Gender Roles, Arranged Marriages and the Challenges Immigrant Families Face; A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum Captures the Love and Pain in these Arab Women’s Limitations

A Woman Is No Man

My Review:

This is a captivating story of three women of different generations in the same family.  In A Woman Is No ManEtaf Rum shows us the challenges of Palestinian immigrants who are “torn between two cultures and struggling to start anew”.  She reveals the truth about life and all that must be endured as an Arab woman in America.

Back and forth in time, we meet Isra, a young girl in Palestine who has an arranged marriage to Adam.  The young couple moves to Brooklyn to start a family; Isra is lonely and afraid but hopeful she can win over the hearts of her new husband and mother in law.  Fareeda, Adam’s mother, is a strong woman with stringent rules and specific ways of doing things.  Along with shouldering the sins of her past, Fareeda’s respect for tradition and customs influences her actions and interactions with her sons, their wives and her grandchildren.  Deya is a teenager living in Brooklyn with her three sisters and Palestinian grandparents.  Her parents, Isra and Adam, died when she was 7, and she is being raised with the customs from Palestine by her grandmother, Fareeda.

Deya does not want an arranged marriage at 17, she want to go to college and choose her own partner when she is ready to settle down, but her American dreams will be squashed if Fareeda has anything to say about it.

“To want what you can’t have in this life is the greatest pain of all .”

Fareeda believes in arranged marriages, that sons are more valuable than daughters, and women should do all the housework and raise the children.  She is haunted by her past and chooses to stick by her traditions. “Fareeda knew her granddaughter could never understand how shame could grow and morph and swallow someone until she had no choice but to pass it along so that she wasn’t forced to bear it alone. “

In Palestine, abuse was common. There was no government protection and women believed they were worthless and deserved to be beaten.  They were dependent on men, had no education and were filled with so much shame.  The hurt, disappointment, anger and violence got passed down until the new generation stood up for their rights as American women.

Author Etaf Rum created characters strong in their convictions, yet weakened under the pressure of deep struggles…and I felt deeply for all of them.  I wanted Isra to find love in her marriage, approval from her mother in law, joy in motherhood and her daughters, and purpose in her life.  Fareeda deserved to feel at peace with her choices of the past and her granddaughter, Deya, had the right to an education and to make her own choices regarding a life partner.

A Woman Is No Man was not just about women, but men, too. Most of the characters stood by their cultural roles (either to be oppressive or to be oppressed), and were challenged to break free from what the old Palestinian society expected. The men and women in the story were equally weak; Isra’s husband, Adam, in accepting his position of strength as head of the family, found no way out. Suffering under the pressures of being the first born son, he could have spoken up, but he wanted to please his parents.  Similarly, Isra wanted her in-laws’ approval and the love of her husband, despite not wanting the arranged marriage. Struggle within the confines of the traditions to raise a family in this country presented challenges that many families new to America are subjected to.  Ultimately, individuality and confidence the younger generations develop, being exposed to life as Americans, gives them the courage to bend the family rules and go for what they want.

Etaf Rum gives us a peek into Arab traditions, superstitions, and customs, conveying the challenges of teaching the old ways to the new generations.  She also provides us with a good look into why Palestinian women may want to take on a more American approach to life to increase their self worth and independence.

I could not put this book down, loved it and highly recommend it…great for a book club discussion!

 

Watch Jenna Bush’s interview with Etaf Rum on The Today Show. and if you enjoy immigrant stories, I also recommend reading A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

Goodreads Summary

About the Author

Etaf Rum

The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Masters of Arts in American and British Literature as well as undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and English Composition and teaches undergraduate courses in North Carolina, where she lives with her two children. Etaf also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans and is also a Book of the Month Club Ambassador, showcasing
her favorite selections each month. A Woman Is No Man is her first novel.

How much would you sacrifice to achieve the American Dream? The Farm review and Q & A with author, Joanna Ramos.

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Review of The Farm and Q & A with Joanne Ramos

What could be better than living on sprawling beautiful property in the country, healthy food being served to you, fresh air and exercise, massages and pampering, and a generous, life changing paycheck, while all your needs are being met?  The catch…you must stay on the premises and be separated from your family and friends for nine months while you are pregnant with a baby that doesn’t belong to you.

