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text 2018-04-22 20:05
Women Writers Bingo / Project: Tracking Post

 

Read:

A - Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke (all new); The Man With the Sack (revisited on audio);

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun (new)

B - Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (revisited on audio)

C - Helen Czerski: Storm in a Teacup (new);

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, and Murder Is Easy (all revisited on audio), Crooked House (revisited on audio and DVD) and Destination Unknown (new)

D - Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen (new)

E -

F -

G - Elizabeth George: For the Sake of Elena and Playing for the Ashes (both revisited on audio)

H - Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness (new);

Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell (new)

I -

J - P.D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (new), Original Sin and Death of an Expert Witness (all revisited on audio)

K -

L -

M - Val McDermid: The Distant Echo (new);

Ngaio Marsh: Death in a White Tie, Off With His Head (aka Death of a Fool), Clutch of Constables, Death at the Dolphin (aka Killer Dolphin), and Hand in Glove (all revisited on audio)

N -

O - Emmuska Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner (new)

P - Anne Perry: A Dangerous Mourning and The Whitechapel Conspiracy (both new)

Q -

R - J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith): The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil (all new);

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (all audio)

S - Dennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North -- A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays (new);

Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death (revisited on audio)

T - Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair (both new);

Amy Tan: The Chinese Siamese Cat (new)

U -

V -

W - Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) and The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch) (both new)

X -

Y -

Z - Juli Zeh: Schilf (English title: Dark Matter) and Unterleuten (both new)

 

Free / center square:

 

On the card, I am only tracking new reads, not rereads.

 

Read, to date in 2018:

Books by female authors: 50

- new: 27

- rereads: 23

 

Books by male authors: 19

- new: 18

- rereads: 1

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies: 1

- new: 1

- rereads:

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-22 18:01
Biafra: The World Was Silent When We Died
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,Zainab Jah

Half of a Yellow Sun is named for the centerpiece of the Biafran flag:

* Red for the blood of those massacred in northern Nigeria after the country's 1960 independence; in the time period leading up to the Nigeria-Biafra war, and in that war itself;

* Black for mourning them and in remembrance;

* Green for prosperity;

* And half of a yellow / golden sun for a glorious future: The sun has eleven rays, representing the eleven provinces of Biafra.

 

 

In this novel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the inside story of the Nigeria-Biafra war, of the anti-Igbo massacres preceding it, and of the short-lived Republic of Biafra roughly corresponding with the area chiefly inhabited by the Igbo (as well as the Ibibio, and Ijaw) and, in colonial times, known as Eastern Region of Nigeria: to this day, the political period most haunting Nigeria and its people.

 

Though the novel is not autobiographical (Adichie was born several years after the war ended), it is inspired by the experience of Adichie's parents, as well as numerous other eyewitnesses, who individually and collectively informed her protagonists: middle class twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, their lovers -- university professor and political activist Odenigbo, and English journalist and would-be novelist Richard Churchill (a distant relative of Winston) --, and last but not least Odenigbo and Olanna's houseboy Ugwu.  Through their eyes, and chiefly through those of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard, Adichie conveys a fragmented and multi-faceted image of the events, from the search for an authentic post-colonial (national? Igbo? pan-African?) identity to the shock and sheer terror of the anti-Igbo massacres -- primarily in Northern Nigeria --, the euphoria accompanying the foundation of the Republic of Biafra, and finally the unspeakable horror of a war conducted, on the Nigerian side, by way of a systematic campaign of starvation, shutting off Biafra's access to necessary food products and producing the images which have come to define the word "Biafra" once and for all to this day.

 

 

Although these images were front page news all over the world, and relief organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (which in fact owes its very existence to the Nigeria-Biafra war) did the best they could to battle the impossible odds, most of the First World stood by and let events take their course, out of a mixture of political self-interest, ignorance, sheer disbelief, and helpless apathy in the face of the enormity of the genocide.

 

In the novel, it is initially Richard, who has come to identify with the Igbo at least as much, or even more than with his English roots, who tries to convey a sense of what is happening inside Biafra to the outside world, through newspaper articles published in England and North America.  But his big project, a book about the Igbo (initially about their history and art; later on, about the war), keeps getting thwarted, and he ultimately abandons it:

"Ugwu fumbled, awkwardly, for something to say. 'Are you still writing your book, sah?'

'No.'

'"The World Was Silent When We Died".  It is a good title.'

'Yes, it is.  It came from something Colonel Madu said once.'

Richard paused.  'The war isn't my story to tell, really.'

Ugwu nodded.  He had never thought that it was."

And in fact, it will end up being Ugwu himself who writes that very book.  As it should be -- the story of Biafra, and the Nigeria-Biafra war, is for the Igbo and the Nigerians themselves to tell, first and foremost.  That obviously doesn't mean the rest of the world should ever stand by and keep silent in the face of war and genocide; but Adichie's point here (and I agree with her) is about authenticity, both cultural and emotional:

"I taught an introductory creative writing class at Princeton last year and, in addition to the classic 'show don't tell', I often told my students that their fiction needed to have 'emotional truth' [...]: a quality different from honesty and more resilient than fact, a quality that existed not in the kind of fiction that explains but in the kind of fiction that shows.  All the novels I love, the ones I remember, the ones I re-read, have this empathetic human quality.  And because I write the kind of fiction I like to read, when I started Half of a Yellow Sun [...], I hoped that emotional truth would be its major recognizable trait. [...]

 

Successful fiction does not need to be validated by 'real life'; I cringe whenever a writer is asked how much of a novel is 'real'.  Yet, [...] to write realistic fiction about war, especially one central to the history of one's own country, is to be constantly aware of a responsibility to something larger than art.  While writing Half of a Yellow Sun, I enjoyed playing with minor things [such as inventing a train station in a town that has none].  Yet I did not play with the central events of that time.  I could not let a character be changed by anything that had not actually happened.  If fiction is indeed the soul of history, then I was equally committed to the fiction and the history, equally keen to be true to the spirit of the time as well as to my artistic vision of it. 

 

The writing itself was a bruising experience. [...] But there were also moments of extravagant joy when I recognized, in a character or moment or scene, that quality of emotional truth."

 

(Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, In the Shadow of Biafra -- essay included in the 2007 Harper Perennial edition of Half of a Yellow Sun).

Half of a Yellow Sun has been called everything from "stunning" and "a landmark novel" to "heartbreaking", "exquisitely written, "a literary masterpiece" and "a classic" (the last four of these, in one and the same sentence of a Daily Mail review blurbed on the front cover of my edition).  The novel is probably all of these things, and yet, let's face it, all of these terms are nothing so much as well-worn reviewer's clichésSince they're the coinage by which professional reviewers the world over operate, I'm sure Ms. Adichie still preferred getting plenty of this sort of accolades over being ripped apart by these same professional reviewers' mercilessly acidic tongues, which the same time-honored traditions of the trade reserve for books not considered worth the respective reviewer's precious time. -- Being a mere amateur, I'm going to content myself with saying that this novel is precisely what Ms. Adichie hoped it would be: an emotionally brutally honest book; a fragment of Nigerian history told through the eyes of a small, diverse, and devastatingly flawed group of people.

 

(And of course I'm going to count this towards the letter "A" of the Women Writers Bingo ... never mind that I've already read another book qualifying for that particular square.)

 

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review 2018-04-22 00:25
Compact, Convenient, and Inspirational!
The Prayer Map for Women: A Creative Journal - Compiled by Barbour Staff

In the style of a daily planner, “The Prayer Map for Women” offers a pleasant, easy-to-use guide for establishing or venturing further into a deeper prayer life. The first thing that I noticed about this prayer map was its conveniently compact size; it is lightweight and will fit in most women’s purses or bags for easy carrying. Also, because it is spiral-bound, writing in it is very handy, without having to hold the pages open; this is one of the first features I look at when considering any kind of notebook or journal. The pages themselves are whimsical and appealing without being ostentatious or detracting from its purpose, with magenta and teal illustrations.

Two pages are allotted for each entry, divided into small, concise sections. Each page begins with “Dear Heavenly Father” and contains the following sections: Thank You For; I Am Worried About; People I Am Praying For Today; Here’s What’s Happening in My Life; I Need; and Other Things on My Heart That I Need to Share With You, God. The second page ends with “Amen. Thank You, Father, for hearing my prayers.” There is also a different Bible verse at the end of each entry, which grounds the writer in Scripture and encourages further reading of the Word. For women who are looking to jump-start, revive, or simply go deeper in their prayer life, this quaint little journal is the perfect guide!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

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review 2018-04-20 15:07
The Good Women of China / Xinran
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices - Xinran

When Deng Xiaoping’s efforts to “open up” China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, “Words on the Night Breeze” sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most, and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.

 

This is a heartbreaking book which I would never have picked up except I was looking for an X author for my Women Authors A-Z reading challenge this year. I never know how to rate books like these because it’s important to know about the situations in countries other than our own, but I always feel helpless and angry when I know that women are having such frightful difficulties.

I have to bear in mind that this book was published in 2002 originally, the author having moving from China to England in order to be free to do such a thing. A lot can and probably has changed in 16 years, plus many of the stories related in this book are from earlier years yet.

The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) seems to have disrupted relations between men and women and the nature of family relationships to an extreme. Survival was top of mind for everyone and each did what they had to. Xinran reveals the painful stories told to her by Chinese women—of having children horribly injured, daughters gang raped, husbands treating them like servants (or livestock), work denied, promotions skipped over, you name it.

As China seems to be heading into another iteration of their authoritarian regime, there will undoubtedly be more issues for women. I hope there is still someone like Xinran to listen to women’s voices and to articulate what they are able to (Xinran herself had to walk a fine line so as not to offend the Communist Party).

In the era of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns here in North America, we have to hope that our sisters on other continents are able to achieve some gains as well.

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review 2018-04-18 18:23
What Happened -- too many facts, not enough Hillary
What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton

I bought this a while ago. I was a Clinton supporter. (I have always loved Bernie Sanders and voted for him in the primary, but by the time it got to my state, it didn't matter, and I happily took time off to campaign for Hillary once that was settled.) I strongly believe she got short shrift in the election coverage, and I was too upset until recently to be able to read this. (I actually think my diving into fiction may be a direct result of the 2016 election. I find I am too angry to be functional if I read too much news or even too much political fiction/nonfiction.)

 

While I agree in large part with most of her points about "what happened," I didn't learn much new from this book. I was very touched by her clear adoration for her daughter and her grandchildren, and it is clear that the loss of her mother is still very painful. Some of those chapters are wonderful. I could have lived without an exact play-by-play explainer on every issue on the election. I lived through it and experienced it once. I wanted to know how she felt about these things. The cover promises she's going to tell us, but I didn't get any real insight to Hillary Clinton. Thought she didn't say it this way, I also enjoyed how clearly pissed off she is at Comey - still. Also that she was confused by his actions like the rest of us were. I would say 70% of the book is defensive crouch. I get it, but it may just have been too soon for me even now. I never will need to read an in depth explainer on the emails though -- I doubt anyone reading this book will. Those who read Hillary's book are likely to have understood the email situation LONG before the election and frankly, long before the NYTimes stopped harping about them. (Guess what - reading the apologies and "we'll do better" from the Times didn't make me feel better either - particularly since they've now done away with the Public Editor who was the one clear-headed person at the paper...)

 

I moved to this book because I found my blood boiling at Susan Bordo's feminist coverage in The Destruction of Hillary Clinton (though I will make myself read that because I really want to) and decided to put that one down in favor of reading the candidate's take. I've liked Clinton's earlier books, and like many women I've admired liked Hillary Clinton for years. I respect her, but this book was uneven. Clearly she was very hurt and angry, like the rest of us. When she's down, Hillary argues her case. It's just that I've heard that case before, and I hoped for a more personal look in this book, like promised. I wonder if anyone could write a clear-eyed book about this election, but Hillary and I can't.

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