Off the bat I have to state that Lisa Shannon has accomplished something very heroic in her life and she should be commended for her strength of spirit and her courage in standing up for a cause in which she believed and for trying to be the voice for so many who remain unheard.
This is a difficult book to discuss. On one hand it raises the awareness of the plight of women in the Congo and indeed of the overall horror of the situation there for those who suffer it daily. In this vein it is a good book because it sets out to inform and I think that it does so quite competently. I loved the fact that Shannon interspersed her photographs with the various threads of narrative. This made it all very real and added an artistic quality to a text that would (for many reasons) have been quite difficult to read. I was also very moved by the memorial wall which the author has included at the end of the book and in some ways, I think this is perhaps the very strength of Shannon’s vision and the power of her commitment to these women and their stories.
Where I found this book challenging was that at times I couldn’t help but feel that Shannon was talking for these women, instead of allowing them to speak for themselves. I am not sure how she could have done things in any other way, but I there were many moments where I found myself uncomfortable in her white, western, privileged shoes as she tried to coax various stories out of the many women she interviewed. The way she was steering them into a particular narrative or point of view in order to fit with what she felt people in America needed to hear left me feeling empty and greatly dis-eased by the presumptions that are inherent in this type of positioning.
In a strange way it reminds me of my response to the book I, Safiya – a brilliant autobiography written by someone who does not have a voice for writing. The substance was so awe-inspiring, yet the narrative just let me down. And I felt disgusted with my judgemental self for not loving I, Safiya because it was so clearly an inspiration that this woman managed to tell her story and who was I to say that her voice didn’t meet my expectations? Yet I did. (Shrink, cringe). I passed my White, Western, educated, English hand over I, Safiya in dismay and I find myself quivering to do the same with this book (although for slightly different reasons).
Woe are the women of Congo – I can’t begin to imagine the pain and sorrow of any peoples who have to endure the type of suffering that A Thousand Sisters describes. But, how heroic that these women go on! How incredible that they dress in bright colours and dance and rejoice, that they choose life in the midst of this hardship and horror! I can’t help but feel that Shannon failed to grasp this miracle, and that she was disappointed that the women she encountered were not more tortured so that they could better meet with her expectations or perhaps soothe her troubled soul which was reeling from her own sorrows.
I have no doubt that Shannon’s intentions in writing this book were only pure and that it is my own inadequacies and post-colonial conscience speaking tongues of judgement here. I definitely recommend reading this book if only to learn more about what has occurred in the Congo. I followed many of the links that Shannon provided and found the information there heart-wrenching. I am certainly better educated about the Congo and will look out for more books about the plgi