Book Review: Empowering an older generation of women

Author Lisa Congdon brings hope back to all women who are both insulted and frustrated by the disparagement of maturity.
Updated 08 March 2018
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Book Review: Empowering an older generation of women

Old has become a generally negative term. In our consumerist society, where advertising concentrates on youth and beauty, growing older — especially for women — is the great taboo.
In her new book, “A Glorious Freedom,” Lisa Congdon brings hope back to all women who are both insulted and frustrated by the disparagement of maturity.
Congdon describes herself as a late bloomer. Now an artist and writer by profession, she only began drawing and painting when she was 31. Her first book was not published until she was 44. Getting older has been, in her words, “an enormously gratifying and liberating process.”
“A Glorious Freedom” chronicles the lives of extraordinary women who give old age a new meaning by doing their best work in their later years.
Sensei Keiko Fukuda, for example, endured decades of discrimination before she became the highest-ranked female judo master in the world when she was 98 years old.
Born in Tokyo in 1913, she was the granddaughter of Hachinosuke Fukuda, a samurai and master of ju-jitsu.
After learning flower arrangement and calligraphy, her life changed at 21, when Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo and one of her grandfather’s students, invited her to train with him at his dojo. Despite her size — she was under five feet tall — she excelled. At the age of 40, she became a fifth-dan black belt. For 20 years, despite her achievements, the male-dominated Kodokan Judo Institute refused to give her the sixth dan she deserved.
Finally, after a successful petition, she became the first woman to hold the rank of sixth dan. And in 2011, aged 98, she was awarded the highest rank possible: tenth dan. Keiko continued to teach judo until her death a year later.
Stephanie Young is another inspirational figure who proves it is never too late to live your dreams. After 30 years as a writer and editor for “New York” magazine, at the age of 53 she decided she wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. However, her applications to American medical schools were rejected because she was considered too old. So, she relocated to the island of Dominica, where she was accepted by Ross University.
Young told Congdon: “The difficulty a lot of women have is finding the thing they want to do … There is a lot of yearning. So, if you want to make a change, just be open, and be open to unexpected directions … What worked for me was that intuitive moment when I realized what I have is this amazing opportunity.”
Supermodel Christy Turlington was the face of many brands in the Nineties, including Calvin Klein, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Versace.
Two decades on, at the age of 41, she became an activist, setting up Every Mother Counts — a non-profit dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe.
“I had a complicated birth with my first child … I learned that the complication I had experienced and survived was the leading cause of maternal death,” she told Congdon. “I couldn’t ‘unknow’ that information, and I started to actively think about how I could use this experience to help others going into motherhood … And that’s how Every Mother Counts was born.”
Turlington said the remarkable energy she found during the busy decade in which she founded Every Mother Counts, ran marathons, and produced and directed three documentaries, was in part because “I feel so passionate about the work I do. It’s so rewarding daily.”
At 95, Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest national park ranger in the US. She is proud to never have had plastic surgery or Botox. She still works five days a week and believes that she is offering an alternative to a system that puts youth culture on a pedestal.
“Opting out of the workforce at 65 will no longer be practical. Maybe we’re going to start looking at aging differently, and maybe I’m a forerunner,” Soskin said.
Marguerite Duras was born in 1914 in French Indochina, now Vietnam. She studied in France, where she married and had a son. She started writing novels, essays, and screenplays in her late thirties. At 45, she was nominated for an Oscar for her screenplay “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” At 70, she published her first bestseller, “The Lover,” and won the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honor.
All the women featured in “A Glorious Freedom” show us that age is not a barrier to creativity. Inspiring, and uplifting, the book offers hope and encouragement to women of all ages.


BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

Updated 17 July 2018
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BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press.

The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces.

From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey. 

“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.

The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”

The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. 

After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.