Review: Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey into the Red Light District

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David Wienir. De Wallen Press, $13, 264p. ISBN 9780999355909.

Almost twenty years in the making is Amsterdam Exposed before author David Wienir finally presents his story of the renowned Red Light District, where tourists “come for the weed, stay for the hookers.” Nonetheless, Wienir makes it easy to be drawn into turn-of-the-millenium Amsterdam, as he spends his Thursdays studying international law at Vrije University and his six-day weekends trying to get window girls to talk to him. Amsterdam Exposed is an alluring memoir giving a glimpse down the streets illuminated by red lanterns, as well as into the man who teaches respect for the women who work there.

Wienir opens his memoir having just arrived in Holland for a fall semester studying international law abroad. Wienir brings with him an ulterior motive to write a book about the Red Light District, inspired by a prostitute in Reno who told him that “people forget we’re human,” a year and a half prior. Over the next four months, Wienir sets off to find prostitutes willing to help him with his book, and keeps a code for himself: never pay a prostitute to talk, and never sleep with one. He’s turned down by every woman he encounters except for two, only one of whom actually comes to help Wienir.

Emma is a twenty-five-year-old prostitute from Estonia. She lives two lives in that she does not allow her work life and her personal life to overlap. When Wienir meets Emma in the District, Emma is interested in befriending him, but does not readily talk to Wienir about her work. Wienir devotes time to building Emma’s trust in himself, and eventually reaches Emma while unknowingly invoking change in Emma’s personal outlook.

Wienir actively writes in a voice that weaves the then-current state of Amsterdam with his own story of his time spent. He creates rich and descriptive settings that shine on Wienir’s professional background, effortlessly leading the reader to think of Wienir’s voice as a lawyer in the future casually telling his story over the wining-and-dining of his own law associates. Amsterdam Exposed confidently takes a risqué topic out of a captivating environment and places it in one that is approachable, adventurous, and thought-provoking.


Excerpt from Amsterdam Exposed

On a brisk September morning, I put on a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt and
boarded a plane to Amsterdam. I traveled light. If necessary, I could do some shopping
in town.

Money was an issue, and the cheapest flight I could find was on Iceland Air. This
allowed for a three-day layover in Reykjavik. I had always dreamed of visiting Iceland
and decided to spend a few days there. With a copy of Let’s Go Europe serving as my
bible, I found a bed in the Salvation Army Guesthouse. Back then, there were two travel
guides in play, Let’s Go Europe and the Lonely Planet. Let’s Go Europe was the guide
of choice for students, effectively funneling everyone into the same hostels, restaurants,
landmarks, and clubs. Within minutes, I connected with a group of international
students. We spent the next three days touring waterfalls, enjoying the local cuisine,
and bonding.

On our final day, we visited the waters of the Blue Lagoon. There were six of us, from
six different countries. Submerged to our shoulders, we floated in silence, looking into
each other’s eyes and carving out the moment. After a night partying in Reykjavik, we
said our goodbyes, knowing we would never see each other again. That was OK. This
was just a layover. I continued on my journey refreshed, feeling as if I had visited the moon.

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About the Author 

David Wienir is a business affairs executive at United Talent Agency and entertainment law instructor at UCLA Extension. Before UTA, he practiced law at two of the top entertainment law firms where he represented clients such as Steven Spielberg and Madonna. His previous books include Last Time: Labour’s Lessons from the Sixties (co-authored with a Member of Parliament at the age of 23), The Diversity Hoax: Law Students Report from Berkeley (afterword by Dennis Prager), and Making It on Broadway: Actors’ Tales of Climbing to the Top (foreword by Jason Alexander).

Educated at Columbia, Oxford, The London School of Economics, Berkeley Law, and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, David is married to Dr. Dina (to whom the book is dedicated), a pioneer of the cannabis movement who has been named “Queen of Medical Marijuana in LA” by Rolling Stone Magazine and is the inspiration for the Nancy Botwin character in the show Weeds.

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Cover Reveal & Excerpt: The Gene Police

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The Gene Police
Elliott D. Light
Bancroft Press, May 2018

Before the words “white supremacy” filled the airways, before we learned of American Nazis and the alt-right, before there was a Muslim ban, and before we considered building a wall or knew what DACA stands for, there was eugenics—a pseudo-science that promoted the belief that a race could be improved by controlling who was allowed to mate with whom.

