Figures in Silk

Figures in Silk

“Figures in Silk” by Vanora Bennett is available from the library in hardcover.

Jen McCormackFigures in Silk by Valora Bennett is an absorbing historical novel set in London during the late 15th century.

Bennett tells the parallel stories of the Lambert sisters, Jane and Isabel, against the dramatic backdrop of the War of the Roses.

Jane and Isabel are married on the same day in 1471,  and King Edward IV himself attends their wedding feast. Their future and their father’s seem guaranteed to be prosperous and successful, but of course this wouldn’t be a novel without conflict! As married women the sisters defy their father’s wishes and choose their own paths.

Jane marries William Shore, a successful but older man destined for moderate success rather than greatness. She capitalizes on his family’s position by starting a poorly hidden affair with the king and becomes deeply involved in political intrigue at the palace. The king’s attachment to her is well known and gives Jane power and influence far beyond her station as the wife of Mr. Shore.

Isabel dreads her marriage to Thomas Claver, the young and buffoonish son of a powerful silk merchant in London. To her surprise Isabel soon finds herself happy and hopeful in spite of bearing the obvious dislike of her mother-in-law, Alice. Then tragedy strikes, and Isabel has to start over as an apprentice to Alice, learning the silk industry from scratch at the hands of a woman who despises her.

Figures in Silk is a long novel at 450 pages but thoroughly entertaining. The author has done a masterful job of depicting the intrigue and drama of the War of the Roses. Even a reader uninterested in the politics of royal succession will be thoroughly captivated by Isabel’s story and the remarkable history of the silk industry in England.

Interested in more novels set in Tudor England? Try The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir or Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

 

About Jen McCormack

Jen McCormack is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

All’s Fair In Love and War

Inga Dellea-MessnerMin, an actuary, is brilliant, kind, ambitious, self-sufficient, overweight, and plain. Her friends call her “Stats.”

Bet Me

“Bet Me” by Jennifer Cruise is available in regular print, large print, and downloadable audiobook formats.

In a crowded bar, most men would pick her out as the least intriguing gal in the room.

So why would the drop-dead beautiful “hit-and-run-Cal Morrisey,” who already has every other set of mascaraed eyes in the place on him, be interested in her?

Well, Min knows why. And it’s not good. Yet she needs a date to her sister’s wedding . . . in three weeks! Can Minerva Dobbs play this famous playah for that long?

What will these two do to each other?

Throw in a few overprotective best friends; two meddlesome, disapproving families; and a couple of sexy, maniacal exes conniving to split Min and Cal apart, and you’ve got a rib-splitting whirlwind.

Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise was a perfect Valentine’s Day read. I could not put it down, or stop laughing, throughout.

Cruise has a talent for devising hilarious and absurd situations and a way with words that will have you falling out of your chair. The twists and turns of this novel take you from one screwed-up mess to the next, tangling these two characters’ fates into complete madness.

Whether your Valentine’s Day left you starry-eyed and ready for some more mush, or in need of a huge pick-me-up, you will fall in love with this wonderfully written romantic comedy.

 

About Inga Dellea-Messner

Library Assistant Inga Dellea-Messner grew up in Windham and Hudson. She worked at the Rodgers Memorial Library for seven years before becoming a library assistant at the Nashua Public Library. On her way to earning her bachelor’s degree from Keene State, she spent five months studying French in Bretagne (Brittany).

Loren’s Top 10 War Films

Loren RossonThere’s a lot of fuss being made over the movie American Sniper. Some call it the best American war movie of all time, others a propagandist piece, but frankly I don’t think it’s that good or bad either way. I wasn’t engaged by the characters; and what ground it covered, The Hurt Locker did so much better.

If you want some really good war films, these are my favorites. The library has all of them.

1. Shame. Unknown setting. Ingmar Bergman shot it off the small island of Farö, but it’s not clear that the setting is intended as Swedish. Whatever this nation is, it’s either at war with an invading country or engaged in a civil war–left deliberately hazy to suggest a war that symbolizes all war without any political axe-grinding. Its focus is on a simple married couple who are uprooted from home, falsely accused of bad allegiances, then freed on the condition that Eva performs sexual favors for a government official. Things escalate to the point of humiliation and Jan, a pacifist by nature, snaps and becomes a moral monster. We share Eva and Jan’s intimacies and hopelessness on a level not matched in any other war film. Shame speaks deeply about the human psyche and the will to survive. Like all Ingmar Bergman films it’s profound and timeless.

