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A Short History of Women

A Novel

by Kate Walbert

A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2009
    256 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Sue Ellen S. (CEDAR FALLS, IA)

A Great Choice for Book Clubs
I can't wait for my book club buddies to read this book! I predict that it will resonate with them and lead to meaningful discussion about what it means to be present in this world. What does it mean to matter? Will our daughters and granddaughters answer these questions as we do? At one point in the novel, a 77-year-old woman writes on her blog: "When I think about it, I think how long it takes to clear your throat, and by that I mean, to say anything true. ... I am trying to find MY VOICE. I am trying to SAY WHAT I MEAN. I am BEING PRESENT." Author Kate Walbert finds her voice and hits her stride in this excellent chronicle of five generations of women striving to be true to self—at times almost in spite of themselves.
Robert F. (Charleston, IL)

Challenging and rewarding
A Short History of Women begins with this sentence: “Mum starved herself for suffrage, Grandmother claiming it was just like Mum to take a cause too far.” Mum is Dorothy Trevor, and the narrator is her daughter. From this intriguing starting point, the novel cycles back and forth through four generations of Dorothy Trevor’s descendants in England and America, focusing on the women and their sons. At first I found this structure challenging, mainly because the shifts are not chronological and jump ahead from 1914 to 2003, then back to 1898 and later to 2007. But eventually the connections begin to take hold, and the echoes and parallels among the generations create a rich pattern of reform, rebellion, and reaction to the history and politics of the times—from World War I to the invasion of Iraq and beyond.

The style is also challenging at first. Some of the first-person sections are like a stream of consciousness; we’re taken inside the narrator’s head, following her train of thoughts and emotions. But, again, I grew accustomed to the style. Reading this novel is something like breaking a code. Putting the pieces together is rewarding and enlightening. And the women are complicated, varied, and always interesting.
Kristina K. (Glendale, CA)

A History of All Women
I’ve read two of Kate Walbert’s previous works, "Where She Went" and "Our Kind," and loved both. Walbert is a master at weaving together separate strands of history and multiple characters’ story lines, often featuring the stories of women, into one poignant narrative written with lyrical prose. "A Short History of Women" is no exception. Here, Walbert weaves together a multi-generational history of the Townsend women from the British suffragette at the turn of the last century to her great, great granddaughter in 2007 New Haven, Connecticut. At first, Walbert’s style of bouncing back and forth between various time periods felt confusing, particularly since several of the characters share similar names (there are three Dorothys). The family tree she includes at the beginning of the book is very helpful. In spite of that, I found myself getting caught up in each character’s story and enjoying the way their histories all overlapped and circled back on each other. And while the novel features a specific history of the Townsend women, I feel that Walbert has written a history of all women who have struggled with powerlessness and the need for a meaningful life, revealing what I believe is an intentional irony in the title that suggests that such a history could ever be considered “short.”
   
As a side bar, Walbert’s inclusion of historical references to real women’s history, including the suffragette movement, Florence Nightingale, and Dora Maar, has made me interested in investigating these stories in greater detail.
   
I recommend this book highly as a personal read and as a selection for book groups. I will be recommending it to my own book group.
Power Reviewer Portia A. (Mount Laurel, NJ)

A book for every woman
I enjoyed this book very much. I am a 77 year old woman who has lived through much of the time period of the women in the story. I found the characters very real and I found myself caring for them, and I think, understanding what they were trying to say. They were not perfect people but who of us are?
Lori J. (Nutter Fort, WV)

Slow but enjoyable
Not a page turner, but worth the effort. It was rich in detail that I am certain I did not fully absorb. I will save it for a while and read it again to put all of the pieces together.
Robin F. (tucson, az)

A short history of women
If you have a curiosity about the early days of women's struggles to independence, this book answers some of those questions. Initially, it was difficult for me to keep the characters straight and I did have to go back and reread sections. However, I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it as a bookclub selection.
Power Reviewer Lee M. (Creve Coeur, Missouri)

A Short History of Women
WOW, so it didn't start in the 60's with Steinem and Friedan! Kate Walbert's book is a wonderful exploration of women, their foibles and their victories. Should be required reading for all our teenagers.
Sharon S. (Stanley, N.C.)

A Short History of Women
The year is 1914 the eve of WWI and the British Women's Suffrage Movement. This is where the author introduces us to the matriarch of the Townsend family, Dorothy Trevor Townsend. Walbert creates a strong female who makes a controversial decision that will ultimately change the Townsend women for five generations. The only problem - Walbert's chronology of the characters was at best hard to follow, I had to keep referring to the lineage chart. Walbert weaves a tapestry of love, friendship, loss and regret that flows in the Townsend blood for centuries to come.
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