It was eugenics that compelled white doctors to inform Carl and Betty Langard that their new born baby had died. And it is the cruelest of circumstances—the murder of Jennifer Rice—that fifty years later leads Shep Harrington to search for Baby Langard.

As Shep soon learns, the quest brings him to the top of a slippery slope with an ill-defined edge. Question begets question, and the slide down the slope proves inevitable: What happened to the baby? Who took it? Why was he taken? And who killed Jennifer Rice?

When Shep learns that Baby Langard was born at a hospital run by Alton Nichols, a famous Virginia eugenicist, he is drawn into the dark history of the American eugenics movement and its proponents—the so-called “gene police.”

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Excerpt from The Gene Police 
Read more on the author’s website!

I handed the photos back to Reggie. “Let me see if I have this straight. All you want us to do is to ask the Residents if they remember anyone taking pictures at the poor farm or if they saw a woman with a baby.”

“That’s all,” replied Reggie.

“What if Jennifer Rice took the pictures of the poor farm?” asked Robbie. “What if she was the one with the baby?”

Reggie shook his head. “I don’t know. I just need to understand why my cousin’s DNA was found at the house where she died. Where that leads is anyone’s guess.”

We sat quietly for a moment.

“What a mess,” said Robbie. She glanced at me, then at Reggie. “I think we can ask a few questions.”

I can’t explain why those words excited me, but I did my best not to show it.

With the favor asked and granted, Reggie stood up. “Thank you. Some police reports, the photographs, and a CD of scanned versions are in the folder.”

“Promise me you won’t speak with Detective Hunter or the prosecutor without speaking with us first,” I said.

Reggie agreed and left.

Robbie was quiet for a few moments, her attention focused again on the pictures. She showed me the photo of the boy on the pile of bones. “Can you, for an instant, imagine what that was like? I can’t. I can’t imagine people doing this to other people.” She shook her head. “You can’t help but wonder why more wasn’t done to stop it.” She picked up the photograph of the woman with the baby. “Why would the hospital tell Reggie’s aunt that her baby died if he didn’t?”

“It’s a mystery,” I said.

“You don’t think his cousin was actually murdered?”

I shrugged. “I have no reason to think so. If you’re asking me if I believe that something like that might have happened, my answer is yes. The history we’re taught was written by our parents and grandparents, all of whom were white. I doubt they were keen on sharing their generation’s dirty laundry with their kids.”

“Sounds like something you learned in prison,” she said.

“Three years of mostly free time surrounded by some smart, educated inmates can open your eyes to the way the world is,” I said.

Robbie grimaced, then tossed the pictures on the table. “I know you’re worried about Reggie. But you can’t get caught up in the murder of that woman. You just can’t. I don’t want you to, and none of your friends want you to. We can talk to the Residents about the pictures, see what they remember, and tell Reggie what we learn. I don’t see how that can hurt anything, but that’s all.”

I smiled at her. “No,” I said confidently. “That can’t hurt.”

Read more on the author’s website!


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Spotlight: Notes of Magic

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Notes of Magic 
(The Bohemians #1)

Jessica Bucher
CreateSpace IPP, February 2018

Enchanted city. Old magic. New threat.

Taq, a young fiddler, comes to Prague with dreams of joining the Bohemians, a band of immortal, magic-wielding street performers. He has a mission to right past wrongs, but things don’t go as planned when he meets the beautiful performer, Katia. Now, he must decide if revealing his secret is worth losing her heart.

Katia has spent one hundred years chained to Prague, broken-hearted and silent, waiting for her chance to be free. But with a mysterious newcomer, and an impending threat on Bohemia itself, peace is starting to seem further away than ever. Now, Katia must decide if she should trust Taq, or put her faith in the one who broke her heart – the tyrannical Magistrate of Bohemia.

Curses can be broken, but at what cost?

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Jessica Bucher

About the author

Jessica Bucher is long-time lover of stories about young love and characters who are larger-than-life. It’s why she was swept off her feet by a soldier who stole her away to travel the world. Thirteen years later, they have two (almost three) children and more stamps in their passports than they can count. Seeing the world has inspired many stories and novels, with The Hereafter as Bucher’s debut. She is a Creative Writing graduate, blogger, yoga teacher, music lover and member of the Ansbach Writers Group.

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Review: From Little Houses to Little Women

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From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood is arguably the most “bookish” book that has been recently published. Stemming from a childhood spent near the Ingalls’ family home in Kansas and a decision to visit places that inspired books like On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake, author Nancy McCabe presents a memoir reflecting on the impact that classic childhood novels have had on her.

Over her years of reading children’s classics, McCabe personalizes the actions or habits of the heroines that she reads about. As an adult, McCabe sees the sum total of who she has become, and writes each chapter of From Little Houses with commentary based on a book. As a child, McCabe remembers trying to imagine dialogue between the dandelions and tulips in her back yard, like Anne of Anne of Avonlea imagined dialogue between “the asters and the sweet peas and the wild canaries in the lilac bush and the guardian spirit of the garden.” As a preteen, McCabe wears her hair long because of how the protagonist of Plain Girl embraces her common, plain clothes and looks. These are just a few examples of how deeply literature seeped into McCabe’s character.

Truly conversational, From Little Houses is like sitting at a table with an old friend while she recounts her travels. But, not only are travels recollected; McCabe also expands on detail from the classics that she’s read to offer literary criticism and analysis. Though there would be a seeming prerequisite of having read the novels that McCabe discusses, it is not difficult to fully appreciate the strong relationship that McCabe has developed with the stories that she’s read and re-read, either as a child, as an adult, or as a mother to her daughter.

Part term paper, part travelogue, From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood is a slice of literary pie with promise to satisfy any true, devoted book worm who is willing to eat with the fork.


About the book

Nancy McCabe grew up in Kansas just a few hours from the Little House on the Prairie Ingalls family home. McCabe read Little House on the Prairie during her childhood and always felt a connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder. When McCabe was thirteen, she visited Wilder sites around the Midwest with her aunt, but didn’t again revisit the books that had so influenced her childhood until she was an adult. It was this decision that ultimately sparked her desire to visit the places that inspired many of her childhood book favorites, taking her on a journey through the Missouri of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Minnesota of Maud Hart Lovelace, the Massachusetts of Louisa May Alcott, and even the Canada of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

From Little Houses to Little Women reveals McCabe’s powerful connection to the characters and authors who inspired many generations of readers. While traveling with McCabe as she rediscovers the books that shaped her and ultimately helped her to forge her own path, readers will enjoy revisiting their own childhood favorites as well.

About the Author

Nancy McCabe is the author of four memoirs about travel, books, parenting, and adoption, as well as a novel entitled Following Disasters. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Prairie Schooner, Fourth Genre, and many other magazines and anthologies, including In Fact Books’ Oh Baby! True Stories about Conception, Adoption, Surrogacy, Pregnancy, Labor, and Love, and McPherson and Company’s Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-Four Women Writers Remember their Fathers. Her work has received a Pushcart Prize, and she has been recognized on Notable Lists in Best American anthologies six times.

Author Contact Links:  Website | Facebook | Blog | Goodreads

 
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Release: The Summer of Broken Things

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The Summer of Broken Things

The Summer of Broken Things
Margaret Peterson Haddix
April 10, 2018
Simon & Schuster

Fourteen-year-old Avery Armisted is athletic, rich, and pretty. Sixteen-year-old Kayla Butts is known as “butt-girl” at school. The two girls were friends as little kids, but that’s ancient history now. So it’s a huge surprise when Avery’s father offers to bring Kayla along on a summer trip to Spain. Avery is horrified that her father thinks he can choose her friends—and make her miss soccer camp. Kayla struggles just to imagine leaving the confines of her small town.

But in Spain, the two uncover a secret their families had hidden from both of them their entire lives. Maybe the girls can put aside their differences and work through it together. Or maybe the lies and betrayal will only push them—and their families—farther apart.

Margaret Peterson Haddix weaves together two completely separate lives in this engaging novel that explores what it really means to be a family—and what to do when it’s all falling apart.

From New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix comes a haunting novel about friendship and what it really means to be a family in the face of lies and betrayal.

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Margaret Peterson Haddix
About the author

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.

She has since written more than 40 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Double Identity; Uprising; The Always War; the Shadow Children series; the Missing series; the Children of Exile series; the Under Their Skin duology; and The Palace Chronicles. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and numerous state reader’s choice awards. They have also been translated into more than twenty different languages.

Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio. They are the parents of two grown kids.


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Review: Antipodes

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Michele Bacon. Sky Horse Press, $18, 384p. ISBN 9781510723610.

Entry: antipodes. Noun. “Exact opposites.”

Such are Erin’s beginning and resulting understandings of happiness after leaving her A-list social status in her suburban Chicago high school to spend a semester in Christchurch, New Zealand. Mirroring her own New Zealand self-discoveries in her latest protagonist is author Michele Bacon, presenting Antipodes as her second novel.

As a very determined Ivy League medical school hopeful, Erin has every step for her next fifteen years mapped out: “Great school, great job, great life.” When Erin loses her position as captain of her high school swimming team, loses her boyfriend, and embarrasses herself at a party, she and her mother attempt to repair Erin’s perfect college application with a semester spent studying abroad.

Upon arrival in Christchurch, however, Erin is disheartened to find that she’s signed up for five months of having to get around town without a car, attending a school that doesn’t allow makeup or jewelry, sharing a small bedroom with the daughter in her host family, and being on a completely different time schedule than her best friend. As the months pass, Erin makes new friends and learns the value of family, sets a national swimming record, sees other beautiful parts of New Zealand, and picks back up a forgotten instrument, all while slowly realizing that she’s prioritized the wrong things in her attempt to find happiness.

Within her writing, Bacon consciously draws parallels between Erin’s physical journey and her personal journey. For example, Bacon uses Erin’s interests in astronomy to name the Moon as a constant, clearly reflecting opposite points of view from Erin’s Northern Hemisphere home in Chicago compared to the view from Southern Hemisphere Christchurch. Also, Bacon demonstrates a uniquely creative writing skill by using an interesting variation of divergent thematic patterning in her narrative. With every few forward-moving chapters proceeding from Erin’s flight to Christchurch, there is a backstepping, flashed-back chapter from before Erin’s flight to Christchurch. As Erin experiences New Zealand and ultimately begins to reflect on who she is and what her passions are, we see a glimpse of the seeming antipode of the current point in time.

Through fresh use of literary device with strong character development and vivid descriptions of setting, Antipodes is a masterfully written novel that shows that even when meaning and direction seems lost, it’s not such a long journey back to true purpose.


 

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About the Author

I was born in Trumbull County, the only square county in Ohio, where books were my favorite means of escaping an unhappy childhood. Writing was my transparent attempt to create the things I craved: big happy families, international adventures and unconditional friendship. From a young age, I was drawn to people’s stories, and I still want to know how you met your best friend or fell in love with your partner.

In high school, I embraced my inner geek and wrote my first novel. In college, there were short stories and still more novels. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.A. in English, with concentrations in critical theory and creative writing.

Full-time work sapped my creative brain for several years, but my professional life was one of reinvention. In state government, business management consulting, and nonprofit fundraising, I adapted easily and absorbed the languages of different professions. My last paying job was as an independent fundraising consultant for nonprofit organizations. That was seven years ago.

Since then, I have been writing and traveling (and, let’s be honest, chasing down small people who don’t like to wear clothes). I’ve traveled to all 50 states and dozens of other countries, always collecting pieces of characters and ideas for stories. I recently spent a year on sabbatical in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I may have left my heart at Ilam School. Now that we’ve settled back in the States, I’m writing for adults and young adults, exploring the Pacific Northwest, and baking like a fiend. (You’d thinking baking would be the same everywhere, but it’s not. Something is different about kiwi butter.)

When an idea strikes, I scrawl sweeping plot outlines, character idiosyncrasies, and ideas for scenes on the nearest blank spot of paper. My current manuscript was born of those torn slips of paper, used envelopes, lollipop wrappers, fuel receipts and–once–that little paper bit that keeps a nursing pad sticky until it’s time to use it. My manuscripts are better than the quality of papers where they began. Promise.

