{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

June 21, 2016

Refashion || Men's shirt to more feminine blouse

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The ubiquitous man's shirt is a staple at thrift stores. This one my husband threw out and I liked the colouring. How to make it more feminine? Well, aside from tailoring it a little, add a feminine fabric. I decided to swap the sleeves for a textured chiffon in a coordinating colour.

What you'll need for this project:

A thrifted man's shirt
A thread ripper
Scissors
About a metre of chiffon in a matching colour
Matching thread
A blouse that fits you or a pattern

How to refashion the shirt:

Remove the sleeves with your unpicker and also loosen the side seams.
Cut out a new place for the sleeve using your blouse or the sleeve of a blouse pattern. Use that same pattern to cut out a sleeve from the chiffon.


Pin the seam towards the neckline so it cannot be seen through the fabric and sew it down. It should look like the below image.
To add some more femininity to the shape, I made small Bishop's sleeves by adding cuffs. To do so, cut strips of chiffon about 7cm wide and as long as the width of the position on your forearm where you want the sleeve to end. Gather the bottom of the sleeve and sew the cuff.
I made the shirt only a little shorter than it had been initially, since I liked the length already, and also tailored the sides for a feminine fit.
The end-product is quite pretty, I think. It might also serve as a light cover-up for a cool summer's evening. I haven't worn it yet, though, but I seem to have a phobia for wearing clothes I've made for myself. Anyone else suffer from that?

June 17, 2016

Book Review || Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levine

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I actually wish that I had not seen a film version of 'Rosemary's Baby' before I had read the book. This review falls straight into my conundrum of whether to read the book first or watch one of the movies first. I wish I had read 'Rosemary's Baby' before I watched the film.

While Ira Levine's writing is quirky and sharp, the parts of the plot that all add up to the inevitable twist at the end are simply ruined having watched the film first, since the films are practically exactly the same. It is certainly a horrific story and I truly believe I would have enjoyed the novel more had it not been spoiled for me. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy watching films based on books for the different interpretations one may be exposed to and the simpler, visual joys offered up. However, for such a psychological and supernatural thriller, the book would have been spine-tingly wonderful. Had. I. Read. It. First. Particularly since the film brings nothing more to the story and simplifies it into a cutthroat horror.

But not all was lost.While the film versions faithfully represented the context and plotline of  'Rosemary's Baby', right down to the apartment porn, the story itself is really a much deeper commentary on society at large than the films are. While the film versions have a greater focus on the terror Rosemary experiences as she discovers the truth, in the novel we are given a more intimate look into Rosemary's relationships and the inner workings of a patriarchal society that simply views Rosemary - and women - as chattel.

Rosemary represents those mid-century women suddenly no longer needed for war efforts, suddenly spending all their time with their husbands or homemaking or making food for said husband. Her relations with Guy echo interactions reminiscent of those infamous adverts in vintage magazines representing husbands punishing their wives for failing to make dinner properly, his smacks on her bottom when breakfast is late and sarcastic remarks made only half-jokingly.


While Guy might adore his wife, his lust for fame and fortune go beyond his feelings for her. He not only allows her to be drugged and raped, isolates her from her family and friends, forces her to endure a friendship with the Castevets and months and months of pain, insists she is overreacting at every turn, but also shies away from her affections as if she is to blame for carrying a supernatural baby. And then after she discovers what she believes is the truth, escaping to seek help, her husband and crazy doctor are called up to fetch her, because she is nothing but a hysterical woman anyway.

We read the novel with the time period and place in mind, but this is the scariest thing about the story. How would you feel knowing the person you trusted the most had allowed this to happen to you and your body without your consent for their own benefit? How would you feel being forced to go to a particular doctor, forced to take particular drinks, forced to endure months of pain because you apparently don't know better? And then right at the end when you cannot take any more you are handed right back into the hands of your abusers because you apparently don't know any better?

