Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The War of the Rosens & The Virgin Cure

The War of The Rosens by Janice Eidus

I didn't expect the book to be this good! Janice Eidus writes with control and I found her prose to be very stimulating. The Rosens are a Jewish couple with two daughters. The dad is a wannabe intellectual who loves his family but can sometimes be cruel and impolite in contrast to what he expects from them. Mom is supposedly a weakling because she does what she needs to do without complaining but a woman of integrity in her fidelity to the family. The older kid May is consumed with jealousy of the younger, more beautiful Emma. It doesn't help that the younger one writes poems and happens to be the father's pet. Indeed it is the 10 year old Emma Rosen that captures our imagination too whenever she comes on to tell the story. Each character in the family is given a voice infused with the clarity and strength of a very real person. We see their individual worlds, their differing views on faith, daily routines, family celebrations, and their pain when one of them is struck down with illness. Through it all little Emma keeps us as curious as she is. So much like my own little girl! There is certain relief to be had at the end with a window into the future. Janice Eidus was probably trying to give closure for us and herself with that last chapter but the book would have been fine without it too. Eidus drew from her own life as a Jewish person living in the Bronx which shows in her characters and the vivid  life around them.

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Ami Mckay catapults us into her story through a novel way of writing. The entire book is written in a style that could be aligned to the period of her story. 1870's New York. Ingenious idea! The story again revolves around a little girl called Moth growing up in a world quite different from little Emma Rosen's although there are many parallels if you look for it. Both tells their stories when they can, both wonder about the adults in their lives and both live in New York around the same time period. But the choices Moth had to face are eons away from what Emma had to face. Moth lived in a slum with her Mom who had no qualms selling her for money ostensibly to do housework but that can be meant for anything the new employer cooked up. Moth escapes from her employer only to see that her Mom had left their little shack without telling her. Back on the streets the only decent option available to her 12-year old self
was to be set up in a high-end brothel in return good food and fancy clothes. Young virgins where in high demand in those days as men believed mingling with a virgin can cure them of sexually transmitted diseases. I was aghast when I clued on to this part because the author wrote this loosely based on her great-great-grandmother's life and so it is based on historical facts. I'd read similar stories happening in third world countries many times over but never in the New World that is the US! Loved how the author stumbled upon this story. She used to sit and look at a painting of her great-great-grandmother Dr. Sarah Fonda Mackintosh for hours on end in their house. As she grew older she found out that Dr.S was in the first graduating class of the medical school founded by the Blackwell sisters who were the first women doctors in the US. This prodded her curiosity more and she landed on Dr.S's graduating thesis on the diseases suffered by the patients at the Blackwell's infirmary for women and children. McKay decided to give the story a single human voice fused from the voices of the many girls and women who lived and suffered in those times. The only solace Moth had in her difficult life was Dr. Sadie who worked at the infirmary and looked in on brothel girls as part of her work. This Dr.S - probably like the original Dr.S -encouraged Moth to leave the life at the brothel and join a rescue home for girls. The rescue home also was not secure against the viles of determined people and so she hesitated. Eventually she joined Dr.S after learning things the hard way. Moth did not disappoint in carrying Ami McKay's voice far and wide. The novel is widely acclaimed and Mckay received many accolades, all well deserved. I am sure Dr. S is smiling upon her from the heavens!