Daughters of Dystopia

Dystopia: relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

I love a great dystopian novel, it’s a genre that can veer into classic science fiction, but the ones I love the most are the ones you can imagine happening in your world, if the circumstances changed just slightly, a world power got that much more control, a disease could not be contained or the general populace let things that are deemed as unacceptable become acceptable, little by little. Ordinary people trying to survive, railing against the system or changing it forever.

When I began reading Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed, it was no surprise that both the victims and heroines of the story were young girls. Melamed is a psychiatric nurse who specialises in working with traumatised children. The girls in this debut novel slowly come to the realisation that the only world they have known is filled with lies and not as idyllic as their leaders have taught them it is.

The girls live on an island, living a puritan life, where everyday decisions and everyone’s lives are constrained by a set of rules set down by “The Ancestors”. The male descendants of these original peoples who fled The Wastelands across the sea run the island along rules to suit their own needs. Young girls are married off to older men as soon as they come into ‘fruition’, at puberty.The rules set down, called Shalt Nots, include practices that are definitely of benefit to the elder men, not their young daughters.

Every summer until then, the children of the island run rampant, rarely going home, sleeping rough and enjoying their freedom until the shackles of childbearing and helping the community survive are placed on them.

Told through the eyes of the older girls who are all about to reach fruition, chapters are given over to each girl in turn and I enjoyed the pace of the book and the way the author slowly revealed the horrors of being a young girl on the island. Little is shown of the feelings of the young boys, or the men’s justifications for their actions.

The main heroine is Janey, who should have reached fruition at 17, but is so desperate not to be a woman and succumb to the demands of a husband, she is slowly starving herself. She and Vanessa, who has access to her father’s library of books from past days, give the other girls knowledge and courage, trying to find a way to escape, or at least effect change.

Janey wakes early the third morning, at the first tint of crimson shattering the black night sky, as if someone had shaken her from slumber. She takes the precious moment gladly and watches the girls sleep peacefully. Let this last, she prays, she knows not who to – certainly not the ancestors, or their puppetmaster God. Just for a little while, let them have this. Let them have it. Please.

It certainly had a hint of Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale at times and I kept imagining it as a film, but I’m never sure if that is a good thing.

If you love a good dystopian tale about strong young women who decide to take a stand, this is your book. I powered through it in a few days, which is pretty amazing for me. I was in turn heartened and horrified but kept on turning the pages, wanting to see the fate of these young heroines clinging onto their childhoods to save their lives.

Gather the Daughters
by Jennie Melamed
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781472241719

Headscarves and hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution

Mona Eltahawy by Personaldemocracy. cc by-sa 2.0

Over the years I’ve had ambivalent feelings toward feminism.

However, this has changed markedly as I’ve encountered the work of people like Egyptian-American journalist and feminist commentator Mona Eltahawy, whose book Headscarves and Hymens states the case for “why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution”…and arguably a reformation.

This book came up on my radar because some argue it’s a key feminist work! And such works are important because they bring feminist issues to the forefront of the simple male mind, making me much more sympathetic toward the feminist movement and forgiving feminism’s sins against me…

After all, as a child, I blamed feminism for mother forbidding me to play with the muscular toy figurine G.I Joe, the plastic embodiment of the American military industrial complex.

Mother didn’t want me corrupted by a perverted depiction of masculinity, which promoted jingoistic American nationalism and war.

However, as I’ve grown older, and gotten (somewhat) educated, I came to realize that feminism is critical to the evolution of civilisation…

For most of history, the “fairer sex” has been subjugated by wicked men like G.I Joe, who deprive women of their civil liberties and sit on the couch in their horrible underwear, with their feet on the Ikea coffee table.

Which bring’s my trivial childhood recollections to an end, because sadly, the political, economic and social circumstances many women endure the world over are harsh and lamentable… such as those depicted in this read…

Headscarves and HymensIn this book, Eltahawy argues that throughout most of the Middle East, women experience on-going political, economic and social subjugation. She claims this is a region which doesn’t uphold plurality, individuality, autonomy and tolerance: the principles which underpin Women’s Rights in various countries.

There is a catalogue of personal experiences and statistics which Eltahawy refers to in order to buttress her impassioned claims.

Her travels into Egypt’s social and political cocktail of unrest gave her a multitude of insights into what many female citizens face there: simply walking through public spaces and riding trains means enduring a gauntlet of ungoverned, regular and almost casual sexual harassment. Women have no recourse against this because the Egyptian state doesn’t seem to care about this sexually violent culture.

Further to this, Eltahawy was arbitrarily imprisoned, sexually assaulted and beaten by Egyptian police after she partook in protests there.

Eltahawy argues thousands of women share these kinds of experiences throughout the entire Middle East every day.

She details how women have little economic and legal mobility in the region. Custody disputes over children, domestic violence, divorce and succession etc are regulated and determined by laws derived from archaic religious statutes, which favour men and almost completely deprive women of any control over family or assets.

Even basic privileges are denied, such as driving, participation in sports, wearing make up (because it “prompts sexual harassment’), and travelling alone without a male family member. Much of which is overseen by religious police throughout the region.

Elathawy argues this totalitarianism is the result of ultra-conservative Wahhabist and Sunni Islamic doctrines which are espoused throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa.

Critics have argued that her views are analytically shallow – that the Middle East is not culturally and theologically homogeneous, and that she posits mono-causal explanations that are borne out of her own Western-centricity which is covered by a misguided feminist veil.

However, that being said, a fact check on Pew, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International websites seem to support her claims.

In any case, this book has shone a light on my own white, male privilege, reminding me that feminism is a critical movement for humankind, and not just a force which wants to send young boys to school in Roman sandals.

Have a read and see what you think – of course your amazing Christchurch City Libraries network has copies you can borrow.

Our blog is a forum for public debate and as such we welcome your comments and feedback on our posts. Opinions expressed in posts and in the comments are not necessarily those of the organisation. 

The Troubles – Boxing Day, 1879

Wherever you go, you take your troubles with you.

This was never more apparent than on Boxing Day, 1879, when sectarian violence broke out on the streets of Christchurch and Timaru, between Irish Catholics and protestant Orangemen.

Although the more severe violence took place in Christchurch, it was actually the Timaru fracas that made it possible.

Prior to Christmas, news had spread throughout the district that the members of Loyal Orange Lodge no. 13 planned to march as part of an annual Boxing Day parade of Friendly Societies. This enraged the Irish Catholics of the area, (of which there were many, one suburb of Timaru being called “Kerrytown” after the home county of its inhabitants) and it became apparent that the parade would not be without incident.

The local constabulary, wishing to control the situation, sent to Christchurch for reinforcements ahead of the parade, leaving the local force in the city depleted. There was also an Orangemen parade planned in Christchurch for the same day but no particularly strong sentiment against it had been expressed and trouble was not expected there. This turned out to be a flawed prediction as violence would indeed break out in front of the Borough Hotel.

On the morning of Boxing Day, in Timaru 40 or so Orangemen gathered before the parade to put on their regalia and “colours”. A large group of Irish Catholics (including my own great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Kelly, then a youthful 22 year-old) left the Hiberian Hotel that morning intent on preventing the Orangemen from marching. The number grew when the train from Waimate arrived with further protestors. Even with reinforcements the police were hugely outnumbered. Even so there appears to have been jostling and shouting and a refusal to disperse but no one was seriously injured. The Orangemen were prevented from marching, the Catholics did their own impromptu “victory parade” through town and then got the train home in the evening.

No arrests were made on the day but my great-great-grandfather and a number of other men considered “ringleaders” were arrested several days later and held under armed guard. The case was heard before the Magistrate on New Years Eve and trial was set for March the following year.

Several men were let off (my great-great-grandfather included, possibly thanks to the testimony of the local Inspector of police who, according to a newspaper account said “I saw Kelly there. He was in front of the mob. I did not see him do anything”).

Six men were eventually found guilty on charges of rioting and violent assault and were subject to good behaviour bonds. None were jailed and the Hotel proprietor, Thomas O’Driscoll, who appears to have had a hand in organising the protest, was fined £100.

Thomas Bracken, aka the lyricist of God Defend New Zealand (under the pen name Paddy Murphy) even wrote a poem about the stoush called The Saige o Timaru, seemingly poking fun at the possibly grandiose ambitions of those involved, comparing it to battles of the ancient world like Troy or “Throy”.

Look here, be jabers, me dacint naybors,
Ther soords an’ sabers will niver do,
It’s no use talkin’ we’ll stop their walkin’,
Ther colour hawkin’ through Timaru.

Timaru Riots archives 1879
Police Christchurch Station Diary (Hereford Street Station) Jan 1879-Feb 1883 [Archives reference: CH439/70], Christchurch Hospital Admission and Discharge Register – 1879-1880 [Archives reference: CH293/158], Return of Prisoners Tried – 1876-1897 [Archives reference: CH53/6], Archives New Zealand on Flickr.
Meanwhile the Christchurch affair was a different kettle of fish entirely. The Borough Hotel on Manchester St (later the site of the New Excelsior hotel – facade still standing), which was home to a sizeable number of Irish Catholic labourers was both along the route of the proposed Orangemen parade, and had a view of the route three dozen policemen would have taken from Hereford St to the railway station to catch the train out of town to Timaru that morning.