It is also frightening that these notions about women continue today. Why else is there still a struggle for pay equality? Why are women looked down upon for choosing career over family, indeed for choosing not to have children at all? Why are women in the workplace suddenly less valuable when they have children? Why is Hillary Clinton criticised for supposedly not being as a mother should be? Why are women who raise complaints, even ones of a sexual nature, told they are being too sensitive? Why can women not raise their voices in meetings? Why can a rape case result in an extremely lenient sentence so that the rapist's future is not jeopardised? How can women consistently report violence by a man and be ignored? And this is just in Western society. Imagine what it is like in Somalia where a girl's body is so much not her own that they can mutilate her genitals? How afraid girls in Limpopo must be at night when they may be kidnapped by older men, married off, and basically enslaved for the rest of their lives? How women are murdered by family for choosing a different husband? Of course, the latter are extreme versions of patriarchy, but you get my drift.

There is nothing scarier than having our bodily autonomy, our choices, overrun by others, and the fact that everything she experienced was an entirely plausible reality is what makes 'Rosemary's Baby' truly frightening.

Looking even more deeply into the story we see how Rosemary's motherhood has been wrested from her body and placed in the hands of those proverbial doctors who decided they knew everything about women's bodies while hardly wanting to look at them. At the same time, the novel honours motherhood, constantly pointing to and affirming Rosemary's instincts that something is not right about her baby and her situation. Her single interaction with women not involved in the coven confirms all her fears but she can still not act. Indeed, her only real decision considering her situation is when she looks at the baby she bore and decides to be its mother, decides to take what is owed to her after giving her body and her autonomy.

Certainly the victory of 'Rosemary's Baby' is how immersed the reader becomes in Rosemary's world - the mundane details of her upper-middle-class life are so real that we can not help but question whether what must be hysteria or paranoia is as real as the snowflakes falling outside or the swordfish steaks Rosemary purchases from the store. It is only at the end that the ghastly truth is revealed, but Rosemary takes possession of the only thing remaining to her, the only thing that is real: a baby.

Further Reading:

Why Rosemary's Baby Still Matters 47 Years Later
Ira Levin’s Creepy Valentine: Rosemary’s Baby and the Power of Place

June 15, 2016

Book Review || The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith

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I have always been intrigued by folk and fairy tales - their universal appeal over centuries says much about the common threads that guide us humanfolk through our lives and each other's. I also love reimaginings of the classic tales, such as the films 'Ever After' or 'Maleficent'. However, there are not many brave enough to attempt to recreate the happily ever after that our favourite princesses long for, happily ever afters that seem to end on the day of a wedding. Perhaps this is because we all inwardly scoff at the possibility that happily ever afters can exist, especially between couples who have barely said a word to each other.

However, David Meredith is one such brave soul who, in 'The Reflections of Queen Snow White', manages to take us beyond the wedding day to reveal the strength of character of all the main actors in the classic fairy tale as well as to prove that happily ever afters are entirely possible.

In his intuitive novel, we find Snow White - now a queen and mother - grieving for Charming, who has peacefully passed away. She is certain that any possibility at a happy ending for her has been under siege since the day she was born. Lost in her melancholic thoughts, she has isolated herself from her closest family and friends and also her subjects. Wandering through her castle, she comes across the exquisite gilded mirror that was to blame for the punishment rent upon her by her stepmother. It turns out that the mirror merely reflects that which is shown it, and it is up to Snow White to decide how she will see herself for her remaining days.

A quick and enjoyable read, 'The Reflections of Queen Snow White' inspires us to consider how much we place our own worth on what we allow the mirror in front of us to reflect. When faced with her victories, Snow White demeans herself, believing she did nothing without Charming to aid her. Memories take hold of Snow White but it is how she deals with them, how she interprets them, that creates her world and her future. I loved this idea for the mirror: how it in reality did nothing but reflect the Snow White's stepmother's greatest fears and it was she who made choices about what to believe and how to act, not really being influenced by the mirror in any way.

'The Reflections of Queen Snow White' encourages us to take a step back from our wild emotions, our painful memories, and judge them with the wisdom that comes from retrospection.

In a way, Snow White's journey into her past with the mirror is a trip through the grieving process for her but she is not grieving for Charming in her travels - she is grieving for her strength and wisdom that she overlooked with Charming at her side. She denies that she ever had her own agency, becomes angry with the mirror for suggesting as much, bargains for it to stop showing her her truth, returns her to the helplessness and loss of faith in herself that she felt after Charming's death, and finally takes her to a point where she can accept her own power.

'The Reflections of Queen Snow White' is a reminder that our inner strength and power comes from nowhere but ourselves and it is up to us to make choices that will determine how we see our past and how we make our future.

Interested in reading the novel? Find it on Amazon here.

May 25, 2016

Book Review || Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Alaskan Dog-Racing by Gary Paulsen

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I'm not certain what I was expecting when I started to read 'Winterdance' by Gary Paulsen, although it's probably an expectation more along the lines of an educational look at what it takes to indulge in professional dogsledding. The truth of the novel is very far from this and I rather closed the book with the feeling that I had learnt something infinitely more valuable from it.

Paulsen is known as a children's author and has won several awards for his writing. I have not read any of his other books, however, and upon finishing it and doing some research about him I discovered this other life - which was actually a bit of a shock for me because of the intensity and passion he showed for dogsledding. They say all writers are a little bit crazy, and Paulsen would then fit into this stereotype perfectly, for no one would embark on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race unless they were a little bit (or a lot) crazy.

From the very first chapter, I was  not only gripped by Paulsen's fine memory, flowing writing, and self-deprecating humour, but also the connection he forms with his dogs, with nature, with the landscape that he suffers in and for.

We all look for certain themes when we are reading books and I think one of my current focal points is nature and humankind's lost connection to it. I sometimes think I would give anything to move out into the country, into one of those little hermits in the forests deep in Siberia and simply live quietly, living on the land as we were meant to. Perhaps this is why the biggest theme I have taken away from 'Winterdance' is this lost connection with nature and how we need to expose ourselves to it before we find it again.

Paulsen experiences this through his connection with his dogs and this enlightenment leads him to think more about the 'sanctity of life', as he puts it [32]. He notices his own change of heart through little anecdotes, such as a story of ranch cows forming a roster among themselves where one cow stays behind to protect the calves while the others find water [32]. His new connection to nature also comes through short encounters with creatures of the forest: a chance encounter with a beaver all alone on a frozen lake that inspires the dogs to race off towards it simply to see what it is [34]; the meeting with Marge, a wild coyote who was 'beautiful in a way only wild things can be beautiful', follows the team for several days, and stuns Paulsen with her use of tools to catch grouse - something only humans and apes were once believed to do [43]; a chickadee sitting atop his hood, sharing his meals; his lead dog Cookie's very clear appreciation of the beauty of sunrises [141].

The intensity of his new-found connection is revealed when he discovers a deer caught in a trapper's snare. He thinks it dead and removes the snare, stubbornly attempting to rub the hair around the deer's neck flat again, trying to 'make up for what had happened to her' in his anger. The deer was alive and could have killed him with her sharp hooves but merely left, looking back at him [57].

Similar anecdotes and experiences litter the novel - some inspiring silent smiles, laughing out loud, or stifled gasps - but one thing is certain - reading this novel, living vicariously through Paulsen's experiences, will leave your mind echoing his sentiment:
...I thought my whole life had changed, that my basic understanding of values had changed, that I wasn't sure if I'd ever recover, that I had seen God and he was a dog-man and that nothing, ever, would be the same for me again.
I have never been more grateful for a book I picked from the pile at a charity store than now, and this novel will leave you questioning your values and beliefs, urge you to reconnect with nature, and remember that God will not come to you - you must find him for yourself.

{Image credit: By Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA - The look of sheer determination - 2010 Iditarod Ceremonial start in Anchorage, AlaskaUploaded by Smooth_O, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10438431}

May 18, 2016

Refashion || Man's shirt to raglan woman's shirt

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I love it when hubby throws out his old shirts, especially when it's in a fabric and colour I like. With this shirt, I wanted to make a hoodie. I had to go out and purchase the knit fabric to match the grey though.

