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url 2017-06-23 22:20
This Child Will Be Great
This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

President Sirleaf is one of the Nobel Prize winning women that I challenged myself to read last October. I had first heard her name in the memoir of one of her co-winners, Leymah Gbowee, that I had reviewed here for the blog I had before this one. Because of that, I was a little familiar with the civil wars that tore Liberia apart for 14 years and the name Charles Taylor.

What I wasn't familiar with was the overall political history of Liberia, which President Sirleaf discusses throughout her memoir. Her family had been involved in politics there long before the civil wars which gave her a more overarching view of what was happening than I had listened to in Gbowee's book. A part of me wishes I had read them in the opposite order. Gbowee's book is a lot more of the every woman experience of the wars and President Sirleaf shows the reader the "bigger picture", if you will.

President Sirleaf's story starts long before the wars, though. She begins with some history, such as the relationship the US had with the founding of Liberia before moving on to more personal history. I loved the story about the man who gave the memoir it's title by looking at her as a baby and saying those words, "This child will be great." I love the doubt that follows. President Sirleaf's rise to power was slow and winding, given the political climate of her country throughout her life, but it appeared to have progressed at a relatively steady pace with what seemed like short segues into other areas. There was a lot of heartache and a lot of experience involved in that climb to power, but she persevered.

This memoir was narrated by Robin Miles, who is an amazing narrator. The link will take you to an interview she did with BookRiot. The pacing of both the book and the narration was great, it was one of the few audiobooks that I haven't felt the need to tweak the playback speed on my app. Overall, it's an important memoir to read for those of us interested in the lives of women, particularly those who have had political success or been awarded the Nobel Prize.

This was also one of those rare books that I could fit into all three of my reading challenges this year because it is by a Nobel Laureate, it satisfies Task 11 for my Read Harder challenge, and is my Letter T for Litsy A to Z.

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review 2017-03-08 23:08
Map: Collected and Last Poems - Wisława Szymborska,Clare Cavanagh,Stanisław Barańczak

This is one of my Reading Nobel Women books, a complete collection of Wislawa Szymborska's work, and it was amazing.

As with all collections, there are favorites and then there are those that weren't enough or just not your thing. The book starts off with those poems that, while good, weren't quite what I expected to be Nobel Laureate worthy. I quickly realized why. They were early works and this is a complete collection. Like all of it. The book is a whopping 400 pages of poetry that started out a little lackluster and grew to absolutely brilliant. By the end, it was completely obvious why she was chosen.

Some favorites were:

  • Teenager
  • Reality Demands
  • Hatred
  • The End and the Beginning
  • Funeral (II)
  • Children of Our Age
  • The Century's Decline
  • Hitler's First Photograph
  • Archeaology
  • Lot's Wife
  • Map

I actually had a lot that might be labeled as favorites but I'll stop there. These were the poems that really made me think about things a little differently. I probably could have done without some of the others, the more lighthearted poems because I've learned that I have a special love for poetry that tears my heart out. These did that in one way or another. They revealed things, but they weren't the only poems to do that in this collection.

This small sampling did things like reminded me that Hitler was once someone's little bundle of joy and that's a scary way to think of him. It reminded me that one of the luxuries that Americans have when it comes to war is that we just leave when we deem it over. We aren't left to rebuild the communities fragmented by it. It reminded me that Lot's Wife, so vilified for looking back at a town burning could have just been victim of an errant "Did I leave the stove on?" moment. It's worth reading the entire collection for moment like these, especially when one never knows what will come from reading poetry. New things can be revealed in every reading. These may simply be the poems that hit me this time and others will do similar things to other people.

As mentioned above, this is one of the books I chose to read in this year that I'm Reading Nobel Women but it's also my Letter M for the Litsy A to Z challenge. It would also fit nicely into Read Harder's Task 23 as it is a collection of poetry in translations on a theme other than love. There were several themes covered here and rarely was love in the mix.

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review 2017-01-11 15:43
Burger's Daughter
Burger's Daughter - Nadine Gordimer

My first book finished for the year is for my personal Reading Nobel Women challenge. This was my choice for Nadine Gordimer who is a recipient for Literature, so I read one of her novels.

