It is no news that history is selective and the greatest human stories are left unwritten. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to authors who bring to light, even through fiction, the stories of those we will not find in historical accounts.
Kristin Hannah tells us why she wrote “The Nightingale”: “In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked. Women tend to come home from the battlefield and say nothing and go on with their lives. The Nightingale is a novel about those women and the daring, dangerous choices they made to save their children and their way of life.”
“The Nightingale” – or rosignol in French – takes the reader to the German-occupied France in the second world war. Nightingale is a code name for a Resistance member who rescued downed airmen in France and took them on foot through Pyrenees mountains to the British consulate in Spain. The main characters’ stage is shared by two sisters – Vianne and Isabelle – who were estranged after their mother’s death and reconnected through unbelievable struggles of war. The characters seem to be opposites at the beginning. As the story unfolds, we see them more alike than apart, each brave in her own way.
If you ever wondered what happened to the legacy of Mary Magdalene, and who she might have been (as opposed to the story told be the church), you might be curious enough to read “Mary Magdalene Revealed”:
“The earliest evidence of the lost gospel of Mary Magdalene was discovered in January 1896, at an antiquities market in Cairo, by a German scholar named Carl Reinhardt. It was written in Coptic on ancient papyrus. … It was placed in the Egyptian museum in Berlin with the official title and catalogue number of Codex Berolinensis 8502, which is a mouthful. So, scholars refer to it as the Berlin Codex.” There are different answers to as to why the Gospel of Mary, and those of Philip and Thomas for that matter, were not selected by the church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. to be hammered out in the creed of the Christian faith. To me this does not matter. They made their choice. I make mine.
Watterson is a trained theologian who introduces herself as a “person who engages in the study of all that has been left out of our ideas of god”. I became a bit sus when I got to the lines were she positioned herself as a feminist. Having lived in comunism, I am wary of any -isms. Yet she explains the kind she is and I find it resonating with my belief as “True freedom means having the power to define what being free means in our lives.” This enabled my brain to read the book with a grain of salt, as the author reveals to us her personal life, all for a reason. So be patient when you get to these passages.
Watterson introduces us to what she believes to be the most “eloquent way to describe love” from the opening lines of the Gospel of Mary: “Every nature, every modeled form, every creature, exists in and with eachother.” And invites us to see “the Christianity we haven’t tried yet”. Not a Christian herself she is able to question the conventional wisdom, so I found myself furthering into the inquiry of what I have forgotten.
What some of us missed in the Chrstianity that was designed by the church is encapsulated in a quote from Leloup The Sacred Embrace of Jesus and Mary: « The restitution of the true character of Miriam of Migdala as a companion of Yeshua of Nazareth can help men and women today realize their potential of anthropos, their full humanity, which is both flesh and spirit, both human and divine. »
The book was revelatory to me in many ways. If, for example, you wondered if there is a meditation concept or tradition in Christianity, you’ll gladly discover Hesychast from 4th century Cappadocians and the masterpiece of Saint John of Sinai The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Or if you are wondering about included and excluded scriptures, you’ll find the reference to Dr. Hal Taussig A New, New. Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century revelatory.
Haratischvili takes the reader through historical events on Georgian soil with the ease of a seasoned local. She introduces us to events as if she was there at that time: “It’s ten thirty on a beautiful sunny morning scented with cardamom, coffee, dust, and cloves, the kind of morning you will only find in Tbilissi.” That was the day Stalin robbed the Tsar’s carriage in plain day in the center of the town.
« The eighth life » could be the story of any family on Georgian soil, who had members living in Russia, as the events of those times joined and separated people of these two countries at most unexpected crossroads. And Haratischvili gives us the story with the intimate knowledge of someone who might have lived more than one life on earth. It is beautiful, touching and utterly brave.
Haratischvili does not take us on a simple straight journey. It is rather a carpet weaving as she adds characters and events to the story. And she does so because « I often used to wonder what would happen if the world’s collective memory had retained different things and lost others. If we had forgotten all the wars and all those countless kings, rulers, leaders, and mercenaries, and the only people to be read about in books were those who had built a house with their own hands, planted a garden, discovered a giraffe, described a cloud, praised the nape of a woman’s neck. I wondered how we know that the people whose names have endured were better, cleverer, or more interesting just because they’ve stood the test of time. What of those who are forgotten? » Yes, what about those?
Anyone wishing to understand more about recent history of Georgia and the reasons behind many of its current institutions should read “The eighth life ». And do that with an open mind, as our guide David said: «Nino was very considerate to the reader in presenting many facts of our recent history. She probably thought that it would be to complicated to grasp for those who have not lived through those times”.
Once upon a time here lived queen Darejan, a mother of 23 girls and boys. Her king built a palace for her on the incline to Sachino. She was also a builder and she furthered it to its glory of the XVIII century.
She fought for whom she loved. She lived the best she could in those troublesome times, and saw her end on Earth in exile on foreign cold land.
Today we can take the same walking paths she took thanks to the reconstruction funded by tax payers of Georgia. And we can admire the city from the beautiful blue framed balcony, perhaps from the exact same spot the queen used to.
The book picked my interest as I knew nothing about life in Malaysia. I absorbed its 476 pages in about ten evenings and was delighted by the richness of the story. The author invested two years in researching for and writing the book and she deserves acclaim for such a rigorous and respectful approach to her culture and inheritance. It also reinforces my belief that if history books would have been written by young women or ordinary elderly of those times, we would be reading something quite different.
In times of constantly changing circumstances, books like this help relativizing and reframing. The story of a widowed mother of 10, who succeeds as an entrepreneur in the turmoil of events of the first half of the 20th century, is a great reminder of the human phoenix power. “We each had power, if only we could harness it” is a highlight of the novel I’ll take with me.
The history is written by winners. We hear that. We repeat it. And what it does it actually mean is often left unspoken.
I always wondered what would we find in history books if they would have been written by a young girl or an elderly, who actually lived through, let’s say, the French Revolution, crusades, Renaissance, wars, inquisition, colonisations, industrialisation and so many other moments of human glory and shame on all continents. Perhaps, the glory we find in history books today would not be that shining. Perhaps, there would be other heroes… Perhaps we would understand differently the world of today…
The book presents a perspective on the role of women in the history of the world from first women gatherers to todays “daughters of time”. It is based on the author’s beliefs system and the research she did.
It was fascinating to discover the stories of many amazing women and their contributions to the development of the world as we know it. We owe so many firsts to so many brave souls.
Some view this book as a work of a feminist, others – as a long-awaited redress for a more balanced history of the humankind. We all find in a book what we already have inside. I have different perceptions on many accounts and this does not diminish the value of the book in my eyes.