What you'll need for this project:

A man's shirt
Matching knit fabric

How to refashion the shirt:

Of course, we start with taking the shirt apart. I personally hate unpicking seams but in refashioning items, it's a sad necessity. You could simply cut the seams off, but this way you may lose valuable fabric.

Here is the shirt before unpicking.


First, remove the sleeves...


...then the collar. 


I also removed the pockets, as they needed to be repositioned.


The next step is to cut away the shoulder seam for the raglan design (I used a pattern of a raglan top I already had in my stash) and also to sew the side seams according to your size. Be sure to pin and cut according to your own waist- and hip-line - simply cutting off the same amount from the existing edge will only retain the manly (read straight) cut of the shirt.

You will need to cut a pair of sleeves out of the knit fabric, as well as the hoodie pieces and a long section that will fit the bottom of the shirt, as though the knit fabric is sticking out the bottom of the jacket. I copied the sleeves and hoodie from a pattern I had cut from one of my favourite hoodies.

All that remains now is to sew everything together. Sew on the sleeves, the hoodie, and the bottom strip and sew on the pockets. I neatened up the hoodie seams and the attachment to the neckline with strips of fabric so you don't see the overlocking.

The finished project looks like this:

May 13, 2016

Book Review || The Truth Teller by Angela Hunt

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Angela Hunt's 'The Truth Teller' is a compelling and powerful novel about spirituality and science, and how the two subjects have become intertwined in a world geared towards science and morality rather than religion and spirituality.

Unusually, the first reading we are presented with in this novel is a 'Publisher's Note' that admits that when the novel was first published, readers were not as much in tune with science and genetics as they are today. Indeed, science and geneticism has become somewhat mainstream over the last few years, what with the rise of scientists such as Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson into popular culture and the concerns about the proliferation of genetically-modified produce on our shelves.

To me, this is basically an admission - or warning? - that the book is a sort of premonition to the possibilities of gene therapy, and of course how it can all go wrong.

At its centre, the novel is about Lara Godfrey, an incredibly religious woman who has managed to find peace with the recent death of her husband Michael to cancer. She realises that she can fulfil their desires for having a child by being artificially inseminated by the husband of a good friend of her's, Dr Helmut Braun. However, Braun's own desperation for success and renown places Lara and her child at the centre of the world of a rich, powerful and seductive businessman, Devin Sloane. Sloane believes that the human gene is devolving as a result of damage from external environmental factors and also because of disease. He persuades Braun to use the genetic information of a 5,600-year-old mummy when inseminating Lara, with the purpose of discovering the pure genetic line of our ancestors and possibly healing the human gene. However, his ultimate desires are much more sinister, as are his means to getting what he wants.

Once you get into the novel, it really is an addictive read, compelling you to discover how Lara's destiny plays out. Dotted with the minor themes of love, grief, and motherhood are the themes of God's ultimate purpose for us and blind faith in his knowledge, as represented by Lara, perfectly juxtaposed with the hard science and frank factual nature of biological and genetic processes, as represented by Devin. It would appear that the novel's message is that, while we are improving our lives and health through science, blind faith in science alone will lead us down paths that are selfish, uncompromising, and eventually just plain evil.

Reading the final few chapters really leaves you with your finger ready to turn the page as soon as you've read the last text on it, as the thrilling serendipity of Lara's faith and science's failure come to their inevitable meeting place.

May 9, 2016

10 Amazing Facts About Tarantulas That Should Make You Want One!

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chilean-rose-tarantula
Chilean Rose
You speak the word 'tarantula' and people merely see a spider, the likeness of which resembles those vengeful arachnids from the film 'Arachnophobia' but hairier and much bigger. But the tarantula - and indeed all spiders - is so much more than a simple arachnid. Why? Here are 10 reasons:

1. Although their bites can be painful, most tarantulas will only bite after a lot of poking and prodding. Even then, most of their venom is less toxic than that of bees. Most of them.