2. Paths of Glory. France, 1915-16; World War I. Stanley Kubrick’s classic is about a suicidal attack on an impregnable fortress captured by the Germans, inspired by the six-month bloodbath during the Battle of Verdun for Fort Douamont. It holds up well after so many decades (much as Spielberg tried, he didn’t surpass this brutal intensity in the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, a film I really don’t like), and the court marshal of the second part remains a convincing piece of courtroom drama. And then there’s the final scene: the poor ridiculed stage-singer who manages to shatter everyone’s soul, a moment’s epiphany in an uncaring world. Against the backdrop of the First World War, soldier grunts emerge as worthless pawns, to be thrown away for the sake of their superiors’ aggrandizement, and military tribunals stand as parodies of justice.

3. The Thin Red Line. Solomon Islands, 1942-43; World War II. This masterpiece was overshadowed by Saving Private Ryan (also released in 1998), when I think it should have been the other way around. It laments warfare through naturalist philosophy. I believe that antiwar films have difficulty doing right by the viewer. They must get their message across loud and clear but without preaching. What Bergman did at the level of personal intimacy (Shame) and Kubrick along the ladder of military hierarchy (Paths of Glory), Malick expands to the broadest level possible, examining life and death in cosmic terms. He finds beauty in each, yet an undeniable rage at the way the latter is reached. It’s a brilliant film, and the exotic setting of Melanesia somehow aligns perfectly with the tone of what Malick aims for.

4. Fury. Germany, 1945; World War II. Few war films capture soldier camaraderie with Fury’s plain authenticity that makes you alternate between hating and loving these guys by the minute. The story is set in the final days of World War II. An American tank crew of five plows across Germany, and while they know American victory is guaranteed by this point, they sure don’t feel it; the Nazis dig in to the end. The tank battles are nightmares; the Germans resist every step of the way. The best scene comes at the film’s midpoint, right after the tankers conquer a German town. Two of the tank crew barge into an apartment where two women are hiding; the unexpected tenderness on display is entirely real. Then the other three members barge in drunk, and a thoroughly unpleasant (and surreal) dinner ensues. The tank battles are spectacular and thoroughly realistic. Fury is defined by them.

5. The Hurt Locker. Baghdad, 2004; Iraq War. Neither anti- nor promilitary, but respectful and a sobering lesson in what bomb-deactivation squads go through. This is the film American Sniper tried to repeat: special-skilled soldiers, battle addiction, and the toll taken on wives back home. The title refers to shell shock, or the physical trauma of being continually close to the blast of an explosion: the horrible noise and prelude of compressed silence encasing you in a locker of pain. Kathryn Bigelow got best picture for it, and it was richly deserved. The film is not only an adrenaline rush, it’s a professional depiction of the Iraq War that refuses to plant a flag on either side of the conflict. It’s a thoughtful film about what it means to have skills that set soldiers above their peers, without glamorizing the role.

6. Flowers of War. Nanking, 1937; Sino-Japanese War. Set during the Rape of Nanking (the Chinese holocaust of World War II), this is loosely inspired by the diary of an American missionary who worked to protect Chinese civilians in the Nanking Safety Zone. A Catholic cathedral is used as a hideaway for young schoolgirls, who are soon joined by a group of prostitutes also seeking safety. The key character is the American mortician, who eventually must use his skills to disguise the older prostitutes as the 12-year-olds when the Japanese demand the schoolgirls be handed over for rape. The acting on display is as good as acting gets, and the drama pulls no punches showing the horrors of the Sino-Japanese War. The ending is left ambiguous–the disguised prostitutes are taken away from the cathedral–but safe to infer: these flowers have chosen to martyr themselves for the students’ freedom.

7. Full Metal Jacket. Vietnam, late 1960s; Vietnam War. There are zillions of films about the Vietnam War, many of them by Oliver Stone, most of them not very good. This one is legendary for Gunnery Sergeant Hartman–surely one of the most entertaining film characters of all time. As a 19-year-old, I remember thinking he went over the top for sake of theater, but quickly learned that actor R. Lee Ermey had been a real-life drill instructor, and that Kubrick allowed him to edit his own dialogue and improvise as he saw fit. I also remember my father saying he experienced some of these degradations heaped on the privates (and he was only in the Air Force, not the Marines). The film’s middle part is its weakest (where it feels like Europe more than Vietnam), but the sniper sequence at the end pulls it back on its feet.

field in england8. A Field in England. England, 1646; English Civil War. This one is a weird psychological horror piece. A pious man flees from battle. He’s caught by another fugitive, who is holding two other hostages. They wander and happen on an Irishman, who seems to have a connection with the pious man. He convinces them to help him search for some lost magical treasure. They move across a field which goes on forever. They find a crop of hallucinogenic mushrooms and consume them. Witchcraft comes into play, one of the men enslaves the other, and uses him as a kind of divining rod to locate the treasure. It’s a subtly terrifying scene (see here)–one of the most memorable from any film. A Field in England is a surrealist experiment, as if someone’s dream was captured on celluloid.

9. Black Hawk Down. Mogadishu, 1993; Somalian intervention. Never has the chaos of battle been depicted so effectively as in Black Hawk Down. What should have been a simple seizing of Somalian lieutenants turned into a nightmare of 18 soldier deaths across an overnight standoff, with another soldier being captured as well. All things considered, it’s amazing the rangers and special forces were able to fight off an entire city as they did. I was actually in Africa the year of this event, and remember hearing of warlord Aidid. His weapon was hunger: capturing all the food coming into Mogadishu. The American intervention was long delayed and frustrating, and when finally put into effect was blown to smithereens by unforeseen blunders. Small mistakes and cruel acts of fate–these more than anything else are what left the soldiers stranded in the city teeming with Aidid’s thugs around every corner, well into the next day.

10. Lone Survivor. Hindu Kush Mountains, 2005; Afghanistan War. If you want a true story set in the Middle East, I’d recommend this one over American Sniper. (What’s fact and fiction is explained here.) It tells of four Navy Seals on a covert operation, spying on a Taliban hideout. When they’re spotted by a random group of goat herders, the Seals make the kind decision to let them go, and from that point they fend off an unrelenting assault, as Taliban soldiers chase them through the mountains, surround them, appear suddenly from behind trees, entirely at ease in native territory. The film honors the Seals who died in this operation but also the Afghan villagers who sheltered the lone survivor of the four, when it was basically suicide for them to oppose the Taliban in this way.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal

blog-ms marvel

“Ms. Marvel: No Normal” by G. Willow Wilson.

Sophie Smith Unlike many kids, I didn’t read a lot of comic books when I was growing up. I read long historical fiction novels, usually about the Holocaust or pioneers.

Only in graduate school did I delve into graphic novels and comics, and it’s taken a while for me to learn how to read them, and ultimately, love them.

Reading a graphic novel or comic takes time and attention to the artwork. The story is not only communicated in words, but also, and sometimes exclusively, with images.

Since I’ve always been a text heavy reader, I’ve had to redefine my understanding of narrative. And, I’ll admit, one of the reasons I picked up Ms. Marvel was that the author, G. Willow Wilson, wrote a book I really enjoyed. I trust her storytelling and will follow her through different formats.

Kamala Khan, the protagonist of the recent Ms. Marvel comic books, has also had to redefine her understanding.

In her case, she’s an avid comic book fan. She’s also a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager growing up in New Jersey. She’s used to superheroes looming larger than life and not looking particularly like her. However, after a gaseous mist takes over her town one evening, she discovers superpowers of her own.

At first she sees herself turn into the tall, blond, scantily dressed Ms. Marvel from her preconceived comic book knowledge. Over the course of her story, she learns that she can define her own being as a superhero however she sees fit.  As she harnesses her powers, her projection begins to represent her, rather than someone else.

Fictional Kamala Khan and her superhero status have been in the real news recently. Her character has been used to combat some advertisements with hateful anti-Muslim messages in San Francisco. Many see the character as a powerful voice for the peace and acceptance of a diverse world.

