Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Borrowed Names by Jeannine Atkins

Found via: Read Roger

More poetry! But I'm not too bothered I couldn't fit this in to National Poetry Month, as this collection is all about mothers and daughters. Well, three specific pairs of mothers & daughters: Laura Ingalls Wilder and daughter Rose Wilder Lane, Madame C.J. Walker and daughter A'Lelia Walker and Marie Curie and daughter Irene Joiliot-Curie. A perfect post-mother's-day book!

1867 was apparently a banner year, as that is the year the three mothers highlighted in this collection were born. The book is divided into three sections, each focusing on one mother/daughter pair, chronicling the daughter's life as she grows up, watching her mother, learning from her mistakes, and gaining inspiration for her own life. For the daughters are no slouches either: Rose Wilder Lane was a journalist and a biographer before helping her mother turn stories of her childhood into the Little House series; A'Lelia Walker used the fortune she earned as part of her mother's company to support the Harlem Renaissance; and Irene Joliot-Curie joined her mother as a WWI X-Ray technician, saving countless lives, before earning her own Nobel Prize, following in her mother's footsteps by studying radioactivity.

The poetry is well done, as is the biographical content. While I'm no expert on any of these women, Atkins doesn't pull any punches and shows both the ups and downs in these women's lives, including a troubled marriage for Rose and the sexism of the Nobel committee. This bit stuck out for me:
She remembers them taking a train to Sweden
where a woman might earn the Nobel Prize
but would be kept from speaking on the stage

Borrowed Names page 149

It's subtle but spot on, in the way that only poetry can be.

This is the sort of book I would have loved to have available for Ada Lovelace Day. Maybe someone else will pick it up for review next year. While I don't think this would be a replacement for a full biography on any of these women, it's certainly an interesting supplement, and really breathes life into these families in a way a standard biography never can.

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3 comments:

Cindy Dobrez said...

I read this a while back and had thought about posting it for Mother's Day, and even bought it for my secretary for Admin. Asst. Day since she is a Wilder fan, but I have mixed feelings about the book. I know a lot about the Wilders and the Curies so those sections meant the most to me. I'm curious to see how my teens respond to it who probably don't know much about any of the women. I also decided not to share it for Mother's Day since the daughters feelings for their mothers contain as much negative as positive. That's probably indicative of most mother/daughter relationships but it made me think twice about suggesting it as a Mother's Day gift book as I had originally thought to do. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I agree that the poetry is fine.

Cindy Dobrez said...

I read this a while back and had thought about posting it for Mother's Day, and even bought it for my secretary for Admin. Asst. Day since she is a Wilder fan, but I have mixed feelings about the book. I know a lot about the Wilders and the Curies so those sections meant the most to me. I'm curious to see how my teens respond to it who probably don't know much about any of the women. I also decided not to share it for Mother's Day since the daughters feelings for their mothers contain as much negative as positive. That's probably indicative of most mother/daughter relationships but it made me think twice about suggesting it as a Mother's Day gift book as I had originally thought to do. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I agree that the poetry is fine.

Angela Craft said...

Cindy - I think you mean you bought it *late* for your secretary, if I'm recalling your holiday mix-ups correctly ;-)

But you're right, the daughters do have some negative feelings towards their mothers which is totally realistic. However I felt that the book presented the relationships as ultimately positive - that while there was some angst and arguing while growing up, as adults the daughters saw their mothers as hugely positive influences. Whether that is an historically accurate point of view, I have no idea, since while I knew a little of Marie Curie I know nothing of any of the daughters in this collection. Definitely would love to know what the teen response is! I would have been totally turned off by the poetry in high school, but I like to think my attitude towards poetry is slowly maturing.

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