The procession was already underway when a group of navvies, who had gathered down an alley adjacent to the hotel and were armed with pick-handles and other weapons, attacked the Orangemen as they passed the Borough. With few policemen available to attend the riot it was a struggle to get under control and five Orangemen were injured and sent to hospital as a result of the fracas.

Hereford St Police Station, 1906
Additions to the Central Police Station, Hereford Street, Christchurch : the alterations in progress. [1906] CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0076
As news of the attack spread hostility towards the hotel grew and an angry crowd gathered, which at its peak was between 3000 and 4000 people. The mayor was forced to swear in 250 special constables to help keep the peace but a crowd remained over the course of the next day and it wasn’t until the following night that the constables were able to be dismissed.

Four rioters were arrested on Boxing Day, with a further 14 arrested in the days following. On 2 January their cases were heard at the district court and five were dismissed. Of the remaining men, 11 were convicted. All, save four considered most responsible who got 18 months, were given 12 months hard labour.

In each case the politics and animosity of opposing factions had survived the long journey to the other side of the world to find root in New Zealand soil.

For more about the 1879 Boxing Day riots –

In our catalogue

 

From the meaningful to the delightful: Cool new stuff from our selectors

In the field of philosophy, psychology and religion there are interesting titles coming along soon.

Cover of David and Goliath

Gary Quinn’s The Yes frequency deals with the much vaunted idea of mindfulness and encourages the reader to break habits that lock them into self-defeating behaviours.

Eldon Taylor’s Choices and illusions mixes science and spirituality while Douglas T. Kenrick’s Rational animal looks at our decision-making processes and finds that many are entirely irrational and proposes a new alternative based on evolutionary science.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestsellers Blink and The tipping point,  has a new book, likely to be a big seller, named David and Goliath,  which sets out to challenge how we deal with obstacles, disadvantages and disabilities.

Reza Aslan’s book Zealot- the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth has had a lot of advance publicity and its attempt to balance the Jesus of the Gospels with the historical records of the time should give food for thought.

Moving into the area of children’s books,  Judith Kerr, famous for The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the iconic Mog books, has written Judith Kerr’s creatures  It is a lavishly illustrated retrospective. Our selector loved seeing the very early drawings Kerr did as a child. She tells the story of her life from war torn Europe up until the celebration of her 90th birthday.
Cover of Judith Kerr's creaturesCover of Maurice Sendak

Another great big fabulous tome to drool over is Maurice Sendak:  A Celebration of the Artist and His Work. Described in the book as the pre-eminent Children’s book artist of the twentieth century, we certainly have no argument with that!  Celebrate his 60 year career with this full colour catalogue of more than two hundred images exhibited at the Society of Illustrators in New York in June and August 2013.

Computers, fashion and humanism – Our selectors share cool new stuff

CoverComputer book publishers obviously think that so-called seniors need plenty of books to help them with  their computer skills judging by the amount of books that are published for this group. Admittedly older readers have not been brought up with computers in the same way as their children, but I always find myself being slightly offended with the idea that being older means that you are not up to date with technology. Anyone unfamiliar or less confident with computers will find them useful.

Cover

If you are a lover of fashion this is the book for you. The Beautifully illustrated Fashion: The definitive history of costume and style by Susan Brown traces the evolution of fashion from Egyptian dress to Space Age and grunge. Published by DK Publishing in consultation with the Smithsonian, it contains a mix of original fashion plates, archive images and commissioned photography of over 1,500 costumes. It focuses mainly on Western dress, and shows changing fashion and style, with features on designers and trendsetters. Simply stunning.

A.C. Grayling is a well known English philosopher and his new book The God argument is due out in a couple of months. It is an intriguing look at the arguments for and against religion. His argument for humanism – a philosophy that has gone out of fashion somewhat – is interesting. His ideas are not in the same camp as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins who have slagged off religion but haven’t looked a lot at an ethical framework which would work for people who don’t accept some of the precepts of religion. Also coming up is the latest book from the Dalai Lama How to be compassionate in which he looks at how compassion for others can make us happy

Issues of the day in the context of our times

CoverI’m a bit of a news junkie and I often see topics in the news that I would like to find out more about. It’s not always that easy. Delving into other sources takes time.

I wanted to know more about child labour in India after it came up in relation to our proposed India/New Zealand free trade agreement.

I also wanted to find out more about reactions to the wearing of burqas after two bus drivers in Auckland refused veiled women entry to their buses.

The new Global issues in context database in the Source is a gold mine of such information.

