So, today I’m cataloging retro titles. I came upon this book, Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat and after reading the NLS annotation my reaction was:
“Oh jeez, what?” and then, “Where is the ‘good lord, what the hell’” subject heading when you really need it?”
Then I looked up the title online to compare descriptions. This really does come down to the original purpose of this blog: NLS’s crazy, mixed up, misguided, and occasionally, FAR OUT annotations.
Until age twelve, Sophie is raised by her aunt in Haiti. Her mother then sends for her to come to New York and explains that Sophie is the product of rape. When a grown Sophie is befriended by an older musician, her mother tests her virginity. Sophie rebels by violently deflowering herself, an act that caused her to seek sexual phobia therapy. She marries the musician and tries to come to terms with her past as her mother does the same. Some violence.
Oh jeez, what the what? Pretty much the end of every sentence of this annotation is cringe-worthy. Rape. Virginity. Sexual phobia therapy. Haiti. And…only some violence? This is a book that contains, by description, a violent self deflowering and the best we can do is “some violence” but no, not even a little bit of “descriptions of sex,” explicit or otherwise? Uhhhhh.
So, like I said, I visited the internet to find out if its just me, or is this book weird (?). Turns out, it’s been an Oprah’s Book Club selection. I was like, “sensational, much?” But then I read the Amazon description from July 2003. Turns out, it’s not JUST a book about virginity verification and violent deflowering after all. Yay?
At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti–to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.
When presented from this angle, the book seems downright interesting, engrossing, enlightening, and, dare I say, worth a read?
NLS, I realize that this is a very old annotation…1994 to be semi-exact. So, I’m not going to rail too hard. Let’s assume this annotation writer has moved on to other tasks at the NLS…director, deputy director, collection development…something innocuous that doesn’t put them in direct access to the books, or the humans, or writing PR copy. Uh oh.
Anyway, that is all. Now back to cataloging this backlog of 4 months and 2,000 titles.
Edited to say: Make that 3,000 and change.
…and yet, I’m going to any way. Mainly with the intent that I won’t have to look at crap like this any more. One of my pet peeves is books with historical anachronisms. Two situations in historical novels are the biggest offenders: dialogue and women protagonists.
One such offender, in a sea of many such, is a book called The Malice of Fortune. From the NLS annotation:
Italy, 1502. Damiata, former mistress of Pope Alexander’s murdered son Juan, is sent to Imola to investigate who was behind his death. There, she meets and enlists the aid of Niccol Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Violence, strong language, and some descriptions of sex. 2012.
Damiata is a woman. And she’s officially, or unofficially, investigating a murder. Presumably she meets with some level of cooperation as an investigator. Please, I am sick of this need in modern literature for there to be more positive female rolls IN EVERY GENRE AND PERIOD OF LITERATURE.
My belief becomes seriously unsuspended when a writer just stuffs a female into an historically inappropriate roll. I’m sure if I read the forward or afterward that Michael Ennis has some explanation about how one woman, in one corner of the world, in 1502, was actually a private investigator–they always manage to dig up one as an example.
I’m all for strong and empowered female characters, and I really enjoy post 19th century women detective novels, but it seems so patronizing when they shove these square pegs into round holes.
Anyway, we get it–women are important in all periods of history–and I mean that…for centuries, women had their place…was it right, or was it wrong? I think that our history bears that keeping women in their place was wrong, but, that being said, let’s stop re-writing history in novels…it’s hard enough getting a straight deal out of a grade school history book without littering Barnes and Noble’s shelves with this malarkey.