It has taken me a while to attempt to process how I feel about this book. It was difficult to get through because of the nature of the book. For starters, I know relatively little of what was going on in South Africa during apartheid and the anti-apartheid movements. I got the glossed over and sugar-coated versions in school. I knew of Nelson Mandela, even back in school, and what he was known for, but I couldn't grasp it. It was real in that I knew it to be nonfiction but it didn't really exist in my mind. As an American, so far away from South African, I just didn't get it.

While I will never understand the full impact of everything involved with apartheid, getting rid of it and getting past it, reading this book began to paint a picture I wasn't familiar with. I was lost for most of the beginning because the topic was so for it's time and place and they were still in the thick of it that I don't think it occurred to the author that it might be necessary one day. Still, I wish there was some sort of forward that was added for modern readers who aren't as familiar with the time that the story begins.

Another confusing thing in the beginning was the way it switched from the third person to the first person in some chapters, with the first person being Rosa's internal monologue talking to different people. It was mostly an old lover in the beginning but some others are added at the end.

The story itself isn't about apartheid or ending it, so much as this girl trying to live in that time and with her own heritage. Rosa is the daughter of a prominent white Communist who actively advocated for apartheid to end and for the Africans to be complete citizens in their own country. He is believed to be based on Bram Fischer. What makes the book magical in its own way isn't so much the story itself but all the little observations of Rosa when she is in the first person. She occupies a strange place in the history of South Africa where she sees things about the status of the places that other's within the story don't see.

More importantly, it's the way Gordimer says things, whether it is the way Rosa sees things or the arguments of people around her. Here is a piece of a conversation that I just don't really know what to do with:

It’s not peace at any price, it’s peace for each at his price. White liberalism will sacrifice the long odds on attaining social justice and settle for letting blacks into the exploiting class. The ‘enlightened’ government crowd will sacrifice the long odds on maintaining complete white supremacy and settle for propping up a black middle class whose class interests run counter to a black revolution.

It's just one piece of a larger conversation about whether or not the black who were invited to box with the whites at the Olympics and what it means for everyone. Is it progress that they are being invited? Is it a stall tactic for the whites who are in power to not have a full on revolution? And then what does it all mean when you take a second and look back on your own country's history? It sent me in circles for days thinking about how things work in the US and whether or not this person was on to something and what it would mean for everyone if it really worked this way. Passages like this happened several times in the book.

Rosa was a great character, not necessarily because she is likable but because she isn't always likable. A character shouldn't always have to be likable. Sometimes they are going to do disagreeable things, just as people do, if they are to be true to life characters. Her world and her problems were interesting and foreign to me and it was completely understandable to me for her to feel every way she felt, even when it resulted in her doing things I didn't think were a good idea.

The most relatable thing about the book, especially right now with the way so many people are feeling in the wake of the US's own recent political upheaval, was the way Rosa doesn't like her lot in life as one the "named" from birth. She has no chance for a normal life because of who her parents were but she also doesn't appear to want what a normal white girl there were have because of how her parents raised her. She spends most of the book in a place of hopelessness about how apartheid will never end. I can imagine that given the time it took, many people felt that way.

Altogether, it was a great book to read, it just wasn't fun or enjoyable. It was thought-provoking, it was difficult, it was heart-breaking, it rocked my world every few chapters, and it was a touch inspirational here and there. That said, it's not for everyone but anyone interested in world history should give it a try. Or anyone else interested in Reading all the Nobel Women, which I totally recommend because they are incredible women.

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review 2016-11-21 13:49
Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi
Freedom from Fear - Desmond M. Tutu,Michael Aris,Aung San Suu Kyi,Václav Havel,Desmond Tutu

Oh, the feels. There's just too much here and during this time. I'm trying to keep this to a review and will post the book inspired rant later. Please bear with me, there will be crossover. This book is amazing and really showcases the struggle and strength of a founder of democracy for her country. This is one of my Reading Nobel Women books. Aung San Suu Kyi was the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

My feelings about what I was reading alternated based on the current US political scene. I was reading it during the last presidential debate and while I was watching the states turn red on election day. I'd rather not get into American politics, but there were some serious concerns on both sides of the aisle and here and some outrage in the aftermath that made reading about student protests in another country and almost 20 years ago that much more relevant.

