Monday, April 8, 2013

Two Strong Women - Fiction and Non

I'm reading two books simultaneously - well, actually four but who's counting? What struck me about these two specific books is the wonderful, powerful, brave women and their stories.

Sonia Sotomayor's My Beloved World is a fabulous listen, read by a sultry Rita Moreno, a fellow Puerto Rican whose accent enhances the many times in the book when Sotomayor resorts to her native language. Sotomayor's story, by her own admission, is an inspiring Horatio Alger gem that should be pushed by teachers upon their Latino students who may think that a college education and a way up and out is not available to them.

Sotomayor is surprisingly blunt about the deprivations of her childhood in the Bronx projects. Though her parents were incredibly hard working, her dad had a severe addiction to alcohol which created a war zone at home between her folks and pushed him into an early death, leaving Sonia's mother to raise two kids under the age of ten.

Education was the be all and end all in Sonia's home. Her mother understood that it was through schooling that her children would persevere. Their Catholic education gave them the tools to study hard and but their innate brains and work ethic would not have gotten them to the Ivy League (Princeton was her choice) without affirmative action. The author shows us why she was the president's perfect choice for the position on the Supreme Court as she explains her mixed feelings about being a quota minority at a school steeped in white entitlement.

Her memoir is beautifully written, personal and very funny. Ms. Sotomayor has a great sense of humor and an admirable perception of self. When she wrote of her college interviews at Radcliffe and Yale I found myself laughing out loud. (she was accepted by both) I sensed that she'd have been great fun to hang out with, discussing the woes of the world late into the night. I also got the feeling that if anyone can solve some of them, she will.

I thought I was over my fascination with all things World War II, but since my niece has expressed an interest in some of my dad's memorabilia from his time as a bomber pilot in England, it seems to be on my mind once again. What I'm constantly asking myself is what deep well of courage did these folks tap in order to work for the resistance? I wonder if I'd have that kind of moxie.

Simon Mawer's heroine in his new novel Trapeze seems to have it in spades. Though barely out of school, Marian Sutro jumps at the chance to get out from under the watchful eyes of her parents and her big brother Ned. Because of her facility with languages, particularly French, she is hand picked by Specials Operations in London to train as an agent and in 1943 she parachutes from an airplane over France.

Mastering the ability to adopt new identities, multiple life stories, and assimilate with the French resistance fighters in the countryside, Marian faces blatant sexism among the male rank and file who don't believe that a "girl" can help them. It's amazing to watch her mature, hone her judgement, and learn the nuances of the spy trade with such agility. Mawer does an exemplary job of telling the story from Marian's point of view, her internal self-talk is a window into her thinking.

 Of course, there is also a love story. Can any World War II novel be complete without one? Marian was crazy in love with her brother's best friend when they were all growing up together, but life is whimsical and they've drifted apart. Now Pierre, a scientist of atomic theory who's been living in France for years, is wanted back in England for a special project and Marian's handlers see her as the  the perfect lure.

Suspenseful and thought provoking, this novel about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events tweaked my curiosity about Mawer and I'll be looking into another one of his lengthy list of writings soon. Never heard of him? Here you go:

No comments: