A powerful woman, characterized as a witch to demean and vilify her success, is a tale as old as time; one that all women can relate to in some form or another. Madeline Miller takes Circe out of The Odyssey and tells how her story is more than just a woman who turns men into pigs. I’ve never really been into mythology and so I was surprised at how quickly I became entranced by Circe’s story. It’s incredibly sad and empowering all at once but showcases her as a feminine force in a world made for men and gods. Circe is the lesser nymph daughter of the mighty Titan, Helios, and she’s outcast immediately as a weak, insignificant nuisance until she discovers the powers of witchcraft, specifically transformation. She’s banished to an island to live out her days as an exile. Circe lives a lonely existence until she chooses to take her power back. She hones her skills, tames the wild beasts roaming free, and makes the island not only her home, but her strength. She’s flawed in many ways, but Miller doesn’t shy away from showing Circe’s weaknesses as this is exactly what makes her such a relatable and compelling character. A host of familiar mythological figures cross paths with Circe including Icarus, Daedalus, the Minotaur, Hermes, and Odysseus, but it’s clear that they’re only fleeting elements of HER story. I ached for Circe; her pain and loss, so raw throughout her lifetime, is a constant that she faces and accepts but never succumbs. She suffers as a daughter, lover, and mother but ultimately uses her scorn as fuel for triumph, and I rooted for her on every, single page.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a champion for women, and her research is thought-provoking on many levels. Her candor is revealing and challenges perspectives on immigration and women’s rights. Ali uses staggering statistics and mounds of data to present her argument that the increase in sexual violence against women in Europe is linked to increases in immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Stringent gender roles, polygamy, and a lack of legal protection for women all contribute to oppressive ideology. Ali points out how European women are changing their behavior by avoiding certain locations and types of transportation to ensure they don’t become victims of sexual violence. European leaders are afraid to discuss the connection for fear of being labeled racist or xenophobic. Subways offer female-only cars. Parks offer benches for women exclusively. Cafes and bars in parallel community neighborhoods consist of all-male Muslim patrons who sometimes intimidate female citizens if they try to enter. As Muslim asylum-seekers flood into Europe, attacks against women have escalated. Ali asserts that Europeans are putting their heads in the sand instead of facing down a problem that is slowing eroding women’s rights and changing society’s attitudes toward women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an immigrant herself, raised in Somalia and having suffered from genital mutilation, she does not advocate against immigration but instead believes that asylum seekers should be required to assimilate into the societies they wish to join. Young Muslim men, as the primary demographic for asylum seekers, must be taught that European culture gives voice and equal protection to women, and they must integrate into this type of society or be denied entry. They will have women colleagues in the workplace, women as bosses, and women in public, dressing as they please. Ali believes that immigration laws have become too loose, and both legal and illegal immigrants have little to fear when seeking refuge in Europe. Ali’s research, while unpopular and contradictory amidst liberal values, has given voice and legitimacy to a concern that has dire implications for European women and sets off warning bells for Americans.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.