This comic is well worth a read. The first volume, No Normal, collects issues 1-6, and a second volume is coming out in March 2015. If you’re new to superheroes or comics, I hope you take a chance and try this out.

If you’re interested in graphic novels but superheroes aren’t your thing, here are a few other suggestions:

About Sophie Smith

Sophie Smith is the supervisor of teen services at the Nashua Public Library and can also frequently be found at the reference desk. As a history and Spanish major at Kenyon College she spent a year in Salamanca, Spain. She earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

State of Wonder

State of Wonder

“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett is available from the library in hardcover, audiobook, and downloadable ebook.

Inga Dellea-MessnerMedical researcher Annick Swenson, a protagonist in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, is not one for trivial tasks, like progress reports.

Mr. Fox, CEO of the pharmaceutical company funding her research, is not one to be ignored.

However, with a project this important, Fox cannot afford to pull the plug: Annick is studying an Amazonian tribe where the women are sustaining pregnancies well into their 60s and even 70s. (Imagine the implications!)

So Fox sends Dr. Anders Eckman to track her down. But when a cryptic letter from Swenson announcing the death of this father of four makes its way to Fox’s company, too many questions arise.

Why is this Swenson woman so resistant to cooperation?

Why would a doctor give no more information than “fever” in regards to the poor man’s death?

What in the world is Annick Swenson hiding?

And who better than Anders’ lab partner and Swenson’s former student, Dr. Marina Singh, to find out?

Under both emotional and professional pressure from Anders’ wife and Mr. Fox (who we quickly discover is more than just her boss), Marina will embark on a series of adventures both terrifying and poignant. Indulge in this book, and you’ll find yourself breathless.

I’m a busy woman; I’ll tell you that. Yet despite hosting gatherings, tutoring, and battling two head colds in the past few weeks, I read State of Wonder in only two sittings. The plot just absorbed me that much. Both her story and her characters are among the most provocative and complex I’ve ever read.

If you’re going to embark on this Amazonian journey, I will leave you with a few suggestions. Firstly, always focus on the issue at hand. Though they may be riveting, do not let Patchett’s bewitching side stories distract you. Also, whatever you do, do not seek a denouement. This book is meant to leave you in a truly confused, infuriatingly bewildered state of wonder.

Enjoy the boat ride!

(You might like this podcast of Ann Patchett’s appearance at Writers on a New England Stage. She reads an unforgettable passage about a battle with an anaconda.)

 

 

 

About Inga Dellea-Messner

Library Assistant Inga Dellea-Messner grew up in Windham and Hudson. She worked at the Rodgers Memorial Library for seven years before becoming a library assistant at the Nashua Public Library. On her way to earning her bachelor’s degree from Keene State, she spent five months studying French in Bretagne (Brittany).

The Illusion of Free Will

Free Will

“Free Will” by Sam Harris is available from the library in hardcover.

Loren RossonAre we responsible for our actions? In Free Will, neuroscientist Sam Harris argues no, that our experience of free will is an illusion.

Free will implies two things:

(1) That we were free to think and act differently than we did. We did something but could have done otherwise. I raised my right hand but could have raised my left; I went to see a movie, but could have visited a friend; I thought about cooking dinner, but could have considered ordering pizza.

(2) That we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions. Our consciousness is the author of our inner lives—the thinker of our thoughts, the intender of our intentions. I feel that I want to rise from a chair, and so I rise. I experience the desire to marry my girlfriend, so I propose to her.

Harris says the problem with the first assumption is that we live in a determinist universe (a world of cause and effect) and everything that could possibly constitute our will is the product of a chain of prior causes–genes, environment, social networks, patterns of electrochemical activity in the brain, atomic states at this or that precise moment. We’re not responsible for any of this, and to say “I could have done otherwise” is to say, essentially, that I could have been a different person or I could have been in a different universe.

The problem with the second is that the conscious desires and intentions that precede our actions are not their true origin. Everything we are consciously aware of at any moment is the result of a stream of neurophysiological events in the unconscious. We’re not aware of this stream and have no control over it. Our unconscious activity produces thoughts and emotions, and we are mere witnesses to the choices we think we are consciously making.

