In the beginning was the story ….it´s always the story.
This fiction issue has long and shorter stories about persons who don´t necessarily fit the expected mould.
In Mitchell Toews’ “The Log Boom”, a father and son deliberate on how to inform émigré Dutch grandfather of his grandson´s coming out.
Gerald Shephard´s “The Silent Imagination” is a hallucinatory playlet accompanied by a corresponding image to help us focus.
Joshua Akemecha’s disconcerting story, “The Shaming of Oshia” transports us into another time and culture.
“Two Dead Poets” where A Poet Revisits Lorca’s Death, Madrid / Granada, July 1936, is by Roger Moore.
“Rasha´s Daughter” by Irena Karafilly is a timely reminder of our misconceptions.
Then there are stories about voting in Switzerland, which give me a certain Shirley Jackson feel. Having lived/worked in Switzerland during two plebiscites – 1974 The Schwarzenbach anti-immigration initiative – and the 2002 initiative for Switzerland to join the United Nations – I nearly missed the 50th anniversary of Swiss women having the right to vote which also had its stories presented in the form of a book aimed at inspiring young girls: 50 Amazing Swiss Women: True Stories You Should Know About (Bergli, 2021)
February 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of women’s right to vote in Switzerland. This book celebrates the diverse accomplishments, struggles and strengths of Swiss women. One-page biographies give readers a glimpse into the lives of fifty Swiss women – both historical and contemporary – who inspire and intrigue. Each biography is paired with a unique, color illustration by Swiss illustrator Mireille Lachausse.
Here, Katie Hayoz, one of the authors, tells the story of how the book came about.
The book has been very well received in Switzerland, not least due to its publication in English, French, German, and the fact that each biography is paired with a unique, color illustration. Spies, activists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, politicians, athletes, midwives, mothers… Swiss women are daring, ingenious, and brave. Though the country is small, the heroines are vast!
However, due to my own ambivalent relationship with a country in which I had lived and for the most part worked for almost 30 years, I was curious about those women Katie mentions who had declined to offer their stories, and so was drawn to another multilingual book originally in English, Voting Day by Clare O´Dea which focussed on the plebiscite of 1950 when Swiss men refused Swiss women the right to vote.
A compelling story of four unforgettable characters whose paths are connected on this voting day by the fate of a ten-year-old foster child. Published independently in Switzerland, the novella is also available in German, French and Italian.
And here again, something outside the narrative piqued my interest, namely an introductory quote by Iris von Roten who Clare O´Dea said inspired her to write Voting Day. When I asked Clare for more, she gave me the following piece of nonfiction:
“This time sixty years ago, Iris von Roten was putting the finishing touches to her life’s work, a 600-page cri de coeur on the woeful position of women in Swiss society. A journalist and lawyer, von Roten put years of research into her book, Frauen im Laufgitter: Offene Worte zur Stellung der Frau (Women in the Playpen: Plain Words About the Situation of Women). In ruthless and unsentimental terms, she examined subects like equality in the workplace (or lack thereof), civil rights, domestic drudgery, motherhood and sexuality. This is a work of fire and fury, the product of a free spirit who all around her saw women in chains. To give you a taste of von Roten’s style and themes, here is a short passage I translated from the opening chapter, “Female professional activity in a man’s world”.
“Every era has its favourite illusions, and one of the most cherished of our century is that of “the modern woman”, the professionally equal, independent and successful woman. The “woman of today” supposedly has extensive professional fields open to her; in contrast to her grandmother she is active in every job at every level. Even the most prestigious and highly-paid jobs are not out of reach of the capable woman. Where such positions are not yet occupied by women it is only because no woman has yet deigned to clamber up and take the place that the progressive man is hurrying to offer her. Just like a young man, the young woman can attain the job that corresponds to her talents, standing on her own two feet. To wait for a man, to marry so as to be provided for, this is unknown to today’s woman. She marries purely for love, when and whom she wishes, which allows her to complete the work of art – the combination of job, housework and motherhood – running the show and “mastering life with a laugh”. Beside the modern woman stands the progressive man, filled with admiring awe for the proud swan that the ugly duckling has become. He has long ago freed his mind of prejudices and slowly but surely clears the way for the equality of the sexes in the life of the family, the economy and the state. The reality, however, looks different in some places, and especially in Switzerland.”
You’ve got to love that sarcasm. I would like to see von Roten’s work gain wider recognition in the English-speaking world. Her radical book/manifesto is one of the leading feminist texts of the twentieth century and there is still a lot to learn from it.“
I discovered from my friendly Wikipedia that
Iris von Roten’s book Frauen im Laufgitter evoked a negative reaction from men and women alike. Men saw her as man-hating and mocked her; the women of Switzerland saw her as a radical, and blamed her for the losing vote on women’s suffrage. They believed in gradual change and saw her as far too extreme. von Rotens daughter, Hortenia, has been quoted explaining the rejection, saying: “Women do not like to recognize and do not gladly admit what a lousy situation they are in.”
After the negative reception of her book, von Roten left for Turkey to fulfill a childhood dream and not, as many believed, to run from the backlash. Once in Turkey, she thoroughly enjoyed herself and did as she pleased, being able to ignore Traditional Gender roles.
After her short stay in Turkey, von Roten returned to Switzerland and wrote a memoir of her Travels. It was rejected by publishers. Following her rejection, she chose to continue traveling.
Iris von Roten committed suicide on 11 September 1990 at the age of 73. She was quoted saying, “Just as a guest has to know when it’s time to depart, a person should rise from the table of life while there’s still time.”
This and a certain serendipity brings me to another story, one sent to WordCity as a thank you from Nightingale Jennings who appeared in our second issue, to show how stories can mean.
Nightingale says: “War is a terrible eye-opener. The screams fade to nothing over distance but the anxiety in them hits the sleeping heart. In the quiet of the night, dreams transform into nightmares and sleep deprivation becomes a way of life. Families cease to make contact. Questions emerge, are they dead or alive? How to find them is a secret initiative until the moment all hope dies out. That is when anger dissipates into fear and the hand that has been reaching out to help is finally accepted. Until that moment, the hand was no better than the enemy for it was not trusted. Now it is the only unexplored choice that is left. I learned this from a group of women who are sending supportive messages to one that is searching for her loved ones. The women have come together to find solace from a changing world. There is no escape from realities that had been considered left in the past. The future is anxious but the present holds space to explore the ultimate priority for the individual. Self expression is recognized as a source of individual growth and the pen is rolling between their fingers. The women who claimed weaknesses from not knowing how to construct a story to not knowing how to type have put their first paragraphs down in the language they feel most comfortable with. They are amazed to see it laid out against photographs in a rough magazine layout. They know they are WonderWomen. This is the first outcome of a WhatsApp led workshop. I didn’t lead it but I have contributed to the inspiration and pushed the concept. I wanted to share this with you and Darcie because you are part of my writer’s journey. Where this will go I have no idea. But it has come this far and is emotionally rewarding. I hope you enjoy the slides. Google translate may help if you have the time. https://sway.office.com/hD3rqzX8IhsGg2ya?ref=Link
When I asked if we might bring this in WordCity, Nightingale asked her Wonderwomen and came back with: “the ladies are delighted. … It’s been a great day for all of us. The link that I sent to you will update automatically. …Thank you so much again for your generous offer. It brings a dash of warmth and sunshine into many of our hearts.”
This concludes our very diverse fiction issue, which I think demonstrates the power of story. Enjoy and be moved!
(Sylvia Petter is WordCity Literary Journal’s Fiction Editor)
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