“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” starts Daphne du Maurier’s gothic classic, drawing readers into the privileged life of the de Winters and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Maxim de Winter’s first wife, Rebecca (1). Mrs. de Winter, Maxim’s second wife, serves as our eyes as we learn about the house’s inhabitants and customs, unraveling the multiple sides of Manderley and all its occupants. This is especially apparent in the novel’s titular character, Rebecca, although she never appears on the page herself. Rebecca’s larger-than-life presence casts a unique shadow upon each person she encounters. The people who survive Rebecca carry her memories and shape her legacy, not unlike some of history’s famous and forgotten women. As Mrs. de Winter searches for Rebecca’s truth, we begin to understand the impossibility of knowing a person, particularly, a woman, through the many layers of gossip, history, and bias.
After way too many years following an academic calendar, I still think of August as a month on the cusp of new beginnings. That’s why today we’re sharing our stories of transformation–of starting over in a new place, a new era of your life, even a new body.
In our books this month, a family of refugees rebuild their lives in a country that is not as magical as they once believed. The world literally pauses, waiting for one child to flip a switch. A woman turns into a wolf. Anything is possible in these books of transformation, which speak to the ways we are constantly changing, starting over, making ourselves new.
Three women in Japan wrestle with the nature of the body and the self.
Natsuko is a struggling writer when her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s teenage daughter, Midoriko, come to visit for a few days. Makiko has made the journey to Tokyo to explore affordable options for breast enhancements. Midoriko, who hasn’t spoken a word to her mother in six months, privately wrestles with her own changing body and turns to her journal for companionship. A climactic clash occurs between Makiko and Midorko before the two return home, and the narrative flashes forward in time ten years. Natsuko has managed to publish one collection of stories but, even more than her struggle to write a novel, wrestles with her desire to have a child. Without a partner, Natsuko seeks other possible means to fulfill her deepest wish to be a mother as she continues to grow older alone.
Everyone in Peaches, California is thirsty. The once-abundant land that the Gifts of the Spirit cult watches over is now nothing more than crackling, scorched earth. Baptism occurs in tubs of warm soda, the shallow end of the measures taken by The Body to bring life back to their raisin crops. But fourteen-year-old Lacey May Herd is thirsty for more than just the rains that Pastor Vern promises will pour down on those who are faithful. Within this world where young boys are messengers of god and girls are their vessels, emerges a story of birth and rebirth.
Rivers Solomon’s science-fiction novel An Unkindness of Ghosts is masked in a pain. The point of writing on the pain of others is to expose the reader to a point of view; in this instance, Solomon writes from the perspective of Aster, who identifies as gender fluid. Aster is searching for a consistent path in the uncertainty of the cosmos. “She craved clarity, transparency and answers.” (169)She longs for answers from her mother, who died when she was a baby; yet, a mapping of sorts leads her on a path set by her mother. Cutting out the contrivances, we see Aster through her history of loss and survival on the vessel Matilda.
A book’s purpose is to inform, whether it paints a view of a fantastical world or provides a reflection of everyday life. Sometimes, these purposes indulge our curiosities naturally and slowly. Other times, the author forces our eyes wide open to take in harsh truths we weren’t prepared to face. Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, displays the traditions, culture, and societal expectations of Arab families, but also shows the painful reality for its woman.