The book begins with a foreword by Aung San Suu Kyi's husband, Michael Aris. He explains a little of their history together and what had been happening since her struggle for democracy began, it's the personal side that includes that her children had not been able to see her for years on account of it.  As someone who works in a "masculine" field and has been married to an at-home dad for six years, I cannot adequately explain how much I adore Aris's support of his wife and the way he never alludes to feelings of emasculation. A woman's struggle and strength does not inherently emasculate her husband. It just doesn't. I love how compiling this work and editing it must have allowed him to feel close to her despite all the things that were keeping them apart at the time of its writing.

He then explains the format for the book.  It is broken in three parts. The first are the works about Burma that she wrote before her political involvement. They give the reader a good sense of Burma and how much she loves and appreciates her country. They also get cited quite a bit later, so it helps to have read these works. The next part is her political writings that are mostly by her as well, but some are about her and written by others, such as the acceptance speech given for the Nobel Peace Prize that was given by her son.

It was this part that first made me think about the democracy that we have here and what we want here and what our ideals about democracy really are. It's easy to look at the long history of US democracy and lose the ideas of a founder. This book helped me out with that a little. At worse, it just changed my thoughts about what was going through their minds. There's the bits on the military and how it should (and in the US does) stay out of politics. Aung San Suu Kyi's party was consistently harassed by the military and denied the authorization to assemble but the demonstrations stayed peaceful. It was interesting to see the way she used the presence of the military at her demonstrations as an opportunity to reach out to rather than criticize them.

The last part are the writings in appreciation of Aung San See Kyi's movement and her character. One is written by a personal friend, which was an interesting touch. Another seems a bit more objective but still focuses on the way her involvement changed the movement that had already been there, the way she led them into unity and how she maintained a platform of peaceful protest for democracy over crowds that could have easily gotten violent.

The whole book is a beautiful testament to her strong leadership and character is a proponent of peace and democracy in her country. It recognizes that her position was merely advantageous in the beginning but acknowledges that it was her personal strength and ability that got the country to where it needed to go. It is not a memoir, which was what I had read about previous laureates. I love memoirs, but it was interesting to change it up in that this is part of the body of work that she was given the award for rather than her personal experience through it.

It was also a timely read, as mentioned before. It gives good insight into the mind of a revolutionary striving for democracy in a country that has never had it. The inspirational nature of her writing works to make me want to work on improving upon our own democracy and how it works, to get more involved.

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review 2016-10-21 21:28
Until We Are Free
Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran - Shirin Ebadi

This is the first book of my new challenge to read all the women Nobel laureates! It was a great start. While Ebadi does cover her level of involvement in setting up the Nobel Women's IniativeOne Million Signatures, and later the establishment of the Center of the Defenders of Human Rights, this is mostly a memoir of her life during these times. She talks more about big life changes, her fears and her outrages, and the overall state of women in Iran. It's not the book I thought it was, but that's not a bad thing.

This book is mainly about what happened after she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. As eluded to above, the government Iran was not pleased with her award and her work and the way it all made them look. She became a target and so did everyone around her, not that it stopped everyone from doing the work that needed to be done. This was a great book about her personal struggles and the rationale behind many of Ebadi's decisions. It also provides an interesting insight into the events that were dubbed the "Arab Spring".

I listened to the audiobook, read by Shohreh Aghdashloo. I didn't recognize her name but Aghdashloo has been in several movies and tv shows. Her voice had been somewhat familiar but I recognized her face right away. The link will take you to her IMDB. She does a great job narrating the book. As always, I appreciate getting to listen to names in other cultures that I would not only butcher but not get a chance to hear how gorgeous they can be.

I would have liked to hear more about Ebadi's work and details on some speaking engagements, but the lack of that information didn't deter from being able to appreciate the book and what she does tell us. She continues to work for Iran through the center mentioned above, visit their site for updates on her work and statements.

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