Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Woman's Place, by Lynn Austin

"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it." William Styron

If what William Styron said is true, then this is a great book and worthy of your reading it. I hardly know what to say. I just finished wiping away tears and, er, blowing my nose, as a result of finishing this story. Multiple stories. Mulitple stories about multiple lives that I rather believe were real.

World War II is my favorite time period in U.S. History, particularly. I love the courage and loyality which this nation's people showed on the whole. It was an era of bravery and of honor that we haven't witnessed since. A crying shame, really. So when I heard of this book through Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books, I decided I should find a copy. As it is a fairly new book, my library only lends it out for two weeks. I checked it out and two weeks came and went without my cracking the cover of it. I renewed it and realized I was down to the last few days of the loan before I'd have to turn it back in. Therefore I made myself get through it. Not like it required a lot of work or anything.

Most Christian authors do a rather poor job of incorporating their scriptures into stories. They risk cheapening the characters of the story in order to "make a point", Biblically speaking. I know I've harped on this before. Same song, fourteenth verse and all that. I don't know if Austin is always as tasteful as she was in A Woman's Place but if she is, I will DEFINITELY be reading more of her work! I loved it.

A Woman's Place tells the story of four different women in four different family situations who, when the nation declared itself at war, left their homes and "traditional women's occupations" in order to work at a shipyard. When Uncle Sam came a callin', they answered.

This book "goes to war" on several themes ranging from discrimination against women workers and the African American. (Actually, she uses the word "negro" which always takes me aback and I really couldn't believe she used the word at first! In 2006?! But she uses the word in a way that reflects the time period of her book which I think was a tasteful [and gutsy] move!) She never takes you outside of the time period. It is obvious that she did a bit of researching in writing this book which I appreciated as it's easy to be flippant and ungrounded when discussing such topics.

I spent most of the book rather annoyed with the manner in which it was argued that women are equal with men. Now, you must read this paragraph that I am writing very carefully or else you will completely miss what I am trying to say (at best) and/or you will misunderstand me (at worst). This was definitely a turning point in history for women. They had to step up and fill holes that were left by the men who went off to war. There was a job to do and women did it. They are certainly capable of doing so. I do not doubt a woman's ability to do the job of a man. I am glad that we are not in a position in this present day and age where we have to "step up to the plate" in the same way. While women did gain respect during this time period - as a direct result of the war - the family unit did suffer. (For many reasons, I realize. Bear with me.) Women were up against a lot in the workforce, trying to prove themselves. But they proved themselves. And if they didn't - what of it? The job was done and done well. They are to be applauded and admired for their own sacrifice to the war effort. I'm not trying to subtract from that at all. It was a unique moment in time. But there is something to be said for the stay at home mom and what she contributes to society as well. Instead of still harping on about "equality! equality!" we should be grateful that it is rather unecessary that we should continue to fill certain professional positions. It is not necessarily that women canNOT do the work - it's sometimes best that they just should not.

I really don't know where Austin stands on this point, btw. I'm just telling you what annoyed me about the book. She argues on the side of women, but I think she also did that in keeping with the times. Like I said, she never removed you from the 1940's in your mind or on the page. She stuck with the facts (in fiction form, of course). Ha!

I thought this book was compelling. I thought it was endearing. I cared about the women in the story and their families. I wouldn't have minded another 400 pages of story. It was far too short.

I'm glad I rechecked the book and made a point to read it. I'd heartily recommend it to ANYone as I think it shares history in a "fun" way that will make you really consider how we reached conclusions in our present day culture and society. It's fascinating really.

And, btw, I'm STILL bummed 1940's fashion isn't still in vogue. They were so classy!


Unknown said...

I like WWII as well. Tricia Goyer wrote a series on WWII. I read one--Arms of Deliverance, and really enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

I added this to my list - thanks for the review!

Queen of Carrots said...

I saw a cute little black-and-white check shirtdress at Banana Republic yesterday. (We were actually in a mall-how amazing is that?) Maybe 40's fashion will come back!

Nathan Straub said...

Lucid review. During the Great Depression, my grandmother's adopted parents sent her to college to get her master's, so she wouldn't take a job away from a man.

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I read this book, but I had much the same reaction as you. I don't think I loved it quite as much. :-) I did enjoy the historical setting and the women's stories, and I know a women's role was beginning to be questioned as opportunities for working outside the home became available, but I felt the author downplayed the importance of a woman at home, and I was especially saddened by that coming from a Christian author. It's bad enough that we get that from the world.

My review of it is here.

Oh, and I LOVE 40s dresses and hairstyles, too!

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