In this stunning debut novel, The Farm, female-centric and slightly dystopian (will be appealing to fans of  The Handmaid’s Tale), author Joanne Ramos creates Golden Oaks, a secluded, country club atmosphere in Hudson Valley, NY where mostly foreign women are bearing children for elite clients who are not able to get pregnant or who choose not to.

Jane, a young, single Filipina mom with an infant, no husband and no secure place to live, decides to leave her own baby with her cousin, Ate, and take a job at Golden Oaks, where she will make enough money to better her life. She is chosen to be a Host, living in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where her only job is to rest and keep the baby inside her healthy.  Nine months is a long time to be separated from your family and as time goes on, Jane starts to question the value of that big paycheck versus her sacrifices associated with being away. She is worried about her young daughter and her cousin, and is unsure the money alone is an adequate tradeoff for the painful separation and the missing of milestones.

Joanne Ramos takes a look at class status; what poor women will give up to ultimately improve their lives, and what wealthy women give up to avoid inconvenience. How much is worth sacrificing for the American Dream? This is a thought provoking, emotionally charged novel I highly recommend!  Available on Amazon Today.

The Farm is part of the Bedside Reading program where books are placed on the nightstand at 5 star, luxury and boutique hotels.

Goodreads Summary

Q & A With Joanne Ramos

Q: How did you come up with the idea for a novel centered on a surrogacy farm and do you know anyone that ever worked at one?

A.  When I finally dared to commit to writing a book, a childhood dream I’d deferred for decades, I was already forty. Certain ideas had obsessed me for much of my life but finding a way into them—finding the right story to contain them and, also, allow them room to breathe—was difficult. I spent well over a year writing short stories, flash-fiction pieces and “first chapters” of stillborn novels. It was an exercise in persistence and, also, faith. Then one day, when reading my husband’s Wall Street Journal, I happened upon a snippet of an article about a surrogacy facility in India. The what ifs began swirling in my mind almost immediately, and The Farm began to take shape.   

Q: In this country do you see Filipina women experiencing economic and social challenges and in general struggling more than white women?  And if so, in what way?

A.  I don’t think you can really generalize in this way. I know Filipinas who struggle and those who lead cushy lives, and the same goes for white women. I think new immigrants to this country—and they come in all races and colors—do face challenges that ensconced Americans do not. I think domestic workers occupy a strange netherworld where they work in the intimacy of someone’s home and are often hailed as “part of the family”—but of course, they aren’t. That’s a difficult line to balance every day, and by and large, domestic workers don’t enjoy the protections that other workers in this country do. And of course, racism exists—here and everywhere.

Q: In The Farm we see women of different social classes and even in the same class using each other to get ahead. With the #MeToo movement, it generally seems as if most women are outwardly supporting all women across dividing lines.  Do you think the situation in your novel is closer to reality?  Do you believe women stand by their children first, then other women second? 

A.  Women, like men, have conflicting needs, desires and loyalties which they try their best to balance. Sometimes they need to compromise; some compromises are betrayals, depending on which side you sit on. Even within the #MeToo movement you see divisions—women who feel #MeToo has gone too far, women who feel it has not gone far enough, women who can relate and women who can’t, women who are changing their minds because of it.

Q: The influence men have on the women in The Farm seems nonexistent.  Why did you decide not to include men in the storyline? 

A.  I didn’t exclude men from The Farm consciously. The book started with Jane and Ate. Their voices came first. All the caregivers I happen to know well are women, and almost all of them are raising their children on their own—the fathers are absent. So, in this way, Jane and Ate’s stories reflect the reality I know. Of course, the Hosts are women, and it made sense to me that the person running Golden Oaks would be a woman. The decision was not one made “on-high”, but an organic development.

Q: Female inequality is a subject that is underlying throughout your novel. But the women considered to be the lowest on the totem pole also have the greatest power, the ability to bear a child.  You could have gone a different way in the novel, giving the pregnant women the upper hand.  Why choose to create a world that diminishes the unique and valuable aspect of womanhood?

A.  I don’t think that motherhood or pregnancy is diminished in The Farm at all! In fact, they are central to the book. The reality is, though, that the power dynamics of the world are not built around motherhood and pregnancy. In fact, for most of history, and in many parts of the world still, the opposite is true.

Q: How long did it take you to write this novel?  

A.  If you count the year and a half when I wrote in the dark, trying unsuccessfully to find a way “into” the themes that mattered to me, it took around five years. Once I came upon the idea of setting the action in a luxury surrogacy facility, the book took three and a half years to write and edit.

