Friday, February 15, 2008
I've been on a bit of a "chick lit" kick lately. Since the Fall I've read a number of books that tell the story of strong female characters.
As it turns out, three of the books focussed on the lives of women who were midwives. It was interesting to read these books together and to compare and contrast the role of the midwife in three different cultures and historical contexts: a rural Nova Scotia village ca. 1915 in The Birth House ; a nomadic tribe of Israel ca. 1850 BC in The Red Tent; and a trival village in Sierra Leone, ca. 1757 in The Book of Negroes. Folk/tribal traditions, the art of learning from an experienced and respected matriarch and rites of passage are all common themes when it comes to midwifery in these books. There are also common underlying themes of 'leaving' and 'returning' which reflect more than just a change of perspective, but also a definition of self identity.
The only book that didn't fit this theme was Imperial Woman. This book was quite the opposite, about a woman who rose from a concubine to the Empress of China by her skills and wisdom and her unrelenting drive for power. Of the four books, this one took me the longest to read because it's written in a very different style. The language is not emotive, but instead describes in a matter-of-fact way the events that unfold throughout the novel. And there's a lot of repetition of events which makes the book sometimes tedious to get through. I found it difficult to sympathise with Tz'u Hsi, the Empress, because she was so hard-hearted and so consumed by her greed for power and control. But yet the culture and the history reflected in the plot (the transition from a China rejecting Western influences, to a China that embraces Western influences) are fascinating and well worth the read. I should also mention that Pearl S. Buck is a Nobel Prize winner, which automatically makes her worthy to read, right!? :)
I heartily recommend all 4 books! So stop reading this blog, and go read one!