For readers in search of tales that step outside familiar viewpoints, there is an abundance of fiction by women unraveling the big themes of conflict, religion, race and love — from new and different angles. The five novels I'm recommending offer up-close-and-personal engagement with characters who are often at odds with their communities or whose lives are so far on the periphery that we can be sure history books would pass them by. They make far-flung places and faraway lives feel immediate. This, for me, is the magic of good fiction: that outsiders — a child from the slums, an executed zealot, a reluctant immigrant, a guilty survivor and a suffering mother — can take center stage and make the world a bigger, yet more knowable, place.
Ellah Allfrey is deputy editor of Granta magazine. She lives in London.
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