Gather the Daughters – Jennie Melamed

This one isn’t about a star rating.

As this blog progresses, we will all see just how opinionated I am. I love rating a book on Goodreads, it’s an acceptable form of judging. So when I tell you that I can’t rate this book, please know, I have put a lot of thought into it, but i think this book is about more than how many stars i can give it.

I can’t even tell you if I liked the book or not, I mean the writing is gorgeous, but the story, it hurt my heart. I think the book overloaded my ability to be shocked and horrified and then broke my feelings valve.

Gather the Daughters is set on a remote island hidden from the ravages of mankind and what the community calls the Wasteland. Many generations have lived on the Island, occasionally the wanderers find new families and bring them in, but all in all the island is very remote, isolated. It’s steeped in tradition, ruled by the Church and Wanderer’s and nobody questions their existence or way of life.
One of those traditions is that every Summer, the girls are let loose, they run free and wild, they sleep on beaches, they explore, play and live. Girls from four can join in this Summer fun, but once a girl gets her period another tradition is waiting for her.
This year a girl, reluctant to head home as the frost hits the ground, sees something that she was never meant to witness, something that could make her question everything she has been told to believe.

We get a feel very early on in the story, that not all is right with the community. We get subtle hints here and there, of whats happening; then we get the big bombshells tucked away so neatly, that you have to go back and reread it, just to make sure you didn’t misread it. Chances are you didn’t. I initially questioned why a few things were so casually mentioned and then I had my light-bulb moment and realised that in this Community, it isn’t a big deal, it’s the way it’s always been, it’s very easy for people not to question tradition and social expectations. It takes a thinker, someone who questions, a rebel if you will, to wonder why life is that way, why can’t it be different. It takes someone who is willing to be labelled and judged, who not just sees the worth in the oppressed, but sees they are actually oppressed to start with.

In this story women cry when they give birth to a daughter, they know the life that lays ahead for them, yet the cycle continues, they do their duty. As girls they do their duty with their father and then as a young teen they do their duty with their husband. Its ingrained in their way of life.

In Church they are told,¬†“When a daughter submits to her father’s will, when a wife submits to her husband, when a woman is a helper to a man, we are worshiping the ancestors and their vision. Our ancestors sit at the feet of the Creator, and as their hearts are warmed, they in turn warm His. These women worship the ancestors with each right action, with each right intention.”

“Only when these acts of submission are done with an open heart and a willing mind, only when this is done with a spirit of righteousness, can we reach true salvation.”

“We must treat our daughters with kindness and sensitivity. We must not hurt them at a whim, or damage them, but engage with them as the ancestors contracted when they left a forbidding land. We must deliver them safe, wise and loved to their husbands. We must allow our wives to feel cared for, as cared for as they felt in the arms of their fathers as young children.”

In case you’re wondering that last line made me gag and I didn’t even know the full extent of the circumstances in which these girls and women lived yet.

I found this book quite bleak and horrifying, I actually spent several days wondering what the point was, I had so many questions, I wished I could sit down with the author and ask her what I was supposed to have gotten from the book. I needed a book club or something. Then I thought maybe the point, is to make us ask questions. Just because something has always been a certain way doesn’t make it right. It shouldn’t be acceptable, and if we all use our voices together, like the girls, maybe we can try to do some good. It’s not acceptable to grope a woman’s arse, it’s not acceptable to force your wife to have sex with you. These actions were once standard, they were just taken as a part of a woman’s life. Women should be flattered, they should like the attention, they should be happy that they are satisfying their husbands needs, because for a lot, a man’s happiness or pleasure was put before a woman’s. Things changed because women stood up and said no, they questioned, they educated themselves, they valued themselves and slowly society has grown.

This book reminds us to ask the questions, use our voices and if we can all truly stand together, support and love one another, we would be fucking unstoppable.

 

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