When I looked at it, the front page featured in-depth articles on the Fukushima power plant, child labour, the next presidential elections in the States, the “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East and many other topical issues. Anything not on the front page was easy to access with a simple keyword search.

I can see I’ll be dipping into this on a regular basis.

Thomas Merton anniversary

December 10 was the anniversary of the death of writer Thomas Merton. A prolific writer on spirituality, social justice and pacifism, he is best known for his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain about his journey to becoming a Trappist monk.

Christchurch City Libraries has a significant collection of his works which began in 1969 with donations from his aunts, Agnes and Beatrice Merton. Thomas Merton never visited New Zealand but his father was a student at Christ’s College and his grandfather and great-grandfather both taught there.

Happy Eid!

Photo
Sali Mahomet making icecream in his 'dairy' behind his house at 69 Caledonia Road, St Albans

Amidst the shaking and rolling, and the blur of anxiety that has coloured this last week, it’s hard to remember that life goes on. However, for over 2500 Christchurch residents and for millions of people throughout the world, today marks the beginning of one of the most  important holidays of the year – Eid ul-Fitr. Eid ul-Fitr celebrates the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan, during which Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset.  Hence the name Eid ul-Fitr, which means the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”.

If you would like to know more about this holiday and about Islam in general, try some of the following links in our catalogue:

and in our Internet Gateway:

CINCH has information about Muslim community groups and organisations in Christchurch.  And for an insight in the life of one of Christchurch’s earliest Muslim residents, read about Sali Mahomet (aka “Ice-cream Charlie”) in our Heritage pages.

Eid Mubarak (Blessed Eid) to those of you who are celebrating!

Religion, War, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood

CoverOver breakfast this morning, today’s session titled Religion: What is it good for? led inevitably to impassioned discussion regarding Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bruce Springsteen, and the (mis-)appropriation of pop music for literary purposes.  Sadly, our lot failed to reach consensus, unlike the panelists in the real Festival session.  Adrian Wooldridge, Michael Otterman and Antony Loewenstein were remarkably united on several fronts, not the least being their disdain for Richard Dawkins.  I’ve already outlined some of the main points about these three guys here, and for Michael Otterman’s session, here, and told you it’s impossible to cover their topics in a short blog post, so won’t revisit, but I will attempt to provide a bit of the flavour of this combined session, before you rush off to find the books.

Chair Sean Plunket led off with a request for each speaker to make his own personal declaration of their beliefs.  In their own words – Antony Loewenstein identifies himself as a Jewish atheist who is agnostic about whether religion is good or bad; Michael Otterman is an agnostic cultural Jew from New York, which means he loves Seinfeld and eats bagels on Sundays; and Adrian Wooldridge, having been born C of E, is therefore an atheist who is relatively sympathetic to religion, and who also enjoys Seinfeld.

Whether or not you believe in God, Wooldridge says, current research shows that religion itself is Continue reading

India Iraq Israel Terrorism War Religion

I am a little afraid.  Usually when attending festivals or writing blog posts, the things I cover have tags like: zombies, young adult, cake, fluffy bunnies, Iron Man.  Next week, however, despite all my careful planning and plotting, I have ended up as the only representative on the Festival team going to any event related to important, contentious, and actually serious international issues, with tags like the ones listed above.

Actually, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but it does serve to illustrate my fear at being asked to write lucidly about some (or any) of the issues to be discussed in sessions by Antony Loewenstein, Adrian Wooldridge and Michael Otterman.  I am truly fascinated by all of the subject matter that these guys specialise in, but I did think I could hang around on the fringes and watch in awe, rather than being relied on to produce something intelligent and thought-provoking.

Adrian Wooldridge writes for the Economist, and has co-authored five books on globalisation and business, with his most recent being the (so far fascinating – I’m up to chapter 4) God Is Back: how the global rise of faith is changing the world.

Antony Loewenstein discusses Israeli-Palestinian problems, with My Israel Question (I’m almost ready to begin this one; it’s on my desk, I promise!).

And Michael Otterman also looks to be a fascinating speaker, although alas the library doesn’t seem to have a copy of his new release Erasing Iraq, and I have yet to source any kind of extract from the book on the web.

I have, however, been able to watch all of these guys in snippets of interviews on the web, and am so impressed by both their ability to take a wide and reasoned view of undeniably complex and convoluted issues, and their obvious passion for their chosen area of interest/expertise.   And I am truly looking forward to hearing them in person, at which point I will try my hardest to convey some sense of their message to you all!

In the meantime, however, perhaps you’d like to reassure me by sharing YOUR ideal tag-cloud, or even share your most challenging/terrifying/awe-inspiring festival or booktalk session memories …