In other words, according to this wisdom, we aren’t responsible for our actions. Any of them. Literally. A psychopath isn’t responsible for psychopathic behavior any more than a good person can take credit for good deeds.

If that sounds alarming and nihilistic, Harris has things to say about what all of this means for us politically and morally. Read his stimulating book and find out. Also check out his short video clip below.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Carol Luers EymanI hesitate to review this book, because I noticed that of the 12 reviews I’ve posted here, four have been of books or films about aging and dying.

Being Mortal

“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande is available from the library as a hardcover, e-book, downloadable audiobook, and audiobook on CD.

Of course that’s the ending of every human story. Still, I swear this is my last post on that theme for now. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by surgeon and public health researcher Atul Gawande is too compelling to pass up.

You would expect a book titled Being Mortal to exhort you to sign a living will and talk to your family about your wishes for end of life care.

While Gawande certainly encourages taking those steps, his stories more importantly force you to think through just what those wishes will be.

Gawande’s stories come from patients and health care providers he has known or interviewed. They read as smoothly as fiction as they span the stages of growing old, from independence in one’s own home to the point where things fall apart (often because a person literally falls) and dependency ensues.

Of course, that sequence frequently leads to a nursing home–for most of us, our worst nightmare. Yet Gawande’s chapters on nursing homes are the most informative and hopeful parts of the book.

Nursing homes: the back story
Chapter 3 gives a history of how nursing homes came about. In the 1950s, the government funded custodial units in hospitals for patients whose acute conditions had waned but whose chronic illness, weakness, or disability prevented their release, especially if they had no family to help.

“That was the beginning of the modern nursing home. They were never created to help people facing dependency in old age. They were created to clear out hospital beds–which is why they were called ‘nursing’ homes.”

The second chapter that has stuck with me is “A Better Life, ” in which the author profiles people who have built alternatives to traditional assisted-living and nursing homes. You have to admire Dr. Bill Thomas, who dispelled the pall of imminent death from an upstate-New York nursing home and imported life into the building: He adopted a greyhound, a lapdog, four cats, and a hundred parakeets and immersed the residents in their care.

Read more . . .
If you want to give this author a dry run, look for his occasional New Yorker articles. Two other author/physicians I recommend who write nonfiction for general audiences about the practice of medicine are Pauline Chen (Final Exam) and Jerome Groopman (try How Doctors Think).

 

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

A Late Quartet

Carol Luers EymanMany of us are familiar with the turbulence created by change in the workplace, be it a reorganization, a buyout, or a change in staffing. But the work we do in offices is rarely as personally charged and emotionally driven as the work of a musician.

A Late Quartet

“A Late Quartet” is available from the library on DVD.

So you can only imagine the turmoil that would be introduced into the personal, emotional, and professional lives of a group of musicians when their senior member announces, just as they are preparing for their 25th-anniversary concert, that he has Parkinson’s and will retire.

In A Late Quartet, a 2012 film directed by Yaron Zilberman, Christopher Walken plays Peter, the retiring bassist. His colleagues in the quartet are Daniel (Mark Ivanar), Juliette (Catherine Keener), and Robert, who is also Juliette’s husband (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Peter’s exit prompts Robert to reevaluate his own ambitions as second violinist. He works up the nerve to propose sharing the first violin chair that Daniel has occupied for 25 years. Daniel balks, leading Robert to seek his wife’s moral support for his plan as they ride home from rehearsal in a cab. When she equivocates, he demands the driver pull over and flees to find illicit comfort elsewhere.

As the story unfolds, we learn that these events are colored by a web of connections among the musicians, including a relationship between Daniel and Juliette when they were young conservatory students, which Robert suspects is still smoldering.

Watching the group come back from their personal animosities to perform one of Beethoven’s most difficult (and latest) string quartets, you’ll realize what’s required to reach the pinnacle of the classical music world. It’s not just skill in technique or artistic expression but the mental discipline to repress distractions and lose yourself in the piece at hand.

 

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

Two Novels of the Norman Conquest

The Golden Warrior

“The Golden Warrior” by Hope Muntz is available from the library in hardcover.

