Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: August 29-September 2, 2022

Formidable

American Women and the Fight for Equality: 1920-2020

Book Cover
Elisabeth Griffith
Pegasus Books
Hardcover $35.00 (496pp)
978-1-63936-189-2
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Formidable, Elisabeth Griffith relates how American women have approached political activism in the last century.

The Nineteenth Amendment is the book’s starting point: it granted certain American women the right to vote in 1920. Though it was a milestone, suffrage was just one of the many rights that activist women sought—and that they continue to seek today. The book covers topics including equal pay, job opportunities, access to child care, and abortion, noting that the diversity of America’s women means that they approach activism in different ways, and with different goals in mind. Indeed, women have clashed with each other as often as they’ve clashed with the patriarchal government.

The interplay between racism and sexism, Griffith argues, has also always been central to women’s fight for equality, even before the term “intersectionality” was coined. Differences in race, class, political party, and age split the women’s movement from the beginning, affecting how women chose to fight for causes dear to them. For example, traditionally, Black women like Ella Baker tended to work behind the scenes, while white women like Betty Friedan were more likely to become stars in their own right.

The book focuses most on white and Black women, with nods to Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and queer women, too. It spotlights a long list of prominent, groundbreaking, and morally complex women, including Margaret Sanger, Frances Perkins, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. It ends with a summary of the progress that American women have made—and a sobering look at how far they still have to go to achieve complete equality.

The women’s movement is a flawed, complex entity that will continue to boost American women far into the future, argues Formidable, an overview of the diversity of American women and their role in political history.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (June 27, 2022)

Pina

Book Cover
Titaua Peu
Jeffrey Zuckerman, translator
Restless Books
Softcover $18.00 (320pp)
978-1-63206-155-3
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Members of a Tahitian family cannot escape one another in Titaua Peu’s novel Pina.

Nine-year-old Pina’s life, already darkened by abuse and poverty, becomes even harsher when an accident turns her drunken father Auguste into a dangerous religious zealot. Pina, her mother, and her siblings seek refuge wherever they can: with loved ones, with lovers, and with drugs. But as Auguste’s behavior grows more unhinged, it becomes clear that only a drastic, tragic action can break the cycle of violence.

Despite her youth, Pina is already a jaded and angry soul. Still, she dreams, even knowing that dreaming could be pointless. Her only ally is her brother, Pauro, whose romance with an older Frenchman makes him one of many convenient targets for Auguste’s rage. Pina’s abusive and abused mother, Ma, is too busy chasing her own slim chance at happiness to notice what is happening with her children.

Colonialism and its trappings—including colorism, lacks of opportunity, and oppression—play roles in creating and exacerbating the addiction, violence, and mental illness that plagues the family. Even travel and education are not antidotes: Pina’s sister, Hannah, escaped to an unfulfilling life in Paris.

The continuing legacy of French conquest also affects the world around Pina’s family. As they face a personal reckoning, protests rock Tahiti in the wake of a historic vote. Though few members of the family take an interest in politics, they nonetheless find their destinies altered by events beyond their control. In the end, they realize that there is no fixing the past: only by moving forward and leaving the sources of their pain behind can they hope for any measure of peace.

Pina is a dark family saga about the effects of colonialism on one family and the nation they live in.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (June 27, 2022)

Kit and Caboodle

Book Cover
Anna Pignataro
Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing
Hardcover $16.99 (32pp)
978-1-76050-633-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Kit is a witch who has lived alone for a hundred years—until Caboodle, a bat with a mangled wing, comes tumbling through her window one Halloween. When magic fails to fix Caboodle’s wing, Kit insists that he stay until he is healed. But having company after so many years alone is an adjustment. Embracing one another’s differences paves the way to peace. The color palette is grayscale with pops of red and pink, enhancing the atmosphere of this charming, spooky tale.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (June 27, 2022)

The Cuban Sandwich

A History in Layers

Book Cover
Andrew T. Huse
Bárbara C. Cruz
Jeff Houck
University Press of Florida
Softcover $24.95 (180pp)
978-0-8130-6938-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In The Cuban Sandwich, Andrew T. Huse, Bárbara C. Cruz, and Jeff Houck give the titular dish a well-deserved spotlight.

The Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, has been a favorite in both Cuba and the United States for over a century. Beginning with its murky origins and continuing through to modern reimaginings, this book gives historical context to the Cubano and highlights the many roles it has played, from love token to cultural ambassador.

Cubanos have always been versatile, with the “correct” recipe changing based on time and location. Even when caught up in political events—several restaurants changed the sandwich’s name after the Bay of Pigs fiasco—it remained a source of comfort to Cuban exiles, and of fascination to all.

Interviews with Cuban American restaurateurs, bakers, and others highlight the sandwich’s enduring legacy. The interviewees also share their personal and professional secrets for making the perfect Cuban sandwich, giving readers additional food for thought as they digest this creative, enjoyable history lesson.

The Cuban Sandwich is a delicious look at Cuban and Cuban American history told through its most iconic meal.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (June 27, 2022)

A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding

Book Cover
Amanda Svensson
Nichola Smalley, translator
Scribe
Softcover $20.00 (544pp)
978-1-957363-11-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Amanda Svensson’s novel A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, a shocking secret forces three siblings to reevaluate their places in their family and the world.

Sebastian, Matilda, and Clara are triplets, but they have never been close. This is reflected in their life paths: grieving Sebastian joins a research institute in London, anxiety-ridden Clara escapes to Easter Island after losing her job, and hotheaded Matilda goes on vacation in Sweden with her partner and stepdaughter. The trio grows even more distant when their mother shares a terrible secret about the circumstances surrounding their births. And at the enigmatic institute, Sebastian comes to suspect that there is far more to his family’s troubles than meets the eye. But no matter how far they go, the triplets find reminders of their connections to each other—reminders so intense that it makes them question the power of nature versus nurture, and even the fabric of reality itself.

Each sibling is surrounded by others, yet all feel isolated by their confusion and sorrow over life’s vagaries. They encounter strange and passionate people who bring new perspectives on their problems and fears. Bad decisions feel insurmountable to those who make them, requiring time and advice from outsiders. Navigating the strangeness of their situations—Clara befriends a former child star and the not-leader of a not-a-cult, while Sebastian is banned from asking about the ultimate goal behind his own work—the siblings work to recover buried shreds of reality. The pieces do not come together until one tense, high-stakes night at Sebastian’s workplace, where he finds the answers he’s been looking for—or at least, the only answer he has ever needed.

A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding is a dynamic novel about methods of coping in a world where nothing is certain.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (August 25, 2022)

Barbara Hodge

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