Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I'm staring at the blinking cursor on my laptop, not quite knowing how to begin this review of a book that is one of the most extraordinary and the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. 

I mean, I thought I knew about the issues that Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write about in Half the Sky. I've worked for a women's foundation; I've done some reading on these topics.  Many of us "know" about sex trafficking and slavery, female genital mutilation, honor killings, rape and abuse from accounts we read on blogs or in the newspapers (such as Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times.) But who am I kidding? I've never been abroad, never spent time with women like the ones Kristof and WuDunn introduce to their readers in Half the Sky.

Unless you spend time with women and girls experiencing such injustices, I don't think there is any way one can fully and totally know or understand these complex issues.

Fortunately for us, Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have spent time with these incredibly brave and courageous women.  They've been to the brothels and the hospitals, to their homes and their small businesses supported by microloans from abroad.  They know the stories and in Half the Sky, they bring them to us, to those who have the power to make a difference by telling others and by becoming involved philanthropically.

Make no mistake: this is not an easy read (or listen, as I listened to the audio version).  There were many times I found myself cringing, smiling, on the verge of tears, and angry that such horrific depravity exists. There were times I had to turn off the CD, times when I thought I couldn't possibly listen to any more stories of such savage and inhumane acts.

And the irony wasn't lost on me.  Here I am, an average middle class mom, college-educated and gainfully employed, cruising through the Starbucks drive through for a latte and I'm finding it too diffcult to listen to these stories when the victims would probably give anything to trade places with me and have the opportunities and blessings I've been given.    With what they've been through, with all their suffering and heartbreak, I felt that I owed it to them to hear their cries, to feel their pain, to listen to their stories. 

If I was uncomfortable listening to them, that paled in comparison to the horror of enduring such unimaginable cruelty.  I bitch about a migraine or needing to take my thyroid meds every day; halfway around the world there are hundreds of women who have been beaten and raped with sticks and brutalized so badly they are unable to walk. How dare I complain - about anything, really, after this. 

Half the Sky is a transformative book.  It is one that changes people after reading it, if only by knowing more about our world and those in it.  It is also hopeful.  Kristof and WuDunn show how it is possible for everyday, average people to make a difference through simple acts.  Half the Sky should be required reading for every person, just as it is at some colleges.  It is that important of a book. 

(It is also a wonderful audiobook, as it kept my interest throughout.  Cassandra Campbell's narration is excellent - you can hear the emotion in her voice during certain parts - and the production is terrific.) 

What Other Bloggers Thought:

Bonnie's Books
Book Addiction co-reviews Half the Sky with A Striped Armchair
Feminist Review
Lotus Reads
My Book Retreat
Rebecca Reads
She Is Too Fond of Books
Take Me Away

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Amy said...

This book really puts things into perspective doesn't it. It really makes you think, and makes you get a clearer understanding of how others live all over the world and some of the issues still faced. So important.

Erin said...

I just picked up a copy of this audiobook, so I'm especially excited to hear that the production and narrator are good! It sounds like this book is everything I was hoping it would be, and now I can't wait to get to it.

Julie said...

An excellent review of an amazing, but difficult, book. I'm so glad it was a selection for my book club. I'm not sure I would have picked it up otherwise, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to read it.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Thanks for this review Melissa. I haven't read it, but now I think I really should make it a priority. I'm glad the narrator is good, too, I need some new audiobooks to listen to.