Q: What are you working on now?

A.  I have some seedlings of ideas for a second book, but nothing coherent enough to discuss.

Q: What are the last three great books you read and what is on your night stand now?

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

Essential Essays, Adrienne Rich

Hold Still, Sally Mann

On my nightstand: Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss; Citizen: an American Lyric, Claudia Rankine; The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli; Saltwater, Jessica Andrews

More information about surrogacy below.

Celebrities who have used surrogacy to grow their family

Surrogacy Farms in India

Surrogacy Farms in Ukraine

About the Author:

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Joanne Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six.  She graduated with a BA from Princeton University.  After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she wrote for The Economist as a staff writer.  She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.  The Farm is her first novel.

Song of a Captive Bird by Jazmin Darznik

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My Review:

The beautiful cover of this powerful debut caught my eye and after perusing the summary on the book jacket I was compelled to read and recommend this to one of my book groups.  We wanted to focus on strong women and Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik fits the bill!

This story, based on the life of Forugh Farrokhzad, focuses on a young Iranian girl who as a child pushed the envelope when it came to respectable, traditional, female behavior.  She had an interest in poetry, writing at eleven years old to get the attention of her strict father.   She was lucky enough to find a friend she connected with who enjoyed the written word as well and she and this young boy secretly met and he exposed her to different writers, but the Iranian culture forbid them to socialize. Her parents locked her in small spaces as a punishment and due to her questionable behavior, they forced her to undergo a virginity test.   At sixteen years old her father orchestrated an arranged marriage and the relationship suffered due to unsurmountable challenges.  Forugh became a teenage mother, began a clandestine romantic relationship with a powerful man in the publishing business, ran away from her stifling marriage and toward freedom and self fulfillment.

Forugh’s passion was to write, and when her provocative, expressive poetry was published, scandalous and smart written words by a woman… it caused a huge uproar.  Her marriage had been damaged beyond repair, her parental rights were impacted, her love affair was not all she had hoped it would be, but her quest for independence and creative freedom remained her priority as she changed the world of poetry in Iran and became an icon for feminism.

The title, Song of a Captive Bird, refers to Forugh; her poetry is her song and she endures feelings of being trapped by society and the rules preventing women to express themselves, as well as her marriage, relationship with her parents and her lovers, during the 1970s political resistance leading up to the revolution.  But in some ways all the characters are like captive birds, trying to conform to societal rules in a suppressed society and being challenged by each other, yet also finding comfort in the confines of what is acceptable.  Forugh gave up her marriage and family to find success as a poet, because in Iran she could not have it all.

I loved this book along with all the others in my book group.  Forugh was a strong, feisty woman living in the 1970s in Iran who was determined to share her creativity  with the world, despite the backlash and outrage her poetry stirred up.  Although throughout her short life she she didn’t conform to rules for females, cooking and motherhood were not her strong suits, she endured some horrible psychological and physical tortures, suffered unbearable heartbreaks, and many aspects of her life seemed like colossal failures, Forugh persevered and set the bar high when it came to freedom of expression, independence and rights for women.

This book is historical fiction based on the incredible poetry and varied life experiences of controversial poet Forugh Farrokhzad whose life tragically ended at age 32.  Author Jasmin Darznik draws you in from the very beginning and consistently shocks and amazes you with details of this extraordinary woman’s life, giving you incentive to do some googling!  Fantastic debut novel!

 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Jasmin Darznik is the author of the debut novel Song of a Captive Bird, a fictional account of Iran’s trailblazing woman poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, as well as the New York Times bestseller The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life. Her books have been published or are forthcoming in sixteen countries.

Jasmin received her MFA from Bennington College and PhD in English from Princeton. She is a professor of English and creative writing at California College of the Arts and is now at work on a novel set in 1920s San Francisco.

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall

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My Review:

It is not often where I pick up a book that has everything I’m looking for at that moment and The Subways Girls by Susie Orman Schnall delivered.  I started out in my early 20s in NYC at an ad agency so this book was a real treat for me as I was immediately drawn in and wanting to read more.  The urge to google and learn something new is always a good sign when I am reading a book, and the Miss Subways ad campaign sparked my interest.  Well developed, relatable characters that had me rooting for them and invested in them so much to pull at my heart strings and cause me to shed some tears, two separate and equally intriguing stories that perfectly connect, and just enough information or a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter to spur me made this a winner for me.

