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Thursday, April 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 37.0° F  A Few Clouds
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A Book A Week: A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert


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Every day Dorothy takes photographs of the C-17 transport planes as they land at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, full of dead soldiers from the Iraq War. For this she is repeatedly arrested. The security guards who arrest her, the policemen who process her, even her own daughter think she is just a batty old lady.

"What is the point?" they ask her. Her actions won't stop the war. She doesn't even do anything with the photographs. Sometimes her compulsion mystifies even Dorothy herself. But what we know from reading Kate Walbert's A Short History of Women is that Dorothy comes from a long line of women who feel compelled to take action in order to be heard.

The most extreme example of such a woman is Dorothy's grandmother, also named Dorothy, who goes on a hunger strike for women's suffrage in London in 1914 and dies of starvation. Her daughter Evelyn abandons all ties with her past to become a chemistry professor at Barnard College. This book tells the stories of all three of these women and the ways they struggle to get people to listen to them.

The title comes from the title of a lecture attended by the first Dorothy, a lecture (by a man) that, in its condescension and failure to grasp even the slightest nuance about actual women's issues, inspires Dorothy to embark on her drastic course of action.

Like Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, A Short History of Women is about women searching for authentic lives for themselves and their daughters and the prices they pay (willingly or unwillingly) to accomplish this. It's beautifully written and very moving. I am adding it to my list of 2010 Favorites.


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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