2. All spiders go through a molting process, but having a tarantula makes this one of the most delightful yet scariest and most heartbreaking aspects of keeping them. When molting, the tarantula will shed its exoskeleton, as well as the stomach lining and female genitalia. They even regrow lost limbs in the process! My Brazilian Black had one poorly formed leg after a molt, which it dropped off and regrew at the next molt.

Why is it delightful? Because it is one of the most amazing things you'll ever see in real life. Here's a time lapse of my Mexican Red Rump molting.


Why is it scary? Because you have to consider what it must feel like being trapped in a shell smaller than you are for ages before you can squeeze out in a process that requires just the correct amount of humidity, the perfect temperature, and good genetics. As a keeper, this is one of the most worrying times.

Why is it heartbreaking? Because sometimes the tarantula will just get stuck in the molt. Sometimes you can help them out; most times you will stress them out so much they'll pull their limbs off and bleed to death. My other Mexican Red Rump got stuck and died as a result, just a few weeks ago.

3. There are dozens of different species of tarantula. They come in all sizes and all the colours of the rainbow. Some of them live up in the trees, like Ghana's Togo Starburst Baboon (Heteroscodra Maculata), but most are terrestrial burrowers. Some species make the most amazing webs and tunnels. The best part is relocating a tarantula into a new enclosure only to see all your ornaments, plants, and water bowl redistributed, sometimes covered with webbing or covered entirely.

Mexican Fireleg
4. Some species of tarantula have hairs on their abdomen, called urticating hairs, which are like little harpoons filled with an irritant. They kick the hairs off with their back legs when they feel threatened. For these tarantulas, the flicking of hairs is their first line of defence. Tarantulas without these hairs will likely throw a defensive posture before attacking.


5. When male tarantulas reach maturity, they form hooks on their legs and their pedipalps become shaped like boxing gloves. They will then lay a sperm web, whereon they will excrete their sperm, collect it, and store it in their gloves to deposit inside the female. Male tarantulas' life spans are significantly shorter than females because they are unlikely to survive a molt after becoming mature - the hooks make them get stuck. For this reason, once they are mature, they might become more aggressive and avoid eating as they will only be searching for a mate. The females of some species can live up to 30 years.


6. When males find a female's burrow, they will tap lightly on the webbing. If the female is receptive, she will come out, whereupon the male will dance for her, raising his abdomen, shaking his pedipalps. If she is not happy with his performance, she may attack him or ignore him. If he is successful, she will allow him to approach and he will use the hooks on his legs to keep her fangs away from him until he successfully deposits her sperm. He has to make a run for it when he's done though, as females usually like to eat the males after mating to replenish her food supply to grow the eggs. Females can lay between 200 to 2000 eggs.

7. Tarantulas breathe through two pairs of lungs on the anterior of their abdomen. They are called book lungs because their folded inner membranes resemble the pages of a book!

8. Some scientists believe certain tarantulas have silk spigots on the bottom of their feet similar to their spinnerets at their abdomen. It is currently a controversial idea.

9. Sexing a tarantula is somewhat of an art: ventral sexing is possible if one is practiced, but the most reliable method involves soaking the shed exoskeleton in water and examining the part between the first set of book lungs for the existence of or lack of spermathecae.

10. A tarantula's heart is not controlled with muscle like our hearts but rather through a system of nerve cells. As it beats, it spreads the tarantula's blood, called hemolyph, through the sinuses inside the tarantula's body.


So what are you waiting for! Just a warning though, they are addictive!

Great online stores in South Africa:
Rozzer's Tarantulas
Petbugs.co.za

{Image credits:
Green Bottle Blue: By Luis José Quintero-Morillo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 
Socotra Island Blue Baboon: By Marc BRETHES - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17114985
Mexican Fireleg: By Viki - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=121514
Defensive posture: By Sascha Grabow www.saschagrabow.com - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13294331}

April 29, 2016

Refashion || Bye-bye sleeves, hello crochet straps!

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My mom made a bunch of maternity-sized shirts for me when I was pregnant with Emma. The fabric is too pretty for me to let them go, so I've been altering and refashioning them.

In this shirt, the combination of the sleeves with the boatneck was not particularly flattering, making it a little tight over the bust and under the arms. Solution: remove the sleeves! It took a while for me to figure out what to do for straps or sleeves instead. The neckline did not make matters easier.

But then I came across this pattern for a loose collar in one of my old Ideas magazines. I continued the pattern until it was long enough for the straps I needed and just finished it off simply without the buttonhole.


I unpicked the sleeves and the edges of the neckline, as it was lined...


...then sewed the crocheted piece into the lining, ensuring that it would be the right way up when I turned the shirt back inside out.


I was going to trim the sides a little, but since baggy '60s and '70s styles are in now, I just left it!


What do you think?

April 26, 2016

Emma's DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party

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My little girl is already three years old and we celebrated with her first official birthday party this past weekend. Don't let anyone tell you that organising all the eats for the event is easy! It's hard work, especially if you're not certain how many people will actually be attending. Luckily, I made just a little too much, and mostly everything was eaten.

Check out my spread below to see some of the things I did for Emma's birthday with links on where I got my inspiration from!

The Eats


From top left: the dinosaur in the middle is actually holding the balloons, but I didn't get a full picture of it :( (inspiration here) - there is also a plate of dinosaur-cutout peanut butter and jam sandwiches (inspiration here); Flies in Amber jelly treats (inspiration here); Biscuits with dinosaur footprints (inspiration here); dinosaur nest cupcakes (inspiration here); and dinosaur bones (inspiration here).

I served up hot dogs to accompany the sweets. You'd swear the children had never seen food before, everything was devoured!

The Decor

We had an outdoor party so didn't go too crazy with the decor. I hired a dinosaur jumping castle for the occasion, which went down really well with the children, especially since it also had a roof. The company I went through also did delivery, setup and collection, so they're highly recommended! Everything else was pretty simple.


From top left: Stencilled party packs and serviettes (inspiration here); an Emmasaurus throne for the birthday girl; dinosaur masks, which also went down well, especially with the younger kids; a dinosaur fossil banner with Emma's name (inspiration here); and, of course, a 'Land Before Time'-themed birthday cake (inspiration here).

So much work and planning for a few hours of a day... But Emma had a blast and the look on her face when everyone sang Happy Birthday to her was priceless!

More Dinosaur Party Inspiration (aka: Things I Wanted To Do But Didn't Get Around To):

How to Mix Spooky Cocktails With Dry Ice
How to Make Dinosaur Cupcake Toppers
Dinosaur Soaps
Roaring Dinosaur Boys Birthday Party
Modern Dinosaur Birthday Party
Outdoor Dinosaur Birthday Party Ideas
Dinosaur Birthday Cakes We Love
Dinosaur-Themed Goods from The Party Lady

April 23, 2016

Book Review || Chemical Pink by Katie Arnoldi

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Katie Arnoldi's 'Chemical Pink' is a novel of NOTE. It had me absolutely mesmerised from start to finish.

Delving into the world of female bodybuilding, Arnoldi has used her own knowledge of the industry to recreate a world of bodily obsession and fetishistic sexuality.

Charles, a skinny eccentric man used to getting his way, is obsessed with creating the perfect male form in the female body. Jeanine, a single mother desperate for success and stardom, offers him the perfect canvas: her bodily symmetry is ideal for the sport and will take her far.

The two form a symbiotic relationship where Charles - who seems wealthy beyond belief - provides the training, tablets, and finances for Jeanine to continue perfecting her body, while she indulges his every fetish and sexual whim. But how far is too far?

This voyeuristic look into obsession is as addictive as the concoction it is named for. With intriguing characters who are all as obsessive as the others - Hendrik who is at once trainer, drug dealer, and pimp; Skip who believes he is in love with Jeanine; a daughter who becomes obsessed with her mother's former lover; and even the entire industry itself - the novel sweeps the reader along to an ending that is an attempt at resolving the overall conflict but culminates in a climax deserving of a cult novel such as this.

