Tuesday, June 4, 2013
My take on: However Long the Night
On October 20, 1974, Molly Melching arrived in Dakar, Senegal. Molly hadn't yet experienced life beyond her hometown of Danville, Illinois. She was thrilled at the opportunity to learn about Africa, the people, the language, and the culture. For the next six months she was supposed to be studying at the University of Dakar, all in pursuit of her master's degree in French studies. What was supposed to be a short-term trip, turned into decades of crusading for women's rights, proper healthcare, proper education, and empowerment. Molly Melching has an amazing life story, which is detailed in However Long the Night by journalist Aimee Molloy.
As an American and as a white woman, Molly was used to a certain level of freedom. Her family might not have always understood her choices, including interracial dating or moving to a foreign country, but at least she was allowed to make those choices. She didn't have to ask to permission to be herself. She didn't have to fear her parents forcing her into an arranged marriage. She didn't have to worry about her body being mutilated because of archaic cultural beliefs. What do I mean by that last one? Female genital cutting or female genital circumcision is a brutal and dangerous procedure, which is often performed without anaesthesia or proper surgical tools. The practice is deeply rooted in the cultural belief that women's sexuality is something that needs to stifled and controlled. That's something Molly, her organization Tostan, and the local women refused to accept.
I truly admire the work Molly Melching is doing, and I can see why journalist Aimee Molloy felt inspired to write about her. Because of Tostan and Molly's dedication women in Senegal have become empowered to take control of not just their lives but their bodies. But I think this is one of those instances where you have to separate the subject matter from the actual book. It's easy to be awed by Molly's accomplishments and forget about the writing style and the book's overall presentation. In my opinion, the book itself reads like a long magazine article. It feels like something you would read in the New Yorker. Each chapter is a long list of Molly's accomplishments, with some anecdotes mixed in. Using this style of writing robbed the book of some of the emotional depth I was looking for.
I wish Molly Melching had told her own story, and maybe use Aimee Molloy as a co-writer or ghostwriter. Perhaps, Molly is the modest type and doesn't want to bring too much attention to herself. I just think this would have been a more powerful read if this had been in Molly's own words.
Rating: Give it a try (purely for the writing style) -- Superb (for Molly's dedication and for Aimee for bringing more attention to Tostan)
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours