Two-for-One Review: “Stolen Innocence” and “Nine Parts of Desire”September 25, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Posted in Nonfiction, Two-for-One Review | 2 Comments
Sometimes a pattern emerges in a stack of books that was not intended by the reader, but is interesting nonetheless. This happened to me when my book group reading list collided with my BookSwim rental pool.
Nine Parts of Desire, by Geraldine Brooks, turned out not to be the intimate tell-all I expected. Our book group chose this book based on the enthusiastic recommendation of one of our members, who couldn’t really remember what it was about, just that she had really enjoyed it. We had never chosen a nonfiction title before. This one might not have been the best choice for us, as it’s painful to read and you can’t just chalk it up to fictional excess. Nine Parts of Desire is an account of the lives of women under Islam, especially after a recent upsurge in fundamentalism. It was published in 1995, long before 9/11 and also long before the Pulitzer that Brooks won in 2006 for March. In this sense there is almost a foreshadowing, both of the tragic events of 2001 and also of the recognition the author was bound to receive for her powerful writing. Every chapter grabs hold of the reader, pointing to a new injustice.
Two days later I found myself reading Stolen Innocence, the story of Elissa Wall written with Lisa Pulitzer. Elissa Wall is one of a handful of women who have published memoirs after leaving the FLDS church, which practices polygamy and child marriage. Hers stands out because her testimony led to the sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs, being sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. It’s a dramatic and heart-wrenching story. What surprised me, though, was how familiar so much of it sounded after reading Nine Parts of Desire. Here were two fundamentalist groups from radically different religious roots, yet the standing of women was so similar in both. The same early marriages, polygamy, strict requirements to keep the body covered, focus on having large families as quickly as possible, lack of education for women, restriction to the home with permission from a male family member needed to go anywhere, emphasis on women’s traditional skills like cooking, and shunning of outsiders – it was stunning.
What I find interesting about polygamy is that it always seems to be one man with multiple women. If there is nothing in a religion that says only one man and one woman can be married, then why don’t we see polygamous groups with one woman and multiple men? Or, for that matter, a mix? I actually met a polyamorous group in college that consisted of 17 people of both genders and various persuasions. As you can imagine, they were not part of a religious group. In spite of all the, er, options out there, I find that one man is plenty for me. I’m sure he’d tell you that more than one woman would be too much for him, too.