Saturday, September 17, 2016

Reading Roundup: History Lesson

Ingrid Betancourt's The Blue Line is a story that oozes history—that deep-set kind, full of action, consequence, and complexity kind. It'a unavoidable, you realize, when you take a look at the author's biography; Betancourt is a Colombian politician and activist, kidnapped and held hostage for six years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It is clear that she has drawn on her own experiences for The Blue Line, to tell the story of a passionate young woman named Julia, embroiled in the political chaos of a 1970s Argentina.

As an impressionable teenager, finding and defining her sexual and social identities, Julia falls for a revolutionary, Theo, who pulls her down a path of political idealism that becomes increasingly dangerous as the country's military dictatorship gains power. Julia and Theo's lives lose stability as trust becomes an uncertainty and safety is not guaranteed.

Amidst the growing chaos in Julia's life, she continues to live with a strange gift inherited from her grandmother—visions of the future, seen through the eyes of others. Accustomed to these apparitions, Julia has spent much of her young life fearing what she will see, beholden to the responsibility of intervening to prevent whatever horrific event she witnesses.

If this book were just all one part or the other, all politics or magical realism, it wouldn't have the appeal that it does; it would be too bogged down by its genre, producing a one-track story, narrow in its scope of storytelling. Instead, Betancourt has crafted an awesomely outlandish premise that creatively adds a different kind of excitement to the story of a dark moment in history. Though inextricably linked to its time and place, The Blue Line goes beyond historical narrative to illustrate an individual experience beyond the pages of history books.

I didn't actually realize that Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club was nonfiction until I started reading it. Using a vintage photo as cover art falls in line with the branding of a certain style of women's fiction—à la Rebecca Wells, Lorna Landvik, Laurie Graham. So needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered this was in fact nonfiction about actual astronauts' wives during the the sixties.

Koppel has pulled together stories of the women who experienced the space race alongside their husbands in their journeys to the moon. It was a very much male-centric environment; the men were the heroes, risking their lives in a quest for glory, as their wives supported them at home. LIFE magazine was paying the families for exclusive photos and stories, chronicling the space race from the homefront, but the pressure to appear as your quintessential American family put more pressure on the women than the men. It was the 1960s after all, an era when women remained in the domestic background and outspoken feminism was frowned upon.

As a feminist women in 2016, it's quite infuriating to read about such a lifestyle and environment. Women in that era seem homogeneously lumped together as one, perpetuating this image of the perfect wife with little individuality allowed to shine through. Meanwhile, the husbands get the notoriety and recognition, not to mention the extramarital company of the "Cape Cookies" to quell their loneliness during the weeks spent at NASA's Florida base, away from their Houston homes and wives. It seems that every piece of pop culture that takes place during this era (ie: Mad Men) is filled with cheating, drinking men and submissive women, and, having not lived during the era myself, I'm beginning to believe more and more that theme is actually a realistic representation!

While Koppel tries to tell the story that existed behind the photoshoots staged for the American public, I thought that, ultimately, the story didn't delve deep enough. I don't feel as though I learned much about the women as actual people with thoughts and feelings, which should've been the purpose of this book. They still sort of seem like that homogeneous group, and whether it's because it's hard to shake the image or they actually were the subservient, voiceless wives of the era, I didn't gain any newfound respect for them.

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