That being said, this dark comedy is at once thought-provoking and heartwarming and makes us all wonder at our own obsessions and how far they will take us before we are destroyed.

April 18, 2016

Book Review || Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

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I became a fan of Tracy Chevalier after reading 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' and while 'Burning Bright' is still a beautiful historical novel, it does not stand out from the former novel in richness of detail, setting and character.

Set in 18th century London in the suburb of Lambeth, it attempts to give insight into poet and artist William Blake in the time before he is accused of being a revolutionary and supporting treasonous notions. Told through the eyes of London-born Maggie and Jem, a boy come to the city with his family from an out-of-the-way rural area, the plot is held together by their relations with Blake and a mystery that Maggie won't reveal to Jem, as well as the awakening sexual tension between the two adolescents.

My favourite aspects of historical novels are the potent details about life at the particular time, so I loved the conversations about buttony (and am actually inspired to seek out some tutorials about it!), the contrast between country and city life and those who dwell in each, and also the look at the Astley's circus. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the carpentry in which Jem and his father excelled.

However, I rather felt that William Blake was inserted into the story only to hold the plot together. There is not such personal insight into the artist as was seen in Chevalier's work on Vermeer and I rather felt I was reading only to alight on some information on, some personal experience with the poet, who was my favourite when I was younger. Yet we only see him through the eyes of Maggie and Jem who are  involved with him on the surface and rather spend most of their time spying on him and his wife. Although their interaction with him is fundamental to the plot, and while he reveals himself to be caring and interesting throughout, I feel as though I was robbed of an experience much more like that in a 'Girl With a Pearl Earring'. I suppose that much can be said of expectations.

Certainly it appears that the location and the overarching themes of the novel are its compelling points. London and its people are perfectly rendered in the mind's eye as are those from the country, while revolution, eccentricity, human rights, and even gender politics are some of the themes one is left to ponder instead of what makes a man like Blake intriguing and revolutionary.

April 8, 2016

Book Review || The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

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red-tent-book-cover
Anita Diamant's 'The Red Tent' is a beautiful rendition of womanhood. Set in the time of Jacob in the Bible, it follows the oft untold story of biblical mothers and daughters who are often only mentioned in passing. Though set hundreds of years in the past, its themes and concepts are - frighteningly - still valid in much of the world today.

The narrator is Dinah, whose story in the Bible consists of mere mention as a daughter born to Jacob of Leah in Genesis 30:21 and then later as a reason for the destruction of Hamor and its people in Genesis 34.

Dinah has neither voice nor agency in the Bible and her story and existence is glossed over as her brothers take vengeance for her defilement by the Prince of Schechem.

'The Red Tent' tells Dinah's story - and that of her mothers Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah - through painstaking historical details that must have taken a lot of research on the author's part. We learn about the segregation of women during their moon blood, how the history of families is passed down through the stories of mothers told to their daughters, and how women worshipped matriarchal goddesses who aided them in birth, life and death. The novel tells of womanhood as a treasure and how the old ways honoured woman as the wellspring of life, finding no embarrassment in menstruation and indeed honouring it the way we are in awe of the full moon today.

It shows that traditions and family histories and genealogy were the realm of the woman, and I must question that if this was so how did ancient men remember their histories and stories? Diamant answers this question:

"The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men who had no way of knowing." [3]

The novel is also a contrast between woman and man: the former are shown to have a deep sense of duty, respect for history and life, an innate civility and kindness, and also a generosity of person; the latter are shown to be violent and possessive, lustful and prideful, and always aspiring to have more.

The women seem pleased to be part of family life, to fulfil their duties well and learn from each other. However, the novel does raise the question - via Dinah's experiences - whether this is all by choice or because of the patriarchal time in which they lived.

The novel has brought an interesting perspective to biblical stories, their basis in men's written history and the complete omission of women's beliefs or perspectives. Women in the bible are often reduced to trade items, objects to be avenged or condemned, or even examples of femininity and thus examples of what men should aspire not to be.