In her novel, Susie Orman Schnall explores some of the challenges women faced in the 1940s and some that still exist today.  In 1949 Charlotte wants to graduate college and work in advertising, yet the ad agencies only seems to have women working in the typing pool.  She has an opportunity to be in ad campaign that essentially is a beauty contest where the winner’s photo will be up in the subway cars, a lovely and successful boyfriend who wants to marry her and start a family, but her desire is to be educated and become a working woman, not a beauty queen or a wife and mother.  Her father demands she drop out of school, work at the family business and not participate in the Miss Subways contest.  After being rejected from all the jobs she applied to, feeling rebellious and going against her father’s wishes, and initially not being in favor of becoming an object of beauty, she decides to apply for Miss Subways anyway – with nothing to lose, she thinks it could help her father’s business by getting some publicity should she win.  Her supportive boyfriend stands by her, although some of his decisions reflect questionable judgement.  (No spoilers!)

Seventy years later, successful ad executive Olivia has to come up with an advertising idea for the MTA.  She has a complicated relationship with her boss, who has power over her financially and emotionally.  Her male coworker is not a fan of women and has no problem stealing her ideas and presenting them as his own.   Feeling despair, alone and her job on the line, Olivia has to make some decisions. Her strength and perseverance, despite the odds being against her, lead her to research the old Miss Subways campaign.   Through heartbreak, a new love and a surprising connection right next door, Olivia’s future begins to look bright.

Striking a balance for women is often challenging; a constant juggling between works and family….wanting it all.  Happiness is fluid and different things may be more important at different times.  I found myself rooting for both Charlotte and Olivia, a champion for the women, no matter what they wanted in order to be happy – the job, the beauty contest, the attention from the guy, the winning campaign…I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

To learn more about The Subway Girls read this fascinating Harper’s Bazaar article written by the author.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

I am the author of the novels THE SUBWAY GIRLS, THE BALANCE PROJECT, and ON GRACE. I grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. My writing has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Writer’s Digest, and Glamour. In addition, I have spoken extensively on work-life balance and I’m the founder of The Balance Project interview series. I live in Purchase, NY, with my husband and our three sons. For more about me, please visit www.susieschnall.com or follow me at:

Instagram: @SusieOrmanSchnall
Facebook: SusieOrmanSchnall
Twitter: @SusieSchnall

 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

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My Review:

The Weight Of Ink tells the story of Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who becomes a scribe for a blind rabbi in London in the 1600s right before the plague.  At the same time we learn about Helen Watt, a close to retiring British historian who is working on translations of some 17th century documents signed by scribe “Aleph”.  Even though these women lived-in different centuries, both were strong and determined to pursue their interests and fight to be heard, and choosing a life to satisfy the mind and sacrifice the heart.

Ester is a product of the Portuguese Inquisition and although displaced with little family, what feels like home for her is her job a a scribe for the rabbi, where her love of learning is nourished.  She turns down marriage offers as she prefers to work for the rabbi in order to continue her scholarly pursuits.  She has an open mind and longs to converse with philosophers and educated men, and although it is not acceptable for women to engage in these types of discussion, she creates unorthodox opportunities to be heard.

Helen has a love of Jewish history and as she and her American graduate student assistant Aaron Levy investigate the many pages of letters written to and from the London based rabbi to determine the identity of the scribe, it is a race against time as Helen’s physical health is failing, she is approaching retirement, and another team of historians are working on the same project.

We also learn about Aaron Levy, the Jewish assistant, who is interested in a relationship with a girl who is living in Israel on a Kibbutz and is pushing him away.  And then there are Ian and Brigette Easton, the couple who live in the 17th century house where the documents were found.  This is a complex story; a mystery and rich with history and well developed characters.

