Tag Archives: feminism

Our Mothers’ War by Emily Yellin

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In a way, I feel very lucky to have read Our Mothers’ War. The only women I’ve had significant contact with who lived through World War II (i.e., my husband’s and my grandmothers) haven’t exactly been the most willing to talk about that time of their lives. This is most likely because three of them were teenagers; the only one who was of age is my husband’s mother’s mother. The most I’ve been able to hear of her experiences of that time came when my husband’s cousin was asking questions of a genealogical nature. Because of this, I looked forward to gaining some insight into the lives of women during those times.

The first, and longest, section of the book was about the women left behind by a soldier in their life — whether it be a son, brother, husband, or boyfriend. It discussed the sacrifices made at home to make life less horrible for the soldiers. It also quoted from a lot of the letters passed back and forth between women at home and their men at the front, which I thought was pretty sweet. My only quibble with this part of the book was that there was little mention of men who got “Dear John” letters, or of men who had someone waiting at home who brought another love home from the war. I would have liked to learn a little more about that portion of life for the Greatest Generation.

The next couple of sections worked well together. They were about women who worked during the war and about women who served in the armed forces. The part that struck me the most was about the women who served in the WAACs, the WAVES, and the other women’s military groups. Not only were they faced with resentment over the type of work the majority of them were taking (secretarial and administrative work), which caused men who held those jobs to go to the front, but they faced unfair and false rumors about their behavior.

The most egregious example of this discrimination was an article published in a newspaper at the time that women going into the armed forces had sexual education training and were given condoms. The rumor was false; women working for the military were given no such education and were not given any sort of birth control. In fact, Yellin tells us, the rate of STDs among these women was almost zero, and the pregnancy rate was much lower than that of the women back home. The vast majority of the pregnancies that happened were the result of husbands and wives serving near each other. Yet these women faced comments from servicemen and Americans at home such as, “women who are serving, I have no use for them. They’re all prostitutes, in my opinion”. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be considered a prostitute for wanting to serve your country.

The last sections of the book talk about smaller groups of women in America and discusses the problems they faced (or, in one case, the problems they caused). African-American, Japanese-American, and Jewish-American women faced significant discrimination at home for wanting to help the war effort, or even to just be left alone. There were also Fascist women here who formed groups to push the prevention of intervention in the war on the European continent.

While I got a lot of interesting information and learned a lot, I did have two problems with Our Mothers’ War. The first problem is that the author kept her own opinions about the majority of the groups of women out of her writing until she gets to parts about “undesirable” women, such as prostitutes who worked in Hawaii. She then pushes a certain type of feminism that doesn’t happen to be mine, and it drove me nuts. I didn’t feel that I needed to be preached to while I was learning about the conditions these women lived in.

My other problem with Yellin is in the other direction. She presents primary sources to give us information, but she fails to create a story about women during WWII. The vast majority of her writing would be better suited to an academic summary of the topic, not a book intended for popular consumption. It would have been nice to read something that was a little more narative.

Our Mothers’ War provides good information. It just would be nice for it to be better suited to the intended audience.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Filed under 3.5/5, Book review, Favorable, Nonfiction

Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

Sheri S. Tepper’s Grass, the first in the Arbai trilogy, is nothing short of amazing.  We are given a multi-layered story that keeps true to the science fiction and fantasy genres while managing to create something completely new and fresh, which is no easy task.  I was so engrossed in the book that I read the last 250 pages or so during one day.  It’s just that good.

A universal plague has broken out amongst the people of Grass‘ universe.  People are becoming sick and dying, even years after being exposed.  The doctors and scientists don’t know how to stop it.  The only ones with any information, it seems, are the leaders of Sanctity, the most popular religion.  The head of Sanctity decides to send his nephew to Grass, the only planet that has had no sickness.  And thus, Rigo, Marjorie, and their two children end up in an entirely new world with unfamiliar rules and strange taboos.

The wonderful about Grass is that Tepper has shaped it to be so many things.  The main plot circles around Grass and its relationship with the plague.  But it’s easy for the reader to completely forget about the disease and explore the relationships between Marjorie and those around her.  She’s our protagonist, and Tepper positions us well in her head.

Marjorie’s marriage is not a good one.  Her husband and she have personalities that tend to make things worse for one another, rather than better.  Stella, their daughter, takes after her father, much to Marjorie’s chagrin.  Rigo’s mistress is along for the ride, to round out the dysfunction.  These people can’t work together in a cohesive unit.

This lack of unity hurts them.  Meeting the “bons”, the noble families of Grass who exercise their veiled hostility toward all non-bon people, in such a state makes gaining their trust a difficult task.  They could try hunting with the bons, but one view of the creatures these settled people both hunt and hunt with disturbs Marjorie greatly.

On another part of Grass, Brother Mainoa of Sanctity is working on the Arbai village ruins.  The ruins of several Arbai villages have been found on many planets now inhabited by humans.  No one knows what happened to the Arbai; all the villages show few remains and relatively obscure relics.  Except for the one on Grass.  The Arbai remains there are ripped apart.  Brother Mainoa studies the site in order to gain new insight, whether from the artifacts or from the strange friend he gains.

Mixed into all this are religious anarchists, monstrously evil creatures, horsemanship, disease vectors, people with their minds wiped blank, murderous monks, and kind people in unexpected places.  Grass is so complex that I don’t really feel that I can describe it properly.  It’s a marvelous story.  I especially enjoyed the option Tepper gives the reader of focusing on one particular part of the story — they don’t all wind together until close to the end.  It makes it more difficult to predict what’s going to happen, which is great.  I like to be surprised when I read!

Once everything is together, things still go off in surprising directions.  So surprising that I’m going to have to get the next book in the series soon.

Rating: 5/5.

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Filed under 5/5, Book review, Favorable, Fiction