Book review: Private Places, Public Spaces: a woman at home in the world, by Lucina Kathmann

This is a collection of 22 non-fiction essays, written over a period of 20 years, some of them previously published. Some of them are based on the author’s long involvement in PEN International. One such essay is “The suffering word: cases of repression of women poets in Mesoamerica”, in which she documents massacres of the Maya community in Guatemala and imprisonment of women writers in Cuba.

Ms. Kathmann tells us quite a bit about herself in “Maru’s door” and “The currency of love”. Maru was a neighbour in San Miguel de Allende who died in childbirth. Lucina and her husband Charlie adopted her six children. Why? “I saw that there was no other way.”

“Social siege: African women writers” tells three stories. The first is about Awu, whose husband died in an accident, and thus became the “property” of his brother. The second is about Doshi, whose father sold her to be the fourth wife of a very old man. The third is a poem, “A mother’s lament”, by Fatou Ndiaye Sow, a very touching and sad piece about a mother whose son has been taken away, permanently, to attend a Koranic school. It’s a type of school where students learn very little, except how to be cannon fodder for somebody’s wars.

The story I enjoyed the most, though, was “Destination Kurdistan”, although I can’t easily explain why. The author documents a two-week tour of Kurdistan, eastern Turkey, and northern Iraq. She describes an area and a people that the rest of the world knows little or nothing about. She describes towns that are thousands of years old, and the gracious people she met, who are making a valiant effort to build their society after being oppressed by Turkey and Saddam Hussein.

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