Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Club Friday: Reading 'In the Body of the World' (Memoir) by Eve Ensler

This Friday I'm reading In the Body of the World, the memoir by Eve Ensler, the activist and writer best known for The Vagina Monologues. I got an ARC of this book free from the Amazon Vine program - free book in exchange for my own honest opinion in a review. I'm about 80 pages into it right now, and it's about 217 pages long.

The Blurb From GoodReadsFrom the bestselling author of The Vagina Monologues and one of Newsweek’s150 Women Who Changed the World, a visionary memoir of separation and connection—to the body, the self, and the world.

Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female body—how to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own body—a disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. “Because I did not, could not inhabit my body or the Earth,” she writes, “I could not feel or know their pain.”

But Ensler is shocked out of her distance. While working in the Congo, she is shattered to encounter the horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women there. Soon after, she is diagnosed with uterine cancer, and through months of harrowing treatment, she is forced to become first and foremost a body—pricked, punctured, cut, scanned. It is then that all distance is erased. As she connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, she is finally, fully—and gratefully—joined to the body of the world.

Unflinching, generous, and inspiring, Ensler calls on us all to embody our connection to and responsibility for the world.

I said this wasn't going to be an easy memoir to read, but it's not just a litany of true horror stories. Ensler is first and foremost a survivor, and you don't get to be a survivor unless you're able to rise above the worst you've been through with some resilience and good humor. There's some tough stuff in the Monologues, too, but at the same time, it's very funny and real, and you come away not with the sense that the world is hopeless and all is lost, but that the secret to existing as a human on this planet is, and always has been, embedded in the female spirit.

That's what makes this book not only bearable to read, but actually enjoyable. It's not that you're enjoying cancer, abuse and torture, it's that you're enjoying the ability of women to survive, thrive, and look toward the future with hope.

The title, I think, refers to the fact that we all have to live within one finite, very limited, fragile human body, yet that one body has the ability and the power to make an enormous impact on the world. She's constantly linking events in her own life and in her own body with events on a global scale. The infection raging through her body reminds her of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as she's watching the tragedy unfold on TV. These are some of the most powerful passages. This was the one that really got me:

"Afterward I meet with my oncology team, who seem utterly distracted....They send me to another distracted, testy, arrogant doctor dude who makes me feel that my questions are childish and wasting his time....

"Then he says the mantra of the end of the world. 'WE LIKE TO THROW EVERYTHING AT IT. That's all we know how to do.' And I say, 'The only problem is that IT is attached to ME.' And I swear, he doesn't flinch. Me is irrelevant. Me is personal and specific. Me is what has to be passed through to get where he is going. Me is what can be sacrificed to get better information. And I suddenly know what the bride in Pakistan felt when the drones bombed her wedding and her fiance splintered into pieces and her mother was only fragments of a dress. They were throwing everything at al-Qaeda. And I suddenly love my infection and my protective scar tissue, which are saving me from everything they want to throw at me."

That made me angry. That made me think, "How dare you!" How does anyone, ever, dare think it might be okay to drop a bomb on someone's wedding?!? Why might you think it would be okay to kill people by remote control at all? How could compassionate people who supposedly care about something other than themselves - including President Obama - not ban drones for anything other than surveillance? Why haven't the American people protested against this disgusting practice until drone strikes were banned? Because look at who the bad guys is here - it's not those awful Congolese militia members who are torturing the women - it's Americans (and Canadians and the British, to a much lesser extent). It's US.

Which I'm sure is the point of this book. It's supposed to make us upset, but in a constructive way. It's supposed to take that classic second wave feminist expression, "The personal is political," and flip it inside out to where we'll see that the political is also personal.

I still contend that everyone should either read or see a performance of The Vagina Monologues. I don't know yet if I could make the same endorsement of In the Body of the World, but I still think a lot of people will derive a lot of value from reading it.

Have you read this? What did you think?

(I am an Amazon affiliate, and if you buy this book or anything through this link, I earn a small percentage.)

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