On Division stars a 57-year old Hassidic grandmother who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with twins, and she is so surprised, and dismayed, that she simply cannot bring herself to mention it to her husband. Over the course of her pregnancy, she reflects on the warmth and strictures of her community, as she nurtures her children and grandchildren, mourns her dead son, and finds a new occupation and dedication as a patient advocate and translator.
I loved this story, and how the author deftly balanced the joys and the painful limitations of living in a tight-knit community.
Susan Straight’s family, considered jointly with her ex-husband’s, contains an astonishing number of remarkable women who fled poverty, violence, slavery, and quite a number of bad men. In The Country of Women recounts their stories, moving from the present to the distant past in chapters that hopscotch across time and the country, and Switzerland as well. There is also a warm description of how her neighborhood sustains her and her daughters, and in turn expects her to help all manners of relatives and friends of the family. Family pictures enliven the lot
The author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls proposes a fictionalized history of a real institution that took in abused and pregnant women and allowed them to keep their children, unlike most other institutions of the time. It is to be expected that the stories would be heartbreaking, and indeed there are enough rapes, abandonments, and betrayals to keep going for hundreds of pages–and still there’s more, as she overlays the equally sad stories of the fictional contemporary researchers of said institution, both with similarly exploited pasts.
If you like dramatic stories with clearly marked good and bad characters, you will like this book.
Let me start with gripes: No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us could have used a good editor to avoid repeats, organize the book better, and clean up some stylistic stuff. And the author, could have shown a wider spectrum of victims; she claims (and I believe her) that domestic violence cuts across gender and economic level, but we only see relatively poor women.
That said, she does a great job of showing why victims cannot leave, how law enforcement and social services strain at coordinating a proper response, and also how some batterers can change (with time, and great difficulty). If we made abating domestic violence a national (or international!) priority, we would undoubtedly see massive improvements.
Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age should be an uplifting story of how older women can and do flourish. I found it frustrating, with a rather amorphous mix of inspiring stories (usually too perfect to be true, or at least realistic, they made me think of an Instagram fro grannies) and bland success guidelines.
Perhaps I refuse to be guided into anything, including a blissful old age?
No One Tells You This recalls the author’s struggle as she turned 40, with an ailing mother in another city, a pregnant sister without a partner (and with two small kids), a demanding job–and no partner or child of her own. I could have done without the bellyaching that alternates between anger against those who expect her to be married and have children and the longing for a long-term relationship, or the extended descriptions of fancy trips (she is a travel writer), but there are many insightful and sweet moments.
She speaks movingly about her joy when her mom gets a room in the one retirement home she actually liked; funnily about how she gets her nephew and niece dressed, fed, and to school; thoughtfully about how her mom, in her dementia, remembers two husbands, who are really the same man, but a man who underwent a big change midlife.
The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown recounts the story of a religious rescue mission for trafficked Chinese women in San Francisco. We see women in sensible shoes and perfectly proper attire dragging women out of brothels, and the same women raising funds and running households with dozens of rescued women and children, or going to court to get guardianships of under-age prostitutes. We also see the racist policies that gave rise to the trafficking and dismal treatment of all Chinese-Americans. It’s a wonderful, if sobering book.