The Month of the Wife
This month unexpectedly acquired a theme: Books That Have “Wife” in the Title. It started innocently enough with a Barnes and Noble book sale several months ago. You know the sale I’m talking about – the ubiquitous Buy 2 Books, Get 1 Free. I’m weak. I gave in to the temptation. First, I chose the Time Traveler’s Wife because I’ve had this nagging feeling that I should read it. After all, it shows up on many must-read book lists I’ve been known to glance over. The Zookeeper’s Wife, a story based on a true events in Warsaw during WWII, was my second choice. I’d never heard of the book before but the premise of the story intrigued me. Thankfully, the third book of the trio is unrelated to this post so I won’t have to strain my brain trying to remember what it was.
Anyway, I brought the books home, put them on my large “to read” pile in the closet, and promptly forgot about them. Just a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the books while I was digging around for some flip-flops and decided that it was about time to read them. And then, a light bulb flickered on and I thought to myself, “Why not pick two more books with wife in the title and give March a theme. So, that’s exactly what I did.
- Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The Chicago Tribune calls The Time Traveler’s Wife “a soaring celebration of the victory of love over time”. Even though I think this book was incredible, I certainly wouldn’t describe it in such a light-hearted way. The main characters, Clare Abshire and Henry deTamble, are complex people who live strange, complicated lives. The ribbon of sadness woven through the fabric of this story is overwhelming at times. Beneath the imaginative and thoroughly realized concept of time travel lies the reality of life with a chronic disease which affects every area of life, straining relationships, causing mayhem, and worsening over time. I’ll grant that The Time Traveler’s Wife is a very good (albeit very weird) love story. To say it is only a love story, though, is to sell it very short. (4.5/5 stars)
- The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham. I love historical fiction, especially anything connected with the British Isles. In looking for another book to fit my theme, I happened upon The Traitor’s Wife. It is a 2008 Gold Medalist in military/historical fiction category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Although reader reviews at Goodreads.com were mixed, I decided to give it a go. Based in the early 1300’s during the reign of Edward II and Isabella, the story revolves around Eleanor de Clare, wife of Hugh le Despenser the Younger and niece to the king. Eleanor was married twice, had ten children and spent time in prison – once because her husband was a traitor, and once for theft of the king’s treasure. Ms. Higginbotham has researched the time period extensively but has also taken some serious creative license with character development and situation. The book is filled with war, intrigue, treason, and gruesome punishments and deaths. While I don’t actively seek out this kind of stuff as reading material, it is historical fact and appropriate to the story. The main characters of The Traitor’s Wife were in turn likable, admirable, despicable, and worthy of sympathy. At one point in time, I hated them all. If even half of this book is true, Eleanor de Clare lived quite the life and I don’t envy her one moment of it (except for maybe her dresses and jewels). (3.75/5 stars)
- The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. Jan and Antonia Zabinski oversee the Warsaw Zoo before and during World War II. After the zoo is bombed by the Germans and most of the animals are either killed or taken back to Germany, the Zabinskis use the zoo to hide people, mostly Jews, from the Nazis. Over the course of the war they are able to help over 300 people escape. The zoo earned its code name of “The House Under a Crazy Star”. Through journals (Antonia’s and others), court testimonies, interviews with living survivors, and visits to the area, Diane Ackerman creates a beautiful but harrowing story occurring in the midst of one of history’s darkest periods. She has an uncanny knack of connecting apparently unrelated topics to offer the reader a detailed understanding of the breadth and depth of the Nazi’s evil and destructive philosophy. The story reads more like a documentary than a novel and the technique suits the material very well. As expected, this is not an easy book to read. For me, it was so worth the effort. I want to believe that I would be as willing to risk my own life to save the lives of others as the Zabinkis were. They are true heroes. (4/5 stars)
- Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I suppose I should confess that I’ve only recently discovered Elizabeth Gaskell. Should I be embarrassed about this? I’m feeling like I should. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this story set in the town of Hollingford in the early 1800’s. Molly, a seventeen year old girl living with her widowed physician father, is the central character. She is happy in her life until her father decides to marry again. The additions of a vain, self-centered step-mother and a beautiful, flirtatious step-sister turn her life inside out and upside down. The almost 600 page story is about growing up, keeping secrets, and falling in (and out) of love. I was caught completely by surprise that the book was unfinished due to the author’s untimely death. It was a bit unsatisfying to be cheated of the tidy ending I was anticipating. Even though I was certain that Molly and her love would be joined together in a wonderful happily ever after, I wanted Ms. Gaskell to describe it to me in her own words. Jane Austen will always be my first choice for this kind of classic romantic literature. However, I’m already looking forward to devouring North and South, another of Ms. Gaskell’s books, when I have my next old-fashioned love story craving. (4/5 stars)
To tell the truth, the books in this theme turned out to be pretty interesting. Other then the title connection, the books have almost nothing in common. Nothing. The stories range from science fiction to classic literature to real events. They span the historical timeline from Plantagenet England of the 1300’s to the present day and beyond. The heroines, or wives, could not have been more dissimilar, which certainly kept the reading fresh and interesting. Between the four books, I’ve encountered the best and worst experiences the human condition has to offer and the gamut of emotions that accompany them. All this, and a few surprises tossed in for good measure.
I wonder if it’s significant that not a single how-to-be-a-good-wife self-help selection made an appearance this month. That’s probably because I’ve already got that skill mastered. Just kidding. (Mr. Whimsey probably wishes one of those books had made the cut.) It’s been a most enlightening and thought-provoking month. However, I think something less emotionally taxing should be the next order of the day. I’m ready for some lightweight, easy reading. Does anyone have the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid?