Stories for Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month is celebrated each March. Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Public Law 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”

This year’s theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.” Women are honored who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and have pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society. These women embraced the fact that the means determine the ends and so developed nonviolent methods to ensure just and peaceful results.

Here are a few fiction books about women and war:
51zaKGHzUQL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – It’s the Biafran secession and the subsequent war. Fifteen-year-old Ugwu is houseboy to Odenigbo, a university professor who sends him to school, and in whose living room Ugwu hears voices full of revolutionary zeal. Odenigbo’s beautiful mistress, Olanna, a sociology teacher, is running away from her parents’ world of wealth and excess; Kainene, her urbane twin, is taking over their father’s business; and Kainene’s English lover, Richard, forms a bridge between their two worlds.

 

 

19286587Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera – Yasodhara tells the story of her Sinhala family, rich in love, with everything they could ask for. As a child in idyllic Colombo, Yasodhara’s and her siblings’ lives are shaped by social hierarchies, their parents’ ambitions, and, subtly, the differences between Tamil and Sinhala people; but the peace is shattered by the tragedies of war. Yasodhara’s family escapes to Los Angeles. Yasodhara’s life has already become intertwined with a young Tamil girl’s. Saraswathie is living in the active war zone of Sri Lanka, and hopes to become a teacher. But her dreams for the future are abruptly stamped out when she is arrested by a group of Sinhala soldiers and pulled into the very heart of the conflict that she has tried so hard to avoid – a conflict that, eventually, will connect her and Yasodhara in unexpected ways.

 

23209971Girl at War by Sara Novic – When her happy life in 1991 Croatia is shattered by civil war, ten-year-old Ana Juric is embroiled in a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers before making a daring escape to America, where years later she struggles to hide her past.

 

 

 

51BJV0x8DsL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli – Helen, an American female combat photographer in the Vietnam War, must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to cherish. As the fall of the city begins, Helen and her lover make their way through the streets to try to escape to a new life.

“There isn’t always an explanation for everything.”

61h05xx7u-lBooks on Tap read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway  at Champion Brewery on November 2. Ostensibly a novel about an American ambulance driver and English nurse who fall in love at the Italian Front during World War I, it was quickly recognized as “one of the few great war stories in American literature.” The plight of the main character, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, closely mirrors the author’s experience in Italy during the war. They both drove ambulances, served briefly (Frederic seems to fight for two days within the book), suffered severe knee injuries in a mortar attack which left the men around them dead and received Italian war medals. They then both fell in love with a nurse while recovering in Milan, but in Hemingway’s case the affection was not shared.

Not all participants had read Hemingway previously and those who had didn’t recall all the details of this book. The first thing we discussed was the tone of the novel. Like Hemingway’s other works, it is terse but in this case it is not evocative. Two of us listened to the audiobook, where the repetition wasn’t as noticeable and the rhythms of the conversations tended toward the lyrical. The realism of the book is overshadowed by the drippy dialog between Frederic and nurse Catherine (we wondered if the author was capable of writing a female character) and the lack of urgency in the interpersonal relationship. However, the scenes of the retreat and river escape aligned with our pre-conceptions of Hemingway’s style and conveyed his message about war. Some readers compared these scenes to The Revenant book and movie and An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

There is room for ambiguity in the realistic description of war. No one seems to care about the cause of the conflict and the Italians differ in opinion on tactics and leadership. The unceasing rain, while historically accurate, also emphasizes the long slog characteristic of this war and the ultimate interiority of the main characters, cloistered in hotels and hospitals. Catherine claims that the war will never end and their unborn child will become a general. Frederic and an Italian priest contemplate the end, saying “It is in defeat that we become Christian. . . I don’t mean technically Christian. I mean like our Lord. . . We are all gentler now because we are beaten.” Through unimaginable bloodshed, we earn acceptance and humility.

Mysteries abound in this novel. Why was Frederic in Italy before the war? Was he really studying architecture? Where did they find the money to stay in Switzerland for months? Why were they estranged from both families? Perhaps the biggest mystery is Catherine. Does she truly love Frederic or is this a relationship of convenience, swept up in the war. How could a women who worked a dangerous, arduous job, an atheist who lived independently from her family be as clingy and afraid of upsetting her partner as Catherine was? Her obsession with thinness made us wonder if Hemingway or Frederic were the misogynist.

The ending was so abrupt that some audiobook listeners weren’t sure that the novel had ended. However, another reader pointed out that the ending is fitting – this self-absorbed couple doesn’t have a future and may not have been in love. One astute reader shared her favorite alternate ending, available in some paperback editions: “When I woke the sun was coming in the open window and I smelled the spring morning after the rain and there was a moment, probably it was only a second, before I began to realize what it was that had happened. And then I knew that it was all gone now and that it would not be that way any more.”

More Information:
About the author
About the book
Battle of Caporetto map and more on the Italian Front.
Other works
WWI reading list
Confidential to Will: Is this it?

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles

World War I and America

wwi&a logo

JMRL is delighted to have the opportunity to take part in the national initiative World War I and America. This initiative coincides with the 100th anniversary of the nation’s 1917 entry into the war, and seeks to explore its lasting legacy.

We hope that you will join us in one or more of the events planned in this series:

Reading Lists:

To learn more about World War I, check out the audiobooks and ebooks in our OverDrive collection.

Featured Events:

Read Local: William Walker’s Betrayal at Little Gibraltar
Sunday, October 22 at 2pm
Central Library
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, join local author and educator William Walker as he discusses his book about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, Betrayal at Little Gibraltar.

Page to Screen Movie Night
Wednesday, October 25 at 7pm
Gordon Avenue Library
Paths of Glory (1957)

Central Film Series
Thursday, October 26 at 7pm
Central Library
War Horse (2011)

Books on Tap
Thursday, November 2 at 7pm
Champion Brewing Company
Discussion of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Veterans and Mental Health
Sunday, November 5 at 2pm
Central Library
Join us for a presentation about mental health by the Mitchell Hash Foundation. The Mitchell Hash Foundation helps those who struggle with thoughts of suicide as well as educates the general public about suicide. This talk will focus on the mental health needs of veterans.

WWI and America Book Group
Tuesday, November 7 at 11am
The Haven
Join retired JMRL librarian and Vietnam veteran Bob Bjoring to listen to and discuss selected stories from the World War I and America reader in conjunction with veteran war experiences. No registration necessary. The World War I and America reader is also accessible online.

Film Screening and Discussion – All Quiet on the Western Front
Monday, November 13 at 6pm
Northside Library
Screening of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and discussion led by University of Virginia Associate Professor Carmenita Higginbotham.

The Human Side of War
Wednesday, November 15 at 6pm
CitySpace
Charlottesville High School students present excerpts from videos and podcasts produced in partnership with local Vietnam veterans.

Books Sandwiched In
Friday, November 17 at 12pm
Northside Library
A book review, usually of non-fiction titles, presented by a guest speaker. It is not necessary to have read the book to attend the program. Independent scholar Rick Potter will discuss the history and provide context for the book.
The Englishman’s Daughter: a True Story of Love and Betrayal in WWI by Ben Macintyre



These programs are part of World War I and America, a two-year national initiative of The Library of America presented in partnership with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and other organizations, with generous support from The National Endowment for the Humanities.