Exploring Herstory Through Fiction

Staff PicksParklands-Turner Library

Exploring Herstory Through Fiction

Have you ever wondered what history would look like from a woman's point of view? Do you ever wish we had "herstory" as well as history? These historical novels will bring you into many different women's worlds. In the Museum of Extraordinary Things, you will meet a "mermaid" in Coney Island. In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, you will enter into the world of a wealthy Chinese woman and learn the details and tradition behind foot binding. A Certain Age will take you to the roaring 20s in New York where you will follow two women's stories. You will find out the details of a geisha's lifestyle in Memoirs of a Geisha. In Lilac Girls, a novel set during World War II and based on two real women and real events, you will experience the stories of a woman who rescued people from the concentration camps, a woman doctor who performed operations at concentration camps, and a woman who experienced the horror of being in a concentration camp

In the Museum of Extraordinary Things, once again Alice Hoffman does an excellent job of blending fantasy and realistic fiction. Set in Coney Island, Coralie is forced to appear as a "mermaid" in her father's museum of extraordinary things. Her father is in desperate need of an exhibit to compete with Dreamland and Luna Park in Coney Island. Eddie Cohen is a photographer. Before he was a photographer, he worked with Abraham Hochman, the famous Jewish mystic, to help find people who were lost. Eddie and Coralie meet in a chance encounter in the woods. However, they are destined to meet again. After Eddie takes pictures of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a gentleman hires him to find his missing daughter, Hannah. Could Hannah's disappearance have anything to do with Coralie's father's amazing new attraction for his museum? Read the Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman to find out.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See tells the intriguing story of a lifelong friendship between two Chinese women who are “sames”. “Sames” are intended to remain friends for a lifetime and Snow Flower and Lily, the narrator of the book, communicate with each other by writing in nu shu, a women’s secret writing. However, throughout the course of the book, misunderstandings occur between the two. The barriers of socioeconomic status and infertility drive a wedge between the two friends. When Snow Flower writes to tell Lily:

"I have too many troubles; I cannot be what you wish. You won’t have to listen to my complaints anymore. Three sworn sisters have promised to love me as I am.”

it creates a swift and brutal falling out between the two friends. The loss of this friendship continues to haunt Lily in her final years. This story also does a remarkable job of explaining the details of foot binding, both the traditions that promoted it and how it was actually physically done.

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams is set in the 1920s with a dazzling set of characters whose lives are full of both glamour and influence. Our heroine, Mrs. Theresa Marshall, is in a marriage of convenience, not love. Her material comforts are ample, but her heart’s needs are not being met. She falls in love with Captain Octavian Rofrano, an aviator and hero of World War I. He offers repeatedly to marry her, but she refuses. Everything changes when Ms. Theresa Marshall’s brother, Jay, decides to marry Miss Sophie Fortescue. Jay makes the mistake of making Octavian his cavalier and sending him to Miss Sophie with a marriage proposal from Jay. There is an instant chemistry between Octavian and Miss Sophie, which leads to complications between Mrs. Theresa Marshall and Octavian. Also, Miss Sophie’s father is viewed with suspicion by society. All of the characters struggle to keep their secrets hidden, but eventually the truth comes to light.

In Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, the main character, Chiyo, starts her life as a peasant girl living in a shack that leans forward, also known as “the tipsy shack.” Her father is a fisherman and her mother is sick and dying of cancer. Before her mother passes away, both Chiyo and her sister, Satsu, are sold. Satsu is sent to a brothel and Chiyo is sent to a geisha house. Initially, Chiyo’s mishaps reduce her to the state of being a maid. However, Mameha, a fellow geisha, expresses interest in her and she is trained to become a geisha. The novel explores the lifestyle of a geisha in great detail. Although many men want to be Chiyo’s danna - a man who has a long-term relationship with a geisha - her heart belongs to the Chairman, a man who wiped away her tears and bought her a shaved ice with syrup when she was still a child. Does she end up with the Chairman? Read Memoirs of a Geisha to find out.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a haunting fictional novel that is beautifully written about two women who actually lived during World War II: Caroline Ferriday and Dr. Herta Oberheuser. Caroline Ferriday brought Polish women from the concentration camp Ravensbruck to America. Dr. Herta Oberheuser was the only woman doctor in the all-female camp and the only woman doctor tried at Nuremburg.  Martha Hall Kelly based the fictional character, Kasia Kumerick, a Polish teenager and concentration camp survivor, on reading memoirs of the women who were at Ravensbruck and through meeting an actual Ravensbruck survivor, Alicia Kubacka. In her novel, Martha Hall Kelly attempts to answer the unanswerable and unthinkable question, how could Dr. Herta Oberheuser possibly do what she did? She also gives an excellent fictional portrayal of what Caroline Ferriday must have been doing and thinking during the course of the war. Kazia Kumerick is an admirable portrayal of the courage and strength during the heartbreaking conditions that the women prisoners experienced at Ravensbruck during the war.