Outside of writing, I am a tabletop game enthusiast, passionate skier, and lover of prime numbers. I also am a mentor at the Moving Words Writing Clinic, and a freelance copyeditor.

I live in Seattle with my husband and three growing children.

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Guest Post & Review: The Last Suttee

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Madhu Bazaz Wangu. CreateSpace IPP, $15, 356p. ISBN 9781974362462.

After years of research and teaching of Hindu and Buddhist art history and culture, author Madhu Bazaz Wangu presents her second novel, The Last Suttee. Through the story of Kumud, a woman director of a girl’s orphanage in India, Wangu tells a story of how just one single, driven female can change an entire community’s perspective on an established way of life.

Wangu draws her tale from the ancient Indian custom of sati, a practice which historically lead a widow to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in order to remain a “chaste woman,” literally, a “good wife,” even in her husband’s death. Wangu uses inspiration from the popular case of Roop Kanwar, an eighteen-year old girl whose decision of sati led to official legislation against sati. While fighting personal struggles within herself, Kumud proves to be a heroine by effectively preventing a young girl’s own sati.

The Last Suttee reads to show Wangu’s obviously extensive research into not only the custom of sati, but also the everyday customs and ancient folklore surrounding the Indian culture. The novel opens with an issue of dowry, and continues with insight into popular female overlook and condemnation. Wangu has the gift of setting, and expertly keeps her stage well-described and easily imaginable for the reader.

A powerful and relevant tale of liberation from a devotional but debilitating custom, The Last Suttee is an excellent representation of how the Hindu female population has found strength to grow against a binding and deathly tradition.


From the author: Why I Wrote The Last Suttee

On the morning of September 5, 1987, I was going through the Hillman Library card catalogue at the University of Pittsburgh when a friend stopped by. She told me something I would never forget. She said that an eighteen-year-old Indian woman, named Roop Kanwar, had immolated herself on the pyre of her dead husband. I was dumbfounded. Suttee in the twentieth century? It couldn’t be. But The New York Times confirmed the news. The ritual, known as suttee, was witnessed by the townspeople and thousands more came to see it from nearby villages and towns. When the news was leaked the following day, the town was swarmed for days by Indian and international journalists. I was stunned and speechless, my legs laden with lead. At that frozen moment, the seed for this book was planted.

The kernel stayed dormant, but the incident continued to sear like a wound at the back of my mind. The distress was raw, but I was not yet emotionally ready to write about what had happened and how it had affected me. In the ensuing years, I trawled libraries, bookstores, and the Internet, learning about the history of suttee and the cultural and religious traditions in which it is rooted. I studied records of the shrines dedicated to women who had committed suttee. I read the history and mythology of the namesake goddess, spelled Sati. Critically and carefully I analyzed the photographs of Sati temples and studied the engravings, drawings, and paintings of the goddess Sati and the suttee ritual that had been made by British, European, and Indian artists and travelers.

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Suttee is a centuries-old Hindu ritual. This ancient belief still persists in some remote corners in India. The belief is if a widow cremates herself with her dead husband, the couple will live in heaven as they did on earth. Furthermore, such a sacrifice guarantees a place in heaven for seven generations for both sides of the family.The ritual is rooted in the myths of two goddesses: Sati, Shiva’s wife, and Sita, Rama’s wife. Here are summaries of the myths:

Goddess Sati is the daughter of the high priest Daksha. Shiva, the world renouncer, is so awed by her yogic skills and asceticism that he grants her a boon. Sati asks to marry him. He agrees. Daksha dislikes Shiva. He finds Shiva unconventional and unkempt. Despite her father’s opposition Sati marries Shiva and they live in his mountain abode in Himalayas. 

Daksha plans a great sacrifice. He invites all the important divine beings, except Shiva. Sati feels disgraced by the way in which her father has treated her husband. On the day of the great sacrifice, she throws herself in the fire pit meant for the sacrifice. And burns herself to death. When Shiva discovers what has happened to his wife, he is outraged. He pulls out Sati’s half-burnt body, holds it on his shoulders, and in anguish and lamentations whirls around the world. 

Goddess Sita is an ideal Hindu wife. Her husband, Rama, is the center of her life. His welfare, reputation, and wishes are most important to her. One day, the demon king Ravana abducts her and takes her to his golden palace. He lies to her that he has killed Rama. Sita is horrified. She moans and tells him that it must have been her fault that her husband was killed. She warns Ravana she could burn him to ashes with the fire of her chastity, but she won’t because she did not have her husband’s permission. 

In the end, Rama defeats Ravana and brings Sita home. There he severely tests her loyalty because she has spent days under the control of another man. Sita is shocked at such an accusation. She protests her innocence. She says she has remained wholly devoted and completely faithful to him. Rama persists. 

Grieved by his false accusation, Sita asks for a funeral pyre to prove her innocence. A pyre is built, and Sita stands atop it with hands folded. Agni, the god of fire, refuses to harm her because she is innocent and pure. She returns to Rama unscathed. Yet he banishes her to a forest. 

Sati and Sita are faithful and chaste wives, and they are devoted to their husbands. The lives of these goddesses are defined by their husbands. Although their dedication and chastity are exemplary, they pay a heavy price for being wives. In both myths, fire plays an important role. Whereas Sati voluntarily kills herself, Sita is saved by Agni. Their god/husbands are alive when the women jump into the sacrificial pit or on the funeral pyre. But ordinary women’s lives are no myths. When a woman is forced into being a suttee, neither her husband nor the god of fire will save her.

The suttee ritual was outlawed by British Raj in 1829. The ritual was described as “heinous rite” when cases surfaced about widows being tied to their husband’s pyre even after being intoxicated with bhang or opium. Many reports of widows escaping and being rescued by strangers were also recorded. Still, more than a century later, scattered instances of the custom have been reported, such as Savitri Soni’s in 1973 and Charan Shah’s in 1999.

The most notorious and controversial case, however, was of Roop Kanwar. Indian people either publicly defended Roop’s action or declared that she had been murdered. Following the outcry that followed Roop Kanwar’s suttee, the government of India enacted the Rajasthan Sati Prevention Ordinance on October 1, 1987. The law makes it not only illegal to commit suttee but also illegal to glorify the ritual or coerce a woman to commit suttee. Glorification includes erecting a shrine to honor the dead woman or converting the place where immolation took place into a pilgrimage site. Derivation of any income from such activities is also banned. The law makes no distinction between a passive observer and an active promoter. Everyone is held equally guilty.

The seed for writing a book inspired by Roop Kanwar’s suttee finally sprouted in November 2009, when I wrote its first draft as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a nonprofit internet organization that supports writers in an effort to complete the initial draft of a novel in one month.

It would take me seven more years to finalize the draft.

The story continued to incubate. I developed the characters, sketched the settings, wrote the narrative and dialogue. But to birth a healthy novel and bring it to life, I had to experience the environment in which Roop Kanwar was born, lived, and died. I needed to converse with the people who allowed it to happen. I wanted to know the antagonist and protagonist’s viewpoints.

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I visited India for a month in 2013 for that purpose. I went to the small towns of Deorala, where Roop Kanwar committed suttee, and Jhunjhunu, home of an imposing marble temple dedicated to faithful women who sacrifice their young lives immediately after their husbands’ deaths. The visit stirred feelings of remorse and wonder. Why did people celebrate sacrificial death? How does blind faith hide behind the stunning structure? Domestic and temple architecture, middle and high schools, ancient mansions with bedroom walls made of mirror-mosaics (some now converted to five-star hotels) were breathtakingly beautiful. The local flora and fauna were intriguing, and men and women’s attire colorful. I fell in love with the place. But I wasn’t there as a tourist. I was there to fulfill a quest, to do something about an event that jolted the core of my being.

Meeting with the people of Deorala opened my mind to the fact that a community’s worldview can be so different from my own. Yet my sorrow and awe about Roop Kanwar and my feelings about other widows like her were not alleviated by talking to Roop’s father-in-law, her brother-in-law and his wife, or their neighbors. Nor did I blame them after visiting her neglected and unkempt suttee site. However, the visit helped me better understand the point of view of the town residents. A magnificent temple dedicated to the goddess Sati, which locals honor and regard highly, further clarified their worldview.

