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A Short History of Women: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 16, 2009

3.2 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Walbert—2004 National Book Award nominee for Our Kind—offers a beautiful and kaleidoscopic view of the 20th century through the eyes of several generations of women in the Townsend family. The story begins with Dorothy Townsend, a turn-of-the-century British suffragist who dies in a hunger strike. From Dorothy's death, Walbert travels back and forth across time and continents to chronicle other acts of self-assertion by Dorothy's female descendants. Dorothy's daughter, Evelyn, travels to America after WWI to make her name in the world of science—and escape from her mother's infamy. Decades later, her niece, also named Dorothy, has a late-life crisis and gets arrested in 2003 for taking photos of an off-limits military base in Delaware. Dorothy's daughters, meanwhile, struggle to find meaning in their modern bourgeois urban existences. The novel takes in historical events from the social upheaval of pre-WWI Britain to VJ day in New York City, a feminist conscious-raising in the '70s and the Internet age. The lives of these women reveal that although oppression of women has grown more subtle, Dorothy's self-sacrifice reverberates through generations. Walbert's look at the 20th century and the Townsend family is perfectly calibrated, intricately structured and gripping from page one. (June)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

What are the fundamental rights and responsibilities of a woman? In this newest endeavor, Walbert strives to answer what Victorians commonly called "The Woman Question." Critics praised this work as an intelligent, emotional, and illuminating family account and feminist study. However, despite the elegant writing, they also relayed concerns regarding overall style and structure. Several predicted that the author's use of one name for multiple characters and a crisscrossing, rather than chronological, narrative, would lead readers to throw up their hands in frustration and confusion. In short, reviewers acknowledged A Short History of Women as a thoughtful and complex undertaking, but questioned its broad appeal.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (June 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416594981
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416594987
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,374,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By jessbcuz VINE VOICE on May 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are some books that I like because they are satisfying in all ways. They are neat, tidy, and don't miss a trick. There are other books that I love because they are unsatisfying, even unsettling. This is such a book. It has left me wanting more. More from the author (I will be looking into her other books for my summer reading), but also wishing the book went on longer, giving me more and more about these characters she has crafted. I want more not because they aren't fully developed (because they are), but because I want to follow these characters even longer.

I have to say that this is one of my favorite reads in a while. I loved the sliding around through history (from 1898 through 2007), living with different generations of the same family, sensing the way women's lives and issues have changed (and not changed). Because of the sliding and shifting that does occur, this is a book that demands your attention--full attention--and I loved this sense of the book making sure I was involved, that I was really listening to it and its characters.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an intelligent, interesting read, especially if you are interested in women's lives through the twentieth century.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Okay. I'll be straight with you. I'm a guy. But I'm a feminist father of a lesbian activist daughter, my personal motto was written by Virginia Woolf, and I'm an ardent believer that the sooner women achieve full equality in this world, the better off we'll all be. But this book was truly a struggle to get through.

I'm perfectly capable of working through, and thoroughly enjoying, a complex book that details the experience of women in the world. Be it The Hours (Michael Cunningham) or Virginia Woolf's own works, I love the challenge, and I love the reward. This book failed on two major counts, and annoyed me on a third.

First failure: the novel that spans generations has been done a hundred times, and done well. It is not a new plot device, and if it is to be done yet again, I'd like to see a hint of originality in the approach. Instead, I found wearying murkiness to the forward and backward literary catapulting, having to make frequent references to the chart in front of the book to relocate the plot line. Tiresome.

Second failure: The book starts off with the death by hunger strike of a woman who explains "There was nothing else I could do". Truly? Nothing else one could do, when so many amazing women of that era DID find something else they could do, and did win incremental battles in a war that is not yet over. I read Gloria Steinem, and I think "Damn! What a mind! What a human!" I attend The Vagina Monologues, and I'm thrilled by the gutsiness and brilliance of the characters. I read about the five woman in this book and I'm left with a sense of "Oh, give it a rest". Somehow women shrink in this book, as if seen through the wrong end of a telescope.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A Short History of Women is Kate Walbert's third novel. Her previous novel, Our Kind was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2004.

This outing opens with the death of dedicated suffragist Dorothy Townsend in 1914 from self-imposed starvation for the cause. The rest of the book deals with the consequences of her action on her progeny - from her daughter Evelyn to her great-granddaughter Liz.

I so much wanted to like this book because of Dorothy Townsend and her decisions, because of the historical eras in which the book is set, and because of the reviews being published. Unfortunately, I found this book hard to like. I was never drawn into the characters enough to actually like or dislike them. It's almost as if Walbert was more interested in, for instance, ensuring that Townsend's thoughts and speech patterns were authentic rather than creating characters her readers could relate to. Walbert's goal may have been to write a "literary" novel, but in doing so, she may have lost the main-stream reader. And more's the pity because many if most people are unaware of the sacrifices the early suffragettes made.
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I usually don't write up reviews for Amazon: I'm often just ready to get on to my next read. But when I was deciding whether or not to buy this book yesterday -- remembering that I'd stuck a sample on my Kindle months ago while reading the Times review -- I was nearly put off by so many reviewers who found this book a hard read -- and therefore a bad book. I asked myself whether or not I was in the mood, but then, taken in by chapter 1, the subject, and the literate 5 star reviewers here who said to ignore the negative -- I decided to give it a go. I am so so glad I did -- and feel compelled, like a few other people, to offer a counterbalanced point of view.

What Kate Walbert has accomplished is amazing -- producing a novel that helps explore not just the history of women, the way women's lives have changed in the last century, but the way we humans EXIST in this world -- lost, seeking, changing, feeling, hoping, defending, and dying -- all against the back drop of history, all while our language, our clothes, our dreams, our consciousnesses, and our ways of communicating, interacting, and BEING change. Hope & loss, hope & loss. Don't we all live in time feeling emotions, experiencing the events of our lives, even as we reach for ideas we can barely hold on to and grasp? Even as we make mistakes from which we can never recover? And just as some of the minor characters in the novel write insensitive, clueless blog comments about a major character's late in life epiphanies, isn't it true that we don't all feel our lives -- or history -- in the same way? This book is not just historically profound; it's psychologically true.
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