Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

It is not often that I give one cheese reviews, but I did not like this book. I have nothing against the author or anything like that, I simply did not like it. I think it was more that I was not able to understand it as it was meant to be. I couldn’t relate to the characters. I couldn’t get in to the mindset of the characters even though I was reading their thoughts. I couldn’t emphasize with the characters through similar experiences because I haven’t really experienced anything like the women in the book did. I also didn’t like the way it was written. I should preface that by saying I don’t get poetry because I felt the book was almost written prose and poetry – a lot of short sentences, sentence fragments, lists and descriptions abound throughout the book. Granted, this is how we often think, especially as women, but it is difficult to read. It is just not a style I like. Furthermore, the jump from story to story threw me off because there wasn’t really a common link in them. Some of the stories link together, but not all. They also don’t really flow in any particular manner.

All that being said, I would like to highlight what I thought was good about the book. There is a wide variety of themes – love, loss, magic, cheating, domestic abuse, beauty, the Mexican revolution, living on both sides of the border, religion, sex, and life. It is a female dominated book, so it will appeal primarily to female readers. Furthermore, it empowers women, doesn’t make them subjects to a fate out of their hands. It provides interesting windows into the lives of Mexican women and Mexican-American women. It is realistic and believable  (at least the stories that don’t involve magic). My favorite story was Little Miracles, Promises Kept.

I would recommend it to Mexican-American women particularly and any woman in general. It is an empowering book for women if you like it. Anyone studying the Mexican-American culture should read this as well. There are some interesting insights into that culture and the lives of the people in it. I can see the value of the book, I personally just didn’t like it.

My  rating:

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

After reading Charlotte and Emily Brontës’ works, I was impressed by their writing and story lines. I was wondering about Anne Brontë because you never hear much about her, so I decided to read (listen to) one of her works. Most of the websites recommended Agnes Grey, but I gravitated more toward The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  I am so glad that I did. It was an absolutely a phenomenal book. She is definitely able to match her sisters for story line and writing strength. I actually think hers was my favorite of the Brontë sisters’ works as it was easy to follow and read.

The story opens following Gilbert Markham, a young farmer. He becomes fascinated by the young widow who takes up residence in the local Wildfell Hall not far from his farm. They have a growing friendship and intimacy that unfortunately ends with her refusing to marry him. The local gossip mongers start spreading rumors about how her son looks very like his best friend Frederick Lawrence and how he visits her at unseemly hours. This comes to a head in an unfortunate set of circumstances. However, the result is she presents him with her diary, which she explains will clear up the whole matter. You then get to read her diary which details the building up of an abusive marriage and her escape.

The story is quite brilliant, with multiple twists and turns. I explained it to someone as an interesting cross between Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice. You feel for Gilbert and cheer him on. You relate easily with Helen (the widow) and find yourself hating her husband. It really pulls you in and makes you want to know more. I enjoyed how you got to learn about the main characters in great depth. You also learn how an abusive relationship starts and grows and how difficult it was for women of the time to escape it, even why they would stay in the relationship. It’s an exact account of the relationship and what many women experience even today.

I highly recommend this book. It was a fantastic read and a read view into the world of women and marriage. Definitely an eye opener and emotionally stimulating read. Anyone who enjoys the classics, especially the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen will enjoy it.

My rating:

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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

I was disappointed by this book. That’s not to say it was bad or had a bad story line and plot. No, my issues were with how the information and story were presented. The book is the story of a group of women that volunteer for a government program called the Brides for Indians. The goal is to meet a trade suggested by the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf that the Indians would get one thousand white brides for their warriors to help assimilate the Indians into white society in exchange for one thousand horses. The trade was agreed to in secret to avoid the public outrage and volunteers for the program were taken as regular volunteers and recruits from the lunatic asylums and prisons. May Dodd had been placed in a lunatic asylum for promiscuity by her family (i.e. she was living with a man as an unwed woman – the man was below her social class as well). When the offer came she took it and the story follows her and the other twelve or so women that were the first recruits.

It is an interesting book idea and the story unfolds in a good and interesting way. However, the story is supposed to be a series of journal entries and letters written by May Dodd. The whole time I was reading it, it did not feel like a woman writing it – it read like a man trying to write as a woman. The information presented was not what a woman would have focused on, it’s too logical and clear cut compared to how a woman would think, consider, decide, and write. You hear almost nothing about her pregnancy other than she is pregnant where a woman would have focused on this as well. Additionally, I was hoping to learn about how the Cheyenne lived, how they did things, etc. Unfortunately in the book, you get an overview. You know she learns to skin animals, butcher, cook with local vegetation, tan hides, and learn the language because she says she does. You don’t get any disgust, uneasiness, wonder, or any other emotion a woman would talk about in a diary, let alone any of the details. Also, you never feel like she has assimilated to the native culture even though the journal entries say she does. It is all just rather jarring.

I do give the author credit for a great story idea and a good plot. The story does have its interesting areas and when just looking at how the story unfolded, it is rather good. If you are looking for an interesting social read, this isn’t bad. There is an interesting band of women you come to love in the book. I did like the women that were described because they were so realistic. There are areas of graphic violence, so be prepared for that as well. However, if you have ever read anything about Indian life, it should not shock you.

My rating:

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However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy

I was quite shocked by how much I enjoyed this book. I usually don’t go for biography or book about Africa, but this one called to me and I read it. I think it is a book everyone should read at least once in their life.

The story follows the life of Molly Melching and how she brought the knowledge of human rights to numerous villages throughout rural Senegal. Molly is originally from the U.S. and moved to Africa in her early twenties. She stayed because of how welcome and at home she felt, something she had never found anywhere else. After studying and working as a translator, she became obsessed with how to get education into the rural areas of Senegal where it was gravely needed to help maintain and encourage the improvement projects that were being put in place by NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization). She had several incarnations of organizations before founding Tostan – primarily setting up a local community center through the local Peace Corps then working with her (then) husband to establish a local education program for the village of Saam Njaay. Between these two organizations, she developed a teaching model that met the needs and cultural traditions of the rural community, allowing them access to basic information such as reading, writing, and hygiene.

When she finally broke out on her own and developed Tostan, she used what she had learned to develop an educational program that brought knowledge to the participants. Not only did the program teach reading and writing, but they were taught in connections with core ideas set up in modules – hygiene, basic health, leadership skills, and project development. After gaining success, she was prompted by receipt of funding to include a module on human rights and women’s health, including the dangers of FGC (female genital cutting) which was a widespread practice in Senegal. This last module was developed and presented with great care to be non-judgement and non-confrontational, simply presenting information that described the rights of women as outlined by the United Nations and gave the women information on their bodies they greatly wanted to know.

This module had an unexpected result. As the women grew in their belief in their rights and themselves, the communities started to change as women demanded their rights. The most stunning result was the decision by different villages to discontinue FGC, which caused anger and dismay with other villages. This led to the discovery of social norm connectivity and how members of a group will decide together.

As an educator and a woman, I found this book highly informative. Not only did I get an overview of life in Senegal, but I learned more about my rights as a woman and innovative educational practices I hope to someday use in my classroom. I thought it did a wonderful job of not only discussing Molly’s life, but also the different things she and her assistants learned over the years and the amazing stories shared by the brave women and men in Senegal who are attempting to bring an end to FGC in the country, and to spread the knowledge across borders.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially women and educators. It also gives you a glimpse into a life we cannot imagine in the United States and is a great way to learn about a mindset completely foreign to us. It definitely ranks on my “needs to be read” list for someone who will take the time to appreciate what they can learn from it.

My rating:

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