Author Rachel Kadish provides extensive depth: Jewish theology and philosophy, interfaith relationships and lost love, 17th century history, the Portuguese inquisition, the plague and so much more…no skimping on research here, but for me a bit too wordy, complex and long.  The Weight of Ink is powerful, intricate and the well deserved winner of the National Jewish Book Award.  Although this is not an easy book, if you love historical fiction and Jewish history and set aside a big chunk of time to conquer it, you will be rewarded with the beauty of memorable storytelling.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

I often begin writing when something is bothering me. Years ago, I was thinking about Virginia Woolf’s question: what if Shakespeare had had an equally talented sister?
Woolf’s answer: She died without writing a word.
What, I wondered, would it take for a woman of that era, with that kind of capacious intelligence, not to die without writing a word?
For one thing, she’d have to be a genius at breaking rules.
My novel The Weight of Ink reaches back in time to ask the question: what does it take for a woman not to be defeated when everything around her is telling her to sit down and mind her manners? I started writing with two characters in mind, both women who don’t mind their manners: a contemporary historian named Helen Watt and a seventeenth century Inquisition refugee named Ester Velasquez. It’s been a delight working on their story.
The Weight of Ink is my third novel, but I’ve also written two other novels and one novella, plus a few dozen essays and stories. Whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I put words to paper because it’s my way of metabolizing life. To paraphrase Henry James: I don’t really know what I think until I see what I say.
Thanks for your interest in books.

*SPECIAL GIVEAWAY* UPDATE: Hum if You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais WINNERS are Linda J. and Book Gypsy!

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This is one of my favorites (my review is here) and I have 2 copies to give away to lucky winners!  How to enter:

1. Like Book Nation by Jen Facebook page
2. Like and Share this post
3. Tag a reader friend
*bonus if you sign up to receive my blog Book Nation by Jen via email
Good Luck! Winners will be chosen by Friday 5pm.  (US residents only)

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

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My Review:

The Rules Do Not Apply is a well written memoir about real life, disappointments, successes, grief and joy.  Ariel Levy has a compulsion for adventure, drawn to  untraditional relationships and the need to become “the kind of woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.”  She was a writer, following stories of powerful women around the world, and during this time she also experienced much drama and trauma.

At 5 months pregnant Ariel agreed to take a business trip to Mongolia, a choice she later regrets.  “When I got on the plane to Mongolia, I was pregnant, living with my spouse, moving to a lovely apartment and financially insulated by a wealthy man.  A month later, none of that was true.  Instead, i was thirty-eight, childless, alone, emotionally and monetarily unprepared to be a single mother.”  Grief and sadness expressed so eloquently in this memoir yet Ariel Levy writes with a sense of hope and trust in nature.  Powerful and heartbreaking, this honest memoir is infused with humor and I highly recommend it.

Goodreads summary

 

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About the Author:

Ariel Levy (born October 17, 1974) is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and author of the book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Vogue, Slate, Men’s Journal and Blender. Levy was named one of the “Forty Under 40” most influential out individuals in the June/July 2009 issue of The Advocate.

Levy was raised in Larchmont, New York, and attended Wesleyan University in the 1990s. She says that her experiences at Wesleyan, which had “co-ed showers, on principle”, strongly influenced her views regarding modern sexuality. After graduating from Wesleyan, she was briefly employed by Planned Parenthood, but claims that she was fired because she is “an extremely poor typist”. She was hired by New York magazine shortly thereafter.

At The New Yorker magazine, where Levy has been a staff writer since 2008, she has written profiles of Cindy McCain and Marc Jacobs. At New York magazine, where Levy was a contributing editor for 12 years, she wrote about John Waters, Donatella Versace, the writer George Trow, the feminist Andrea Dworkin, the artists Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow, Al Franken, Clay Aiken, Maureen Dowd, and Jude Law. Levy has explored issues regarding American drug use, gender roles, lesbian culture, and the popularity of U.S. pop culture staples such as Sex and the City and Gwen Stefani. Some of these articles allude to Levy’s personal thoughts on the status of modern feminism.

Levy criticized the pornographic video series Girls Gone Wild after she followed its camera crew for three days, interviewed both the makers of the series and the women who appeared on the videos, and commented on the series’ concept and the debauchery she was witnessing. Many of the young women Levy spoke with believed that bawdy and liberated were synonymous.

Levy’s experiences amid Girls Gone Wild appear again in Female Chauvinist Pigs, in which she attempts to explain “why young women today are embracing raunchy aspects of our culture that would likely have caused their feminist foremothers to vomit.” In today’s culture, Levy writes, the idea of a woman participating in a wet T-shirt contest or being comfortable watching explicit pornography has become a symbol of strength; she says that she was surprised at how many people, both men and women, working for programs such as Girls Gone Wild told her that this new “raunch” culture marked not the downfall of feminism but its triumph, but Levy was unconvinced.

