Shopping cart is empty.

Birchbark Blog

The Silence of the Girls

Louise Erdrich - Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Since reading Pat Barker's powerful Regeneration trilogy, I've been an ardent admirer of her work. The Silence of the Girls, her latest novel, is extraordinary. Ostensibly a retelling of the Illiad from the point of view of Briseis, captured queen and war prize of Archilles, the book seems more an artifact unearthed from time than a historical novel. Barker's genius is to tell this story with such simple and direct poetry that it speaks truth. Says Briseis "Great Achilles. Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles… How the epithets pile up We never called him any of those things, we called him, 'the butcher.'"

Every sentence is anchored in the senses. The odors of women waiting in a hot tower to be murdered or enslaved by their captors. The pathetic sight of slave women too old to be sexually used, asleep in burrows with the camp dogs. The crackling sound of lethal infection beneath the skin of a wounded soldier. The taste of watered wine. The blunt disgust and horror of being forced to have sex with the man who has murdered your family. The salty rapture of bathing in the sea. Barker works with a lived poetry.

At times this book reads as a moving commentary on our current ethos.

As Briseis unflinchingly recounts the daily murders and the shifting uses enslaved women are put to in the Greek war camp, she uses the survival bonds of hurt and seething women as a sort of chorus of disdain. Men waste their power in idiotic quarrels over women, over honor, over nothing, while women desperately attempt to guard their children and live out their lives no matter how brutal. One of Barker's great themes is how violence erodes the personality. The stubborn pride of Achilles leads to the loss of his childhood love, Patroclus. Meditating on the madness of Achilles' grief Barker refers to Strange Meeting, by perhaps the greatest poet/soldier of World War One, Wilfred Owen. Over and over, Achilles enters an underworld of the war dead, Hades, searching, and 'then, as he probes them, one springs up and stares, with piteous recognition in fixed eyes . . . ' This is a line from Strange Meeting, in which a soldier meets the man he recently killed, as does Achilles. He is haunted by Lycaon, the son of Priam, who scrambled up a river bank toward Achilles, greeting him with the word, Friend. Achilles did not spare him, or think twice, and he is tortured by the enormity of his casual cruelty.

As powerful as this scene and so many scenes of male reckoning are, throughout this book, it is a book of women. Women who bear their children in agony and raise them with infinite care, only to see their sons slaughtered off-handedly on the intimate field of battle. Women who survive by exchanging warnings, gossip, information on how to handle men. Women who, let us not forget in the nascent democracy that was Greece, had no agency, no power, who were chattel, who were silenced. In Homer's gorgeous bombastic epics the men slaughter children and each other, they pout, they roar, they rage to the heavens, while the women take care of everything on earth.

Oh dear, I forgot about Valentine's Day! Oh well. It is a truly brave fellow who will gift this book to his lady love. And a woman among women who will get it for herself and pass it to a friend.


Canoe Family

Recent PostsRSS


Tags

School Gardens Crushing Books local economy The Resilient Gardener Collective Denial H2Oil The Blue Sky The Round House Emily Johnson The Birchbark House Islam aquifer boarding school The Transition Handbook The Porcupine Year devoted customers Bill Moyers Journal Hilary Mantel Wendy Makoons Geniusz Book Review Makoons Too Much Happiness show your love green Jim Harrison ptsd State Troopers coyote the most romantic city in the world fresh water Poetry trees Nemesis Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge Keepers of the Trees Master Butchers Singing Club More Remarkable Trees post holiday President Obama Aubrey/Maturin sweden Mohamed's Ghosts language revitalization Small Bookstores as Commons Roberto Bolano The Wealth of Nature Stephen Salisbury germany Green Team Rare Books Bohumil Hrabal Milkweed Press joy Dogs Brown Dog Wolf Hall Dartmouth Zombies NACDI:All My Relations Vic Glover S.C. Gwynne japan anniversary Alice Munro Remarkable Trees Gary Clement Chickadee monkey in a dryer Pembina Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive British Navy knowledge Chitra Divakaruni Victory Gardens Population graphix health care reform Kate DiCamillo Native People twins Birchbark Books favorite dog thank you friends Wastepaper The Royal Prussian Library Botany World on the Edge tree books Let's Take the Long Way Home france Gail Caldwell north dakota Michael Jackson Kenwood Gardens leaves and snow solstice, Thomas King Light in August Alan Weisman favorite book Climate Change Mankato Powwow cafe closing Video E.L. Doctorow Fireworks Women and Trees Kabul plants National Book Award how good looking you are William Trevor Minnesota Magers and Quinn peculiar touches of green and gold Louise euphoria Beth Dooley buffalo Peak Oil Guthrie Theater birchbark house series Keystone XL Ojibwemowin The Farmer's Daughter Empire of the Summer Moon thanks Patrick O'Brian Aza The Game of Silence spring Ojibwe Anishinabemowin incarnation Native Arts Love This Green World friends Interview Peak Water Unnatural Disasters Czech Writer mississippi Education 350.org Gryphon Press city of books gardens Ice Hillary Clinton cafe photography Nero customers book and dinner club Up Late Again Afghanistan Anton Treuer Canada bill mckibben adventure ireland Easter Island gratitude neighborhood Anishinabe Tree Houses The Ojibwe Catalyst Tar Sands pilgrims Too Loud A Solitude support Ha Jin china Greenland Bleak House Minneapolis Philip Roth post holiday reads ependent 2666 favorite tree italy

Archive