... are Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.
You might have heard of them, as they're both pretty well-known. Persepolis was turned into a movie too (last year?) and created quite a lot of buzz.
Persepolis is a graphic novel about a young girl growing up in Iran. It's narrated by the heroine, and is autobiographical. It's funny, very satirical and heart-wrenching - often all at the same time. It starts when the narrator is a child, and conveys the brutal simplicity of children as well as the political turmoil around very succintly. A beautiful book - I can't wait to see the movie.
The Handmaid's Tale is the third of Margaret Atwood's novels that I've read, and probably the most famous of all her books. I loved The Blind Assassin, and Edible Woman was almost as good. I love the way her heroines are passive yet feminist - they are usually not bold enough to take action but convey heroism through their very inaction.
The Handmaid's Tale lived up to all I had read about it. It was engrossing and frightening. It's set in a world where the USA doesn't exist and has been replaced by an autocratic, patriarchal society where women have set roles and are basically slaves. They wear uniforms to distinguish their class. Wives are the most fortunate, due to their marriage to powerful men. Marthas do domestic work, and Handmaids are baby-makers. That is, they are paired to childless men for the purpose of procreation. Handmaids have no say over the babies they produce - a Handmaid's baby is given over to a wife immediately after birth.
This chilling erasure of women's identities is demonstrated by the fact that handmaids don't have real names. They are named after the man who owns them - the heroine is called Offred because the Commander who she is 'assigned' to has the first name of Fred. When Offred is moved to another home or is exciled and some other will take her place, the new woman will also be called Offred.
I realise most of the books I have enjoyed recently have been written by women. Apart from these, I reread Sense and Sensibility, and just finished a novel by Georgette Heyer. This perhaps displays my taste - I usually prefer 'older' books and light Regency romances to contemporary writers. So I am glad to have discovered Satrapi and Atwood - I love what I've seen of their work so far and am eager to explore more. Now I need to get my hands on The Robber Bride.