My interview with Roop Kanwar’s father-in-law took place in the verandah outside the room where Roop lived with her husband. This was the room where she dressed herself in bridal attire and decked herself in jewelry before following her husband’s dead body to the cremation site. The room has been turned into a shrine, and Roop has become an ishtadevi, a manifestation of Narayani Satimata, a local goddess higher in the pantheon of the thousands of village goddesses of India.

When I asked to go to where Roop performed suttee, her father-in-law declined to walk along, but he did ask other men to take me there. I treaded the path that evidently Roop Kanwar, most probably intoxicated with bhang, walked with the help of two women. They followed her husband’s litter, which four male relatives carried. I was told a lamenting crowd of men, women, and children followed the dead body and Roop as they headed toward her husband’s funeral pyre.

Facing the desolate ground where the ritual had taken place twenty-six years earlier, I shed tears of pain for an eighteen-year-old who didn’t know better, and who no one came to rescue.

The characters in this novel are fictional, but the setting is historic. Writing it does not feel like redemption, for I still ache for the women of the world who are engulfed in outmoded traditions, who are uneducated and dependent. Women with so much potential to offer their families, their communities, and, most importantly, to themselves.

Undoubtedly, the world over, women have made tremendous progress. Yet, the path to elevating women’s social status has many roadblocks, and the process is slow. I sincerely hope The Last Suttee not only helps remove a block or two but also adds substance to the process of change.


About Madhu Bazaz Wangu

Madhu Bazaz Wangu is an author, artist, world-traveler, and the founder of the Mindful Writers Group. She was a professor of arts and religions of India before becoming a full-time writer. She has a doctorate in the Phenomenology of Religions from the University of Pittsburgh, and a post-doctoral fellowship from the Harvard University. Over twenty-five years, Wangu has taught at the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham College in Pennsylvania, Wellesley and Wheaton Colleges in Massachusetts, and Rhode Island College.

In 1997, Dr. Wangu voyaged around the world with students and faculty members from various American universities for the Semester-at-Sea program. She loved the experience so much, that each year she has been revisiting places of historical significance in different countries, observing the cultures, meeting the people, and enjoying their cuisine.

In 2010, Dr. Wangu founded the Mindful Writers Group, and in 2015, she started a second group. Dr. Wangu encourages writers of all levels and genres to delve deeper in their work by body-mind-heart meditation. Her album, Meditations for Mindful Writers, was released in 2011. Dr. Wangu also guides writers in meditation and writing marathons. Twice each year, Mindful Writers Groups gather for writing retreats where groups practice sitting and walking meditations surrounded by nature in-between long writing sessions.

Madhu B. Wangu has published four books and numerous essays on Hindu and Buddhist goddesses and Indian religions. She has held five one-person art exhibitions in India and the US. Her collection, Chance Meetings: Stories About Cross-Cultural Collisions and Compassion, was published in 2015, and her debut novel, The Immigrant Wife: Her Spiritual Journey, was published in 2016. Currently, Dr. Wangu is writing a guidebook for mindful writing.

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“A stunning story of one woman’s struggle to stop the ritual of suttee. The novel weaves centuries old traditions with the stark march toward twenty-first century. It progresses with surprising plot twists, a ticking clock, and stubborn and powerful antagonist who challenges the protagonist, Kumud, to stand up to the orthodox and close-minded community”  – Bestselling author, Kathleen Shoop

Read an excerpt HERE

 

Review: The Smallest Thing

SmallestThing
Lisa Manterfield. Steel Rose Press, $16, 288p. ISBN 9780998696928

“Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it gave her material for stories.” Thus says author Lisa Manterfield, who presents her second curious novel, The Smallest Thing. Set in the Derbyshire Dales village of Eyam, The Smallest Thing is inspired by the historical plague that overtook Eyam in the 1600s and led to quarantine of the village. In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield’s protagonist, Emmott Syddall, finds herself in a similar quarantine which keeps her from fulfilling her desire to move to London, and ultimately leads her to grow while questioning what she really wants to do with her life.

