These three books are all very different and each is set in a different country, but all three have an understanding of women’s lives and women’s sorrows.
Sweetness In The Belly by Camilla Gibb
This story begins in Morocco, travels to Ethiopia during Emperor Heile Selassie’s reign, and continues to the London of Margaret Thatcher’s era. Lilly was born to English parents in Morocco but becomes orphaned as a child and is raised as a Sufi Muslim. She travels on a pilgrimage to Ethiopia as a young woman, and there she teaches Qur’an to children. She also meets and falls in love with a young, idealistic doctor, Aziz, but social and political turmoil separate them. Lilly goes to England and joins a group of Ethiopian refugees who spend years trying to track down and reconnect with lost loved ones.
Throughout, Lilly struggles with her identity and the search for a sense of belonging. She doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Her appearance separates her from her Ethiopian friends and her religion separates her from her English colleagues. In London, she becomes part of a multi-cultural community that creates a noisy, crowded, impoverished, supportive potpourri of the world’s refugees. Their adjustments and determination to survive and prosper are the foundation for Lilly’s own evolution.
You Look Good For Your Age, Rona Altrows, Editor
This is an anthology about women and ageism. It brings together essays, short stories, poems, and biographical reflections from a wide variety of female Canadian writers, each of whom paints a personal picture.
Many of the pieces reflect on losses of various kinds; loved ones, partners, beauty, health, and so on. At the same time, they are accepting of change and forward-thinking in many cases. Some of the writers seem angry, or resentful, but the overall impression is one of compliant or wistful recognition of life’s changes.
Some thoughts are about that point in mid-life when you realize you are perceived of as old, or at least “older.” One person juggles the responsibilities of parenting while at the same time caring for a parent. Another wonders when she became invisible, or when she was first referred to as “ma’am.” There is some sorrow in reflecting on what is past, but there is also pride in accomplishment and resilience. When suffering the occasional adversities and indignities of aging, these women know that other women will understand.
The Jade Temptress by Jeannie Lin (Kindle edition)
This story continues and develops the relationship between two characters, Mingyu and Constable Wu Kaifeng, that began in a previous novel by the same author. The Jade Temptress, though, stands alone and the reader does not need to have read The Lotus Palace to enjoy this exploration of the life of a Chinese courtesan during the Tang dynasty.
Mingyu is courtesan to a man with high social status, but when he is killed she is accused of his murder. The story begins as a murder mystery but develops into a romance when Constable Wu Kaifeng comes into the picture. In unravelling the mystery he and Mingyu develop a relationship that is both compelling and understated.
The strict codes of conduct and manners that envelop Mingu’s world are stifling to read about and must have been excruciatingly hard to live. Similarly, Wu must keep to his social place and be thankful that he is allowed to do his job. The two would have remained in their very different worlds, and far apart, if it had not been for this crime. As the mystery deepens, so does their affection for each other. Thus, they provide us with an insight into not only their lives, but the complexities and rigidity of their society.