a short history of women.

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The title of Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women tells just that, depending on how you read the title.  The story is told non-linearly through narrators of 5 different generations of the Townsend family, beginning in England in 1898 and ending in New York in 2007.  As Walbert writes the story, the reader gets not only the family history, but also a window into some of the unique struggles of women over the last 110 years–which doesn’t seem so long at first glance, but really is, especially considering that there weren’t more than three generations alive at once in the story.  It was fascinating to see as the reader the connections these women shared 100 years apart and at the same time a bit heartbreaking that the characters weren’t able to see them the way a reader could.

I have a huge extended family on both sides, and for almost two decades we were able to see four generations of my dad’s family in the same room and on my mom’s side we are going on 12 or so.  When my grandma passed away last summer, my dad and one of my uncles were reminiscing and I heard so many stories that I had never heard before, which was surprising because I hail from a story telling family.  It was a bit surreal at her burial because we were also standing here in Brooklyn amidst Robbins headstones dating back to the 1800s.  Like usual, I felt a part of something bigger, but there was also a twinge of sadness that there are some stories that passed with my grandma.

The same thing happens when I hear the handful of stories I know about my great grandmother on my mom’s side.  Because I am the story lover nostalgic that I am, I often find myself wishing that I could go back and visit with her about when she moved to New York from Ireland.  I always wish I knew more about the threads of similarities that I share with the women in my family tree or that my aunts and cousins share.  While talking with one of my aunts this spring who is a retired teacher, I learned that she used to dedicate a day to celebrate the Super Bowl in her classroom, just like I do with the Ohio State/Michigan game.  My family is so big that sometimes it is easy to miss those kinds of connections.

All that to say, reading about the Townsend women in this book was really thought provoking, especially when some of the stories are placed side by side: the 1914 suffragette in England and the granddaughter she never met garnering strength from her memory, the mom in post 9/11 New York dealing with her panic and her own mother embarking on a new life at the end of it.  It makes me wish I could have a collection of the narratives of the women in my family.

{four generations of robbins: my grandma, one of my aunts, 2 of her daughters, another cousin and her daughter and I.  Oh, and FNL and The OC.}

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