Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘woman’

No Other Choice

Secrets: In the shadows lurks the truth by Judith Barrow.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51GqVk8eBwLEach of the eight short stories in Secrets are very well written, and involve characters from Ms. Barrow’s novels. They include Nelly’s attempt to escape a convent with her baby, before it is given away; a nurse (Hilda) who has cared for her cantankerous mother for many years; Edith, who has been abused by her husband one to many times; Gwyneth, whose previous husband shows up unwanted, and unexpectedly at her new home; the fate of Alun Thomas, and his brother, who are conscientious objects during the first world war; Hannah and her son, reacting to the death of Hannah’s father; a fourteen-year-old and his friend joining the army during “the war to end all wars”; and Doreen, who has a baby during an air raid.

Most of these tales show the lives of women who have few options, or choices in their lives, and the extreme measures they take to be set free, and/or have some freedom (no matter how momentary it may be). Though the characters are taken from the author’s novels, each short story stands on its own, and could be a book entirely unto itself. The description of each individual, and their situations, are done with precision and care. By the end of the first paragraph readers have a good sense of who is who, what is going on, and the dilemma that is presented. This is no small feat. To weave together such a tight narrative is not an easy task for most writers. Ms. Barrow seems to do it with ease, and presents the primary protagonist with honesty, and empathy.

Having sympathy, and understanding, for the main character of a novel usually takes some time. To create an instant connection between the reader and the woman, or man, in a short story is even more difficult to do. I felt such a connection, regardless of the acts, or actions, they took, with every person in this collection. Doreen, Stan, Hannah, Alun, Gwyneth, Edith, Hilda, and Nelly, each had me rooting for them to triumph, get away from, or take whatever action was needed, to survive, or make sense of the world within which they lived. There are also a number of surprise endings.  Secrets is a book I recommend, without hesitation. Without a doubt, Ms. Barrow’s novels are just as well written, and well worth your time and attention.

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The Kindness of Strangers

My Forgotten Path Home
41KTXR9-obLA Novel by Tim I Gurung
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

This novel is all about the 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed over 8000 people and injured over 20,000, and, it has very little to do with the earthquake. Mr. Gurung dedicates My Forgotten Path Home to the dead and survivor’s of the quake in the acknowledgments, and the story revolves around May Andrelina Applehouse, who is found in the rubble by an Australian couple, but the essence of the story is about Nepal, its people, and finding a “place” called home.

When May returns to Nepal at age 27, for the first time since leaving at age 3, she discovers that it is not what she had imagined, and finding her birth parents will be much more difficult than she had anticipated. Helping her in her search are Inspector Raj Komartamu and his assistant, Officer Mangale Magar. Even though she is not familiar with anyone or anything, May feels like she is “at home”. The journey begins in Kathmandu (the capital), and then extends to the countryside.

May is amazed with the beauty outside the city. “The morning fogs around the valley had not dissipated, cobwebs of gossamer and the nearby jungle were visible, and birds were still reluctant to fly away from their warm nest.” With the help of her new friends (Raj and Mangale) May looks near and far for her parents, and eventually makes a decision which brings her even closer to the Nepalese and her understanding of what life is like for those in the capital and farming the land in small villages.

My Forgotten Path Home is similar, in some respects, to the storyline for the wonderful film Lion, in which a young orphaned boy in India is adopted by an Australian couple, and then returns as an adult to try to find his mother. Mr. Gurung’s story however, takes place almost entirely in Nepal and feels almost like a personal memoir, though it is not in the least. My favorite aspect of this tale is the genuine kindness and gentleness of all those involved. Everyone treats one another as family, whether they are related biologically or not. This is a novel written with heart, that touches the heart.

Learning to Love

41RQ8k1nItL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Transitioning into Womanhood: Journey to Self-Realization by Codisha R. Matthews. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Ms. Matthews, “There is a huge difference between the woman I am today and who I was five years ago. Today, my smile has depth, and I am confident in who I am and who I can be.” In Transitioning into Womanhood we discover not only what Codisha experienced, and learned from those experiences, but also a step by step guide on how to make that transition and become a kind, giving, loving, woman of principal. Though this is written by a woman, for women, every aspect of it’s insights and life-principals apply to both genders.

The depth to which the terms, concepts, and themes, are defined and explained, make it easy to understand and follow in one’s own life. For instance, everyone talks about “loving oneself”, but few tell us what that means, how to do it, or acknowledge the difficulty in doing so. “Loving oneself means caring for, taking responsibility for, respecting, and knowing ones self. Self-love sets the standard for how you are loved and treated by others.” Loving yourself includes honest self-reflection, self-respect, self-acceptance, responsibility, and self-empowerment. Being honest with one’s self is where we must all begin, and is often the most painful.

With chapters about personal morals and values, financial growth, maintaining relationships, managing stress, and love and sex, Ms. Matthews addresses each and every elephant in the room with clarity and honesty. Though she doesn’t prescribe her personal religious beliefs for anyone else, she clearly states what hers are and has an entire chapter called “Exploring the Spiritual You – Getting In Touch With God”. The epilogue does a good job of bringing every aspect of Transitioning into Womanhood into focus by reviewing the importance of believing in “something”, loving yourself, caring for your body, keep challenging yourself, the vital importance of relationships, celebrating others, and that every day is a new opportunity on the path to self-realization.

Who is it this morning?

51hmYNSvtFLMagnetic Reverie (The Reverie Book 1) by Nico J. Genes. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

This wonderful story gives the film Inception a run for its money. Lana keeps waking up in two different countries, with two different lovers, not knowing which is a dream and which is real. Is she with Claire, in Slovenia, or her husband Greg, in the U.S? Lana’s dreams about Claire seem as real as her life in Washington, D.C., with her husband Greg. When she’s with Greg all she thinks about is going back to sleep to be with Claire. “It was the morning and it was time to wake up. I looked around to see which bedroom I was in.”

No mistake about it, Lana is in completely new territory, as she has never been with a woman before her “dreams” began. She is not familiar with the attraction, sensations and feelings that Claire arouses, though she is quite familiar with the language, city, and less-openly expressive country in which she was raised (Slovenia). The two women eventually go on holiday around the country, fall deeply in love, and Lana is overwhelmed with her reactions. “Her eyes were amazing. Her voice was such a pleasant melody to the ear. I kept thinking about her in a way I never thought of any other woman. Was I feeling butterflies?”

Lana is torn between both worlds, and people, not wishing to deceive the other, and not knowing how to explain or deal with either. Definitely read this story to the end, as there are a number of realizations, events, and decisions that Lana makes in the final pages which provide new perspectives and open’s the door for other possibilities. Look for the line, “I felt like she was my ____________ while Greg was my ____________.” This line helps to understand how Lana reconciles the two worlds. Magnetic Reverie is a convincing bi-sexual romance, with shades of surrealism and mystery. After reading this story by Ms. Genes, I wanted to go take a nap and see if there were any unknown loves waiting for me in my dreams.

 

Say It Outloud

51TNQTUdZkLThe Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name – Short Stories by Fiza Pathan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Confession time. When I saw that this collection of short stories was over 450 pages long, I planned to skim over them and write a brief overview. After reading the first one, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, I was hooked and ended up reading each story from start to finish. They are all excellent, different and well written. They take place in different countries (India, Canada, United States, Iran, Syria, un-named South American country, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). What they all have in common is the portrayal of someone who is not part of the stereotyped heterosexual majority.

Each person must deal with the prejudice, religious intolerance, and/or ignorance, of their family, community, friends, culture, and/or government. Oscar Wilde quotes are also part of many of the stories, and match each perfectly. Each tale in The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name begins with the primary characters name as the first word of the story, thus speaking there name out loud, and validating who they are.

Sreekanth declares his love for another man to his father. Stanford’s father is outraged when he finds out who his son is friends with. Mrs. Almeida has to deal with her ex-principal who is outraged when she hears that one of her children was born biologically a boy and changed to a girl. Salman secretly lives with his boyfriend and wife, fearing the ISIS leaders will discover them at any time and put them to death. Melody discovers that she doesn’t fit into the sexual stereotype she expected. Five-year-old Ken wants to be Wonder Woman, and starts to take drastic measures to make it so, much to the dismay of his parents.

Another confession. Being the parent of a daughter who married her long-time girlfriend, a son who married another man, and some long-time friends who are transgender, as well as living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, made it difficult to accept all of the violence, hatred, and mis-understanding portrayed in these stories. The longer I read however, the more I realized how much of a bubble I’m in, and that many parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world still have intense prejudice, fear, and anger, towards people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, born intersex, pansexual, bi-sexual, transvestite, or anything that is not the “norm”.

It is sad, but vital, that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name was written. Giving a voice to those who cannot speak, who are shunned, dismissed, minimized, degraded, chided, threatened, misunderstood, and sometimes killed, just for being themselves, is proudly proclaimed with each tale. Though this is a work of fiction, many of the events, and reactions within this collection have, and are, taking place throughout the world. Ms. Pathan not only understands these realities, but is also able to share them with splendid prose, insight, and dramatic effect. It is one thing to aware of others lives, and another to be able to write about them so eloquently.

Each story in Ms. Pathan’s collection of shorts could be part of its own novella, but they stand on there own just as they are. The theme of acceptance, being true to oneself, and the possibility for change, is the constant between them all. As Oscar Wilde states so knowingly, On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Whatever Works

41nM1xKgcaLLetting Go into Perfect Love: Discovering the Extraordinary After Abuse by Gwendolyn M. Plano. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

When you’ve been emotionally and physically abused in a 25-year marriage, it takes not only courage to get out, let alone heal, but also an array of support and resources. Ms. Plano provides not only the details of her childhood, adult life and abuse, but also explores what helped, and what didn’t. Adding insult to injury, she later discovers that her daughter was abused by a Catholic sister and several priests. 

The first part of this story is anything but “perfect love”, but its important to provide context and depth to the despair, isolation, and shame that was experienced. The support and realizations that come to the author are as varied and individual as was the abuse. From the instruction’s of a zen teacher, theological inquiries into Christianity and the bible, feeling the presence of an “angel”, and getting psychological support, to the love and care of a Franciscan priest, and a center for abuse survivors. Whatever worked for insight, growth, and healing, is what Ms. Plano reached for.

Two quotes really stood out. “Rather than seeing the controlling behavior for what it was, I focused on what must be wrong with me.” This is such a common, and understandable, feeling that many abuse survivors have echoed. The other was, “It was a delusion to imagine that I was alone, just as it was to imagine that I was unworthy of love.” Self-loathing, self-doubt, and internalizing abuse as one’s “fault”, is one of the most horrendous effects for survivors. The other is feeling isolation and having nowhere to turn.

Another insightful passage, which is seldom spoken of, is about why some people never get out of an abusive relationship. “Domestic violence is usually not reported, and this fact is often misunderstood. Certainly, victims do not report the violence because of the real possibility of retaliation, but there is a deeper reason for their silence. To report partner violence is to betray the partner, it is to forsake the dream of a happily-ever-after marriage, it is to contend with the real and imaginary voices of condemnation, and it is to destroy the family unit.”

Letting Go Into Perfect Love is a blow to the heart, that leaves the reader with a sense that it is possible to survive the unsurvivable. It is possible to acknowledge, confront, and walk away from perpetrators of violence. It is possible to find support – sometimes in the most unexpected places. There are no cliches in this memoir (thank Goddess). There is an honest look at what has, and is happening, to thousands of women across the globe, and how each can find their way to not only survive, but perhaps learn to love again.

 

 

Nothing But the Best

SecondBestSecond Best by Charmaine Pauls
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

The story is a beautiful work of art that alternates between the first person account of Molly von Aswegen as a teen, and her later life in Johannesburg, South Africa, as told in the third person. The tale takes place between 1981 and 1984 with 17-year-old Molly fighting for her life in an industrial school (similar to reform school), and the foster homes, jobs, and people she encounters once she gets out. The pacing, and timing, between her past, and present, are done seamlessly and to great effect.

Having most every horrible thing possible happen to her before she turns twenty-one, it is not surprising that Molly has little trust in others, and no self regard for herself. There are only two people that stay with her, and whom she trusts. Malcolm (Mal) meets her at school just before he goes off into the army and to fight in Angola. Neill Mckenzie, who owns the Opera Bakery, is the second person who sees something more in Molly than her life circumstances and reputation. Neill sees potential and a passion for baking. The story is reminiscent of the 2015 film Dough (without the comedic elements), which has an old Jewish baker struggling to keep his business alive in London, and the teenage Muslim boy he hires, who is “nothing but trouble”.

All of the character’s in Second Best are played well. Molly and Neill’s families are from different sides of town, and each member comes to life. Molly’s friend and foes at school, Berta, Mr. de Jonge, and Jessica, are like people you may know, or have known. The Opera Bakery’s obnoxious and self-centered patron, Judge William Brooks, who has power, prestige, and a sense of entitlement, can also be found in cities across the world. Realism, with dialogue, character, and action, run rampant throughout the story.

Second Best is a well crafted, insightful, and entertaining story, that takes you into the heart and soul of a young woman finding her way through a hellish childhood, and discovering if anything reminiscent of self-love, respect, and love, is remotely possible.

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