Thursday, August 10, 2006

More summer reading

Checking out the library's "new" shelf, I happened upon and a Bottle of Rum: History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, which I had been intending to read, and The Girls Who Went Away, which I had never heard of before. Both extremely readable and quite interesting.

and a Bottle of Rum is a history of rum (no duh) which involves the history of the islands where it originated and the history of the US as it involves rum. My interest in history of England or the US ended, when I was in school, about 1600. Anything after that was too new to interest me. Consequently, as a an adult, I am constantly surprised and intrigued with those books that attract my attention which introduce me to the history of the US after 1600. This is one of those books. My knowledge of the beginnings of the American Revolution has been limited to what 11th grade American History managed to get into my head, i.e. the British imposed the Stamp Act and a tax on tea, out of the spitefulness of their hearts and we obviously stood up for ourselves and said we objected. Right. Who knew there was a Sugar Act before that, and even before that the Molasses Act, both of which had to do with other British colonies protecting their turf? Well obviously, plenty of people must have known this and obviously I didn't. (Well, I've already confessed my complete ignorance on the subject.) It also explains in later chapters a great deal more that fits in with what I learned about Susan B. Anthony when I was reading up on her a year or so ago, and why we had the Great Experiment. Very interesting reading.

I suppose I could do some serious reading on American History and quit treating the subject like a huge jigsaw puzzle, but there is a certain pleasure to be found in stumbling across new pieces.

The Girls Who Went Away discusses a much more recent portion of US history - the girls of the 40s and 50s who became pregnant, usually out of wedlock, and who gave up their children for adoption. The author has done an oral history study, talking with women who are willing, and sometimes eager, to talk about their experiences in being birth mothers. I found this a very difficult book to read, not because it was badly written (it isn't), but because it was very emotional. The people being quoted were emotional, and I became so in reading their stories. The historical and social environment that lead up to so many (comparatively speaking) young women surrendering their children for adoption is something I had never really studied before, and yet so much of it resonated with my girlhood (growing up in the 60s and early 70s) and resonates today with the conservative element trying to push us back to the 50s. I have read of the difficulties that adoptees had in dealing with their adoption, and obviously there has been a big push to open records so that they may learn their genetic and cultural heritage. This is the story of the other side of the coin - women who were forced by circumstances, their families, their position in their society, into giving up their children when what they wanted was simply support in keeping their children. Obviously just part of the story - many of the women wanted to talk because the events they went through caused them such pain, but still a valid portion of the history of those times.


The Purloined Letter said...

What a great title! I think we'll have to make rum cocktails and read this aloud to each other this weekend!

Anonymous said...

I remember girls in high school disappearing for a while to go the the Florence Crittenden Home for Women to have their babies and give them up for adoption. Only one girl came back to graduate after giving birth. Most moved away permanently out of shame. I never could figure out why it was always the girls fault when clearly there was a boy involved at some point.