An Untamed State

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a book I would have chosen voluntarily – it was for a book club. Although I join book clubs because I want to read books like this that are outside my comfort zone. Giving this a rating is extremely difficult. The writing is quite good – the subject matter is horrendous and disturbing, so I’m not going to say “I really liked it”. Not a book I will forget, but I wanted to learn more from it about Haiti and the awful divide between rich and poor. Maybe there isn’t more to know. This doesn’t really fit my theme of “black-lives-matter.” Yes, it is set in a culture where such kidnappings happen every day, but it isn’t about race. Mireille could be any woman in any culture. Women are always the victims. You cannot feel sorry for the men who act out their anger and rage and their quest for power and money. This is the story of one such woman, her life divided starkly into “before” and “after,” and the people (and readers) who struggle to comprehend what she went through. Yes, I felt as helpless and as frustrated with her as her husband Michael. Which doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s just that the magnitude of damage portrayed (physical and psychological) is far, far outside my own experience. And God willing, always will be.

I loved the relationship between Mireille and her mother-in-law Lorraine. I’ve lived in Nebraska, and now rural Minnesota, and I know farm wives just like her, cautious, slow to warm, and self-deprecating, but it is Lorraine’s practical, no-nonsense compassion that allows Mireille the safe place and the time she needs to come to terms with her ordeal.

Book description: Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men. Held captive by a man who calls himself the Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As her father’s standoff with the kidnappers stretches out into days, Mireille must endure the torture and rape of the men who resent everything she represents. After her release, she struggles to find her way back to the person she once was.

I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was fascinated to learn more about the young girl, Malala, who gained the attention of the world when her fight for girls’ education made her a target of the Taliban. She tells of her family, her school friends, her drive to be at the top of her class, her father’s dream to build a school, her love of her homeland (the Swat Valley of Pakistan), her faith in God/Allah, and enough history and politics to understand her story. I was fascinated by her description of the Buddhist statues left by earlier settlers before the Muslim country was created, I laughed at her telling how she and her friends would play “Twilight” – from the books (and DVDs) about vampires, I got angry about the senselessness and violence of the Taliban agenda, I cheered at her courage and resilience, and I am sad that she and her family had to find a new home in Britain. One child, one teacher, one book, one pen – yes, it can change the world.

Book Description: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The audiobook contains a PDF file of the photos in the book.

The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. After a somewhat slow start that had me shelve the book for awhile, when I came back to it I found the story quite fascinating. Is this the authentic voice of Anne Morrow Lindbergh? No. But I’ll judge the book as fiction, not as a biography. It presents a very believable account of a shy and insecure girl who can’t quite believe that Charles Lindbergh, America’s hero, has chosen her to be his wife. At the same time, she is a remarkable woman in her own right, but it takes years for her to find her voice and truly be her own person, not “The Aviator’s Wife.” In a way, her journey represents the journey of all women through the 20th century – from the submissive wife of the 30s, to the independent woman of the war years, to the idealized (but unfulfilled) housewife of the 50s, to the increasing desires of women in the 60s and 70s to exert their independence and their sexuality and “have it all.” I wish the book had continued with Anne’s life after the death of Charles. I think it also underplayed how much she did write – not just Gift From the Sea. Finally, I think the success of this book is evident in the desire of readers to learn more about the “real” Lindberghs after reading this novel.

Book description: For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong. Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements-she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States-Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable CreaturesRemarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The “remarkable creatures” here could refer to the first discoveries in the early 19th century, of the fossil remains of extinct creatures, the Ichthyosaur and the Plesiosaur, which set the scientific and religious communities on their ears. Or it could refer to the two remarkable women, whose friendship helped them to thrive and survive in an age when women had no public voice and no recognition beyond motherhood. As Jane Austen so ably depicted, unmarried women, particularly in the upper classes, were a burden to their families. At least lower class women could become servants, laundresses, etc. and eke out a living. 10-year-old Mary Anning, the daughter of a poor cabinet maker and amateur fossil collector, helps to support her family by scouring the beaches and cliffs of Lyme Regis for “curies” which are sold in the family shop. Elizabeth Philpot, at age 30 and still unmarried, has been settled in Lyme Regis by her brother who cannot afford her upkeep in London. In that out of the way location, Elizabeth is able to pursue an interest in science and fossils. Because of her class, she is not really free to hunt for fossils on her own, but relies on Mary to find them for her. I loved how the two women learned and grew through each other. Elizabeth is envious of Mary’s “freedom”, while Mary is constrained by poverty. Elizabeth has the connections to bring Mary’s discoveries to the world, but she needs a bit of Mary’s boldness to step outside of the constraints of being a woman in a man’s world. It is remarkable that Mary Anning’s name is still remembered at all. I also loved learning about the early days of fossil hunting and seeing how these discoveries forced people to reassess the world and their place in the scheme of things, a reassessment that paved the way for Charles Darwin and his theories of evolution.

The story is told in alternating points of view by each woman. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by two different women. This really helped to bring out the cultural differences between the two women, and made me feel as if I were “there” hearing about the events and relationships through their eyes.

Description: On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: “the eye” to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man. Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.