Levy’s work is anthologized in The Best American Essays of 2008, New York Stories, and 30 Ways of Looking at Hillary.

Nasty Women Project: Voices from the Resistance Edited by Erin Passons

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As seen on Goodreads:

American Women. Their Stories. Their Resistance.

The despot is perched in his tower, threatening democracy with every tweet. Vultures of big business occupy his cabinet seats, while empty-headed puppets tie the Senate to a string. With a wave of a pen, they set our rights on fire.

Welcome to the new America.

And who are we? We are the women of the marginalized majority. We come from every corner of America. We are the outraged mothers. We are the unprotected daughters. We are the uninsured sick, the gay and the blamed, the cast-off patrons of the lesser paid, and the survivors of trauma taught to feel ashamed.

We are every woman you have ever met, and every woman you haven’t. Our stories are of struggle, but also of strength; of fear, but also of courage. We know despair, but we never lose hope. We are extraordinary women living in extraordinary times.

We are The Nasty Women Project.

100% proceeds from our book sales are donated to Planned Parenthood.

My Comments:

Nasty Women Project is compilation of essays written by regular, everyday women from almost every state in the US.  In an effort to be educated on the plight of women of all races, colors, creeds and sexual orientations, Erin Passons, the editor, called for submissions hoping “the darkness inspired by Trump will only bring forth more light”.  When it became a possibility that The GOP would have the opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood the idea was born: she would gather the written words of women across the country and publish them to sell, donating all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

Telling their stories of election night, prejudice and life experiences provides women in the United States of America the opportunity to make sense out of their fears and hopes, and reading them provides a sense of camaraderie and courage.  These powerful, well written essays show struggles and fear along with new-found strength and focus.

Elizabeth Martin of Ohio says “Since Trump’s win, we have begun to organize.  We sign petitions.  We call politicians.  We march.  We fight.  I have thousands of life preservers surrounding me, and I no longer have the fear of drowning.”

As Jennifer Tyree from Arizona says, “We must rally.  Now is the time to make history.”

Take the time to hear what the women of the United States have to say and purchase your copy of Nasty Women Project HERE.  All proceeds are donated to Planned Parenthood.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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My Review:

Pachinko is just the kind of book I love.  It starts in Korea in the early 1900s with Hoonie, a young man with a cleft palate and a twisted foot.  Despite his deformities he marries and his wife gives birth to a daughter, Sunja.  When Sunja is a young teenager she makes some bad choices and ends up pregnant.  The man who is to be the father is already married, and Sunja is ashamed of her mistake; but proud and determined she refuses to be his mistress.  A single, kind pastor, sickly as a child and unable to find a wife, offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a life together.

Author Min Jin Lee takes us through the World Wars, the painful suffering and poverty of the Koreans in Japan, and the small victories of these family members.  We become immersed in complex relationships, quests for education, financial success, faith and identity, nationality controversies, the shady Pachinko business, and organized crime. The strength of women is exemplified in many of the characters as well as the challenges both men and women faced due to the culture, tradition and society.

The story concludes in 1989 in Tokyo following the life of Solomon, Sunja’s grandson, Hoonie’s great grandson.  The incredible generational saga is told with great description and background information about Korean-Japanese relationships, culture and class.  For me it was not an emotional rollercoaster tear jerker, but a transportation in time where I was absorbed in Korean and Japanese culture; I was captivated, shocked at times and engrossed for all 485 pages.  I was unaware of the discrimination and prejudice Koreans felt in Japan and how the laws disallowed Koreans born in Japan to be considered Japanese citizens and therefore considered foreigners.  It’s a huge bonus when a book gives me a reason to do additional research…this well written novel was a pleasure to read; from the multi facetted, complex and expressive characters to the rich and unsettling history of Koreans and Japanese, I couldn’t put it down and I  learned a lot too!

As stated in Goodreads:

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

Min Jin Lee

About the Author:

Min Jin Lee went to Yale College where she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. She then attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time.

As stated on the book jacket:

Min Jin Lee’s debut novel, Free Food For Millionaires, was one of the “Top 10 Novels of the Year” for the Times (London), NPR’s Fresh Air, and USA Today.  Her short fiction has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts.  Her writings have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Times (London), Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine.  Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely.  She served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leading paper of South Korea.  She lives in New York with her family.