Manterfield has described herself as loving “fish-out-of-water stories of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, especially if those situations delve into the unexplained.” At closer to eighteen than seventeen years old, self-centered Emmott is quite decided on leaving her small-town life in Eyam and strained relationship with her father. Wanting to be with her boyfriend, Ro, and having found a job and apartment in London, Emmott plans to move within a matter of days from the novel’s opening. A sudden outbreak of an unknown illness traps Emmott in the middle of a mysterious sickness, complete with a village-wide quarantine, HAZMAT suits, and situation briefs. Though she searches for a way outside the town’s boundaries, Emmott is unable to find an escape past the quarantine, and when Ro abandons their plans to move, Emmott is left with crushed dreams and nothing to do but ride out the outbreak.

In The Smallest Thing, Manterfield explores not only the historical effects of quarantine, but also the personal effects of being held in close proximity with the same people for long periods of time. As a teenager, Emmott has not yet learned to think of how her actions affect the people around her. When she is forced by the quarantine to zero in on her relationships with her father, best friend, neighbors, and even Ro, Emmott learns things about the people closest to her that she didn’t know before. She also gets a rude awakening of what it is to be alone – the very state of being that she was running toward by planning to move to London.

“I can’t count the number of times I’ve wished I could be alone. I couldn’t wait to get away from the village and out from under the watch of my parents, to be free to be myself and do my own thing, without other people and their opinions getting in the way. I wished so hard for that, and now I’ve got it. Now I am completely alone.”

– Chapter 28, Page 236

Well-written with a delicious dose of descriptive setting and metaphor, The Smallest Thing is a lesson in growing to recognize more than just a personal struggle when disaster strikes the people closest to you.

 

Cover Reveal: Choosing Hope

Choosing Hope
Holly Kammier
Publication date: October 31, 2017
Genres: Adult, Romance, Thriller

A broken marriage.

A love affair.

A lie that changes it all…

Hope Rains Sullivan is living the dream—a successful husband, two beautiful young boys, and a charming home in Northern California. She should be happy. She almost convinced herself she was, until Adrian came along.

Adrian appears to be everything her husband isn’t. He works with his hands, and is even willing to use them in a fight. He’s sexy, strong, and fit, with warm brown skin that alludes to his Spanish background. Best of all, he lives for spending time with his kids. Feeling alone in her marriage, Adrian offers her a way out.

Hope’s affair is just the beginning. Her journey inward will require untangling her complicated past and surviving an astonishing revelation. Her lover is not who he pretends to be.

She’s searching for her happily-ever-after, and no matter how painful the journey, she’ll find what she’s been looking for all along—the chance to choose Hope.

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Choosing Hope is a harrowing story of passion and deceit, the things we do for love, and the rabbit holes we tumble into while chasing elusive fairy-tale endings. Dark around the edges with a shocking twist that I didn’t see coming, this is the kind of book you’ll be passing around to your friends so you can talk about it. Holly Kammier delivers romance, suspense, and a strong, smart heroine who turns out to be nobody’s victim. Don’t miss this one!

Kat Ross, best-selling author of The Midnight Sea


Holly Kammier is a former journalist an UCLA honors graduate who has worked everywhere from CNN in Washington, D.C. and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, to the NBC affiliate in small-town Medford, Oregon. She is the author of Kingston Court, her debut novel.

Choosing Hope, her soon-to-be released second novel, is a cross-over to Kingston Court with overlapping characters and locations.

The California native and mother of two lives in San Diego, California, close to her family and friends. Holly is the Co-Founder of Acorn Publishing and is available for speaking engagements and content editing.

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Cover Reveal: Three Heart Echo

Three Heart Echo
Keary Taylor
Publication date: September 12, 2017
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Suspense

The demented thing is that this evolved from the most sickly sweet, heart-wrenching love story you’ve ever heard. I went to Sully because I just couldn’t get over Jack’s murder. I couldn’t deal.

Iona came to me for the same reason most did: because there was no closure. A love cut too short. She begged me to open the gate between the living and the dead.

We should have left it shut.

This. This is not a love story. This is a possession story. A story of lies. A story of two faces. This is a story of death and violent echoes from the other side.

And there will be no happy endings.

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Keary Taylor is the USA TODAY bestselling author of over twenty novels. She grew up along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where she started creating imaginary worlds and daring characters who always fell in love. She now splits her time between a tiny island in the Pacific Northwest and Utah, with her husband and their two children. She continues to have an overactive imagination that frequently keeps her up at night.

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