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Women Doing Time For Society's Crimes


Between the Lines


In her second memoir, Taking the Rap: Women Doing Time for Society's Crimes, Ann Hansen begins with the day in January 1983 that she was arrested, along with others, in British Columbia for bombing a Litton Industries plant in Toronto which manufactured components for cruise missiles.

Hansen's life as activist began in the late '70s, an era of punk rock music, burgeoning feminism, the anti-nuclear movement as well as growing militancy in solidarity with prison abolition. She co-founded the radical anarchist collective the Squamish Five, also known as Direct Action, which was responsible for planning the bombing.

Taking the Rap recounts the 30 years Hansen spent in federal and provincial prisons and on parole While she acknowledges the slippery subjectivity of memory (names and characteristics of others have been altered), she elucidates in clear prose the quotidian and emotional connections with friends, lovers and prison mates candidly She dedicates the book "to all the women who have died in Canadian prisons "

Her story intertwines with descriptions of overall conditions and changes to the system since the 1980s. Taking the Rap is a disturbing indictment of a system which reinforces systemic racism, sexism and the economic barriers for which women take the rap.

"In 2010-2011, 41 percent of females in sentenced custody... were Aboriginal," Hansen writes. "Over the past 10 years, the Black prison population has increased by 50 percent."

Hansen provides example after example of how the rights of women in prison were abused She traces practices such as strip searches, which often lead to horrific outcomes. Inmates with mental illness are often punished for "bad behaviour" and placed in solitary confinement, the impact of which has led to deaths. For many Indigenous women, life in prison is predetermined by experiences in the residential school system, while for other incarcerated women, prison is a result of experiences related to "abusive relationships, addictions," and "acts of economic survival "

This essential contribution on the rights of women who have been incarcerated in Canada makes clear that we must do better.


The Story of My Postpartum Depression


Arsenal Pulp Press


Teresa Wong's Dear Scarlet is a graphic memoir written for her oldest daughter, in which she recounts her experience of postpartum depression Wong's memoir is an intimate glimpse into the loneliness, isolation and sadness of a mother in the throes of postpartum depression Wong, a Calgary writer with three children, brazenly illustrates maternal mental illness with profound rawness and dry wit. The simplicity of her story is wrought with innocence and naivety And Wong's riff of "boring, yet hard," when others ask how motherhood is going, captures the unsophisticated work of motherhood. Her comedic talent and well-timed bluntness are unassuming as she depicts the agony she experienced. Exposing the negative self-talk, Wong reveals the mind-trap reality of her existence--"I am a bad mother," "Don't tell anyone or they will think you're crazy," "All the other mothers can do it"--and the suicidal thought: "She'd be better off without me"

This book reveals what many new mothers feel and think when in the grips of postpartum depression In fact, as a psychologist, I can attest that many of these thoughts creep into the minds of mothers not experiencing postpartum depression The pressures placed on women to be perfect mothers are just that pervasive As someone who is a Chinese mother and has counselled countless mothers experiencing post-partum mood disorders, I can report that Wong hits the nail on the head. Her mother's insistence that Wong finish her pig's feet soup, wear a toque indoors to keep her head warm, and not shower or leave the house for a month is resonant with Chinese daughters.

Wong reveals how supportive and helpless her husband, Sony, felt throughout her depression. Consistent partner support is, unfortunately, not always the case, nor is the option to stay home with the baby. Nevertheless, Wong makes no apology for these privileges, nor should she.

We need more vulnerable, tender, self-effacing, real, funny and insightful books like this--and more brave and bold authors like Wong. I can't say enough good things about this graphic memoir.



Thistledown Press


The word "slough" conjures up images of a stagnant pool and a desire to avoid the inevitable murkiness that lies within Choosing avoidance in the case of Stewart's work, however, would result in missing out on a light that fights its way into the darkness and reveals a world of words teeming with life.

In her debut collection, Snow Melts First in the Middle of the Slough, Catherine Stewart dives into the ancient past, travels the road of earlier generations and boldly revisits her own childhood. Fearlessly, she dives deep, tugging at the reader to consider: what life without reproductive choice looked like; the difficulties of leaving one's homeland; living close to poverty and the challenges of parenting while isolated in a harsh environment.

Stewart grew up in a family of six near the town of Washout Creek, Alberta. Her family lived in a valley between the Purcell and Rocky Mountains where the Spillimacheen and Columbia Rivers meet In these poems, she wraps difficult topics in vivid descriptions of the landscape and its inhabitants Stewart's degree in science, her role as a parent and her enthusiasm for the outdoors are also evident in this collection.

It is not uncommon to look back to find meaning in the present, and Stewart begins by looking back 500 million years in her opening poem, "Burgess Shale Fossils " She travels through the generations before her birth and the "stories" she tells, although not our own, sound familiar. In the poem "Orphan," the refrain of "Mother, Not Mother" and the line "tasked him to find a willow switch, the shape of his disobedience" grabs the reader's attention and is simultaneously unsettling.

Stewart depicts childhood as a time of free-wheeling discovery and near-disaster at every turn. Parents are neither hovering like helicopters nor plowing possible dangers out of reach. They are ill-equipped, it seems, to manage their own demons In the poem "In the Parking Lot Outside the Bar" she writes, "we went all day without food or drink, but our horses dipped their nostrils in our imaginary streams "

Stewart captures the imagination with an unexpected collection of themes. Read as a whole, the delicate strands of the varied topics do not obviously hold together Thoughtfulness and time reveal the complexity, honesty and vulnerability gathered within this work.
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Title Annotation:arts & culture
Author:Radford, Deanna; Wong, Gina; Pauls, Denise
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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