still surprises me that people think of me as an important person," the book reads as if you're talking to Aung San directly.

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the book is a revealing portrait of the author whose love for her country, despite its oppressive government, and for all people shines through.

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