Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Book Review: Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Authors: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: Readers may be sensitive to descriptions of gynecological procedures and to the sexual slavery described in the book
First of all, I want to address those readers who might not love it when I take a two-month break from my regular book reviews to delve into the Whitney Awards. I'm back, and ready to review everything I listened to while I was furiously reading the Whitney books. Thanks for sticking around. Secondly, you might notice that I've changed the "This book would be rated" section of my header for each review to "Content Alert." I feel uncomfortable giving books a PG-13 or an R-rating, especially since some people have a different level of comfort with what they read or hear and what they see. And it doesn't feel right to give a nonfiction book a MPAA-style rating of any sort. But I also have readers who trust me to tell them if there might be something in a book that they would find objectionable or difficult to read about. I know it's a slight change, but it's one that makes me more comfortable.
I have heard so much about Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky that I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't feel compelled to actually read it until it became Audible's book of the day, which meant that I was able to buy it for less than five bucks, instead of the 10 or 11 I typically pay for and Audible book. The book talks about how the world has grown more equal in terms of race and religious discrimination, but women, especially women in the third world, are still at the mercy of oppressive men and cultures. Kristof and WuDunn, a married couple who work as New York Times journalists and who won the Pulitzer Prize for this work, traveled around the world, highlighting places, situations, and individual women who have faced oppression. They write about sex slavery in Southeast Asia, female genital cutting in East Africa, the prevalence of vaginal fistulas in Southern Africa, and limited economic opportunities throughout the world.
Half the Sky is an incredibly important book. It's one that I think all women should read, regardless (and because of) the difficulty of the subject matter, especially women like me who enjoy a certain degree of privilege and want to help but don't know how to get started. The book doesn't only talk about the terrible situations that exist, but it also discusses how we, as individual citizens, can get involved (things like Kiva loans), and what things help and do not help. In particular, I was interested in their recommendation that all American college students spend at least one semester living and working in the third world as a graduation requirement. They argue that this experience would change the students to the degree that the future course of their lives would be altered, as well as providing some immediate relief to the daily problems of life in the third world. As for me and mine? We'll start by picking out a new Kiva loan and by watching the PBS documentary (based on the novel) as a family.