Though the novel has a historical basis, much still rings true today. While a girl was considered a woman once she menstruated, girls are in most parts of the world not legally marriageable until at least 18 years of age. However, in some parts of the world, girls even younger than menstrual age are given in marriage to men much older than them. Many times the marriage is of benefit to the girl's father in some way, making the girl nothing more than chattel; other times it also depends on the family's state in poverty and insecurity, the overall culture of patriarchy, the institution of gender inequality, and sometimes traditions.

'The Red Tent' is written with an amazing insight into womanhood and a deep respect of humankind and religious origins. The research that went into such a deep novel is beyond reproach and has aided Diamant in creating a world that is rich in detail and utterly believable.

Further Reading:

About Child Marriage
From Eve the Temptress to Mary Magdalene the Prostitute: The Strange Truth About Biblical Women

March 29, 2016

Just Read || The Unspoken Journey of Life by Lerato Nthati Dorah Tsamai

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'The Unspoken Journey of Life' is the heartbreaking autobiography of one woman's struggle with an abusive husband and an unsupportive community.

Ms Tsamai courageously documents the terrible situation she found herself in after falling in love, failing to acknowledge the signs, and remaining in a relationship fraught with danger. Her unflinching faith and trust in God is what she says aided her in her trial.

Her novel can serve as a legacy for women like herself who believe in the power of love, acceptance, and change but remain stuck on the undeserving end of abuse, unable to leave because of devotion or fear or both.

It is also a must-read for those who blame the women for staying with abusive men - Ms Tsamai uncovers her thought processes as she finds herself on conflicting ends of the scale: stay and face the torrent of abuse and believe in change or leave and face the ridicule of her family, his family, and the community.

It is also a diatribe against those who support abusive partners in relationships: her husband's family and most of her friends and community members did nothing to end her pain and showed no support for her as she struggled against the forces of abuse and love.

'The Unspoken Journey of Life' is a reminder that so many partners suffer in abusive relationships with the feeling that they have no one to turn to and the misdirected shame that comes with a failed marriage.

It is disheartening to experience Tsamai's life with her and realise that much has not changed for women in South Africa. Her story begins at around 1957 when she meets her husband - that's around 50 years ago. Domestic abuse is thought to be one of the most prolific crimes in the country. According to a Mail & Guardian article:
A study conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2013 found that 50% of the South African women surveyed reported that they had suffered emotional and verbal abuse. Fifty percent. Let that number sink in. That means one in two women suffer a form of abuse in this country – and it continues to be swept under the rug
That's a massive number of victims. The scariest is that it's unlikely that many women will report their abuse because of the stigma associated with it, as well as the fear that their harrasser will escalate the violence. GenderLinks reported:
A 2010 review conducted by Gender Links and the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) titled The War at Home provides a detailed analysis of how GBV can be measured. In this paper, GBV includes physical, sexual, psychological and economic intimate partner violence; rape and sexual assault by a partner, acquaintance or family member; and sexual harassment at school or work. The research further notes that in the period 2008-2009, 15 307 cases of domestic violence were opened in Gauteng and 12 093 cases involved a female victim. 
The same study involved a province-wide household survey. It revealed that 18.1% of women had been abused at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey, while 29% of men had abused their partner in a similar time period. This shows that routine data collected at local police station level is just the tip of the iceberg. Although 25.4% of women experienced rape at least once in their lifetime, only 3.9% had reported it to the police. Just 2.1% of women raped by an intimate partner reported the incident to police. Women that experienced sexual or physical abuse in their relationship were more likely to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, test positive for HIV, suffer from depression or consider suicide.
It cannot be denied that many women and men suffer at the hands of an abuser - but why can nothing be done to stop it? Is it the unending effects of patriarchy? Is it our increasingly lonely and left alone children? Is it the culture of violence from the West? What do you think?

Further Reading:
How to Legally Protect Yourself Against Domestic Abuse
A Guide to Family Law: Domestic Violence and Abuse
South Africa's 2014/2015 Assault and Sexual Crime Statistics
Gender Violence Must be Included in Crime Stats