Loren Rosson Seldom do competing historical novels cover the same ground in different ways with results just as pleasing, but The Golden Warrior (1948) by Hope Muntz and Lord of Sunset (1998) by Parke Godwin do just that.

Written exactly 50 years apart, they tell of Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, in the two decades leading up to the Battle of Hastings.

The Golden Warrior is written in the old saga style and depicts two rival lords (Harold and William) who could have been friends if not for their opposing ambitions. Muntz neither demonizes nor glorifies them. Each is flawed and sympathetic; each emerges noble; each pushes his countrymen to a war that neither really wants but feels fated to prosecute. It’s a refreshing read in today’s politically loaded climate that tends to favor sides.

Lord of Sunset

“Lord of Sunset” by Parke Godwin is available from the library in trade paperback.

Lord of Sunset does take sides, and has a much more gritty, realistic tone. Godwin’s novel is a prequel to his Robin Hood epics (Sherwood, Robin and the King), which are set right after the Norman Conquest (1070s-1080s) instead of in the usual time period of the 1190s. This revisionism has many strengths, but the most significant result is that Lord of Sunset, as a prequel to Robin Hood, sets the stage for “angry rebellion against injustices,” in which we are predisposed to siding strongly with the English underdogs against William.

As I said, I’m hard pressed to say which story is better. Once I was hooked by The Golden Warrior, I felt like I was reading a classic; in Lord of Sunset I was gripped by political fever and social unrest.

The difference between the two representations of King Harold is best seen at the end, right before Hastings. Harold, the Golden Warrior, is pained to judge William even now, seeing in his foe too much of himself:

I could not tell which struck more deep, that I should lose mine honor, or that by him I lost it. I count him one of the greatest. Can I judge William? I followed the same road, the same spur drove me. He goes a bitter journey.

Harold, the Lord of Sunset, is sure of himself, placing the welfare of the English (like Aelred, father of the future Robin Hood) before his sovereign rights:

This earth is theirs, William, not mine. Before you draw your last breath, pray you grasp that. I may not surrender anything to you. Men like Aelred won’t let me. They just won’t have it.

Read and judge for yourself.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

This Century’s Greatest Injustice

Inga Dellea-MessnerI consider myself privileged, compared to many. I’ve received a splendid education. So why is it that I had no idea of the worst horror of our times, discussed in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: systemic misogyny practiced by cultures and governments?

Did you know that:

Half the Sky

“Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn is available from the library in hardcover.

-more of the world’s women have died in the last 50 years simply because they were women, than all of the soldiers in all the battles of the 20th century

-“far more women are shipped into brothels each year in the early 21st century than African slaves were shipped into plantations each year in the 18th or 19th centuries–although the overall population was of course far smaller then”

- one woman in the world dies every minute due to a lack of care during pregnancy and childbirth

I have no statistics on rape, the numbers are so immeasurable. In much of the world it is a time-honored way of life. In some countries, the police gang-rape victims who report attacks! (The book gives many examples of this.)

Most of the brutal facts in Half the Sky are presented through real-life, heart-wrenching stories. Mahabouba Muhammad’s is one of the most moving.

Married off and impregnated at the age of 13, she developed a fistula in delivery, as often happens to young girls after long, obstructed labor. It left her leaking excrement, so the villagers abandoned her in an open hut so hyenas would eat her at night. This incredible woman took a stick, and–at the edge of death’s door–beat off the hyenas. She then proceeded to drag herself for miles to the nearest hospital. Eventually, she even became a nurse, helping other girls in the same predicament.

This story illustrates a central premise of Half the Sky: Women are not the world’s problem, but the solution. Read it and your gut will seize, your fists will clench, your blood will boil. These problems are unpalatable, incomprehensible to most of us. But the book nonetheless thrusts them at us and says: “Do something!”

I hope you will– even if it’s no more than picking up this book and informing yourself.

Please, please, hop on the ship of reality with me. You can begin by watching this TED Talk about the revolutionary Half the Sky movement.

 

About Inga Dellea-Messner

Library Assistant Inga Dellea-Messner grew up in Windham and Hudson. She worked at the Rodgers Memorial Library for seven years before becoming a library assistant at the Nashua Public Library. On her way to earning her bachelor’s degree from Keene State, she spent five months studying French in Bretagne (Brittany).