“But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships
Natalie Haynes has come into her own with her 2019 retelling of the Trojan War called A Thousand Ships. In previous writings, she has focused on the lives of those ignored in Greek mythology and life. A Thousand Ships amplifies this by telling the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective. She has managed to discuss mythology’s greatest war by highlighting the problems of modern day wars. Haynes brings to light the impacts of war on women, children, and families while more traditional retellings instead focus on the bravery of the men in war. Their brutal assaults leave out the impact that war has on society, only focusing on the male heroes and male victims. A Thousand Ships is a blessed divergence from the traditional: instead showing the women’s perspectives, from servants to goddesses and all the women and families in-between.
Calliope, a muse, is singing to a mortal poet man, hoping that he will instead tell the stories of wartime women. She is tired of hearing the stories of the warriors and feels that the women’s stories are equally as important. Through rotating narration, readers are taken from the start of the Trojan War to the sacking of Troy to Penelope finally welcoming Odysseus home after twenty years of his absence. This broader look shifts from Hecuba, Cassandra, Penelope, Calliope, Clytemnestra, Helen, Laodamia, among many others. The title of this book even focuses more on women than men: Helen of Troy is often called ‘the face that launched a thousand ships,’ a phrase coined by Christopher Marlowe in the 17th century. This cast of female characters battles war, politics, and religion as they either survive or come to a bad end.
“A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”
― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships
Hello Challenge Readers!
How did you do with our November spotlight author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Did you read one of her books, or one similar?
I had mixed results this month. I had planned to read Americanah, but I just couldn’t connect with it. That doesn’t mean I won’t someday pick it up again and find it delightful and inspiring, but that wasn’t happening at this time for me so, instead of forcing interest, I set it aside and picked up another book by Adichie – Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.
It’s a little bit of a cheat – this book is short and a very quick read (less than an hour), kind of a taster of Adichie’s writing and philosophy. Still, it is gracefully written and packs a punch.
Asked by a friend on how to raise her newborn daughter to be a feminist, Adichie sends a letter with fifteen suggestions. Her advice ranges from straightforward – teach her to read and to love to read, make sure both parents are involved in her upbringing – to more thought provoking ideals such as teaching her that gender roles are nonsense, that differences among people are okay, to reject the idea of conditional female equality. I was especially struck by the importance of language and what a difference words and how they’re phrased can make in our outlook and how we treat ourselves and others. “Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions.”
Of course, the values described in this slim volume apply to anyone, young or old, male or female. Enlightening and valuable lessons.
Now it’s your turn – how was your November reading?
This book was all over reading lists before it even came out. When Vox was released, the hype grew even bigger. What I discovered when reading reviews of this book was that people either really loved or didn’t like it. I firmly fall in the ‘love it’ category and I hope you all like it as well.
Vox by Christina Dalcher runs in a similar vein of The Handmaid’s Tale as another example of a specific segment of the population being silenced/put into service by a different group. While reading this book, I noticed that I was growing increasingly agitated at the restrictions placed on women.
Jean McLellan is a cognitive linguist. Happily married with four children, Jean lives a pleasant life. Her husband Patrick is the science advisor to the President and seems to have an inside track to what’s happening. With the rise of the ‘Pure’ religious movement, Jean quickly realizes her basic freedoms are starting to be taken away. When the ‘Pure’ movement succeeds in infiltrating the government, Jean knows she’s in trouble. She saw the signs, but failed to respond appropriately. Women representation in government is decreasing, the ‘pure’ religion is gaining traction, and female freedoms are being lost at an increasing rate. Jean did nothing. Her friends and family warned her and pleaded with her to do something, but Jean continuously believed that America would never go very far. She was wrong.
One day, all women were fitted with a bracelet snapped around their wrist that worked as a word counter. This permanent bracelet limited them to 100 words per day. 100! ALL DAY! That’s it. Don’t even try to go over 100 because each over will result in severe consequences. The ‘pure’ movement controls all. Religion has a higher say than science. As a result, Jean, as a linguist specialist, is very worried about what would happen to women the longer they are silenced and limited to 100 words.
Having somewhat adjusted to this horrible new normal, Jean is startled when she is approached by the President’s men saying her professional services are required. Meeting with the powers that be, Jean is told that the President’s brother has suffered a severe brain injury that impacts his ability to use language. Jean, plus some of her previous work colleagues, are needed to research a way to help him. Obviously Jean leverages her unique skill set to negotiate a deal in her favor. Jean is now in a position to help the female population, but has to do so sneakily. Complications ensue (obviously). Once Jean is reunited with her previous colleagues, they must race against time to solve the problem presented. Jean’s past plays a large role in her decision to behave the way she does with the overall message in the book being: use your voice before they take it away.
This book is also available in the following formats: