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The first international anthology to explore women’s human rights from a literary perspective.
More than half a century after the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, women throughout the world still struggle for social and political justice. Many fight back with the only tools of resistance they possess—words. A Map of Hope presents a collection of 77 extraordinary literary works documenting the ways women writers have spoken out about human rights issues.
Writers young and old, known and unknown, explore the dimensions of terror, the unspeakable atrocities of war, and the possibilities of resistance and refusal against all odds. Their poems, essays, memoirs, and brief histories examine issues that affect the condition of women in war, prison camps, exile, and as victims of domestic and political violence.
A Map of Hope presents diverse women writers who have created a literature of global consciousness and justice. Their works give a face, an image, and a human dimension to the dehumanization of human rights violations. The collection allows readers to hear voices that have decided to make a difference. It goes beyond geography and ethnic groups; writers from around the globe are united by the universal dimensions of horror and deprivation, as well as the unique common struggle for justice and solidarity.
Wind and Widow
Lê Thi Mây
Wind widow willowy
off the arms of dawn and grass
after so much lovemaking in the night
patches of cloud-clothes discarded in the air
aroma moon of the fourteenth day
wind widow after each makeup
backward glances to another time of sadness and laughter
and dawn rises trembling
separated from wind after lovemaking
* * *
wind elegiac-wind strands of hair from women who died in the bombing strands of hair from widows who raised orphaned children the war after ten years have passed—
The Son of Man
There has been a war and people have seen so many houses reduced to rubble that they no longer feel safe in their own homes which once seemed so quiet and secure. This is something that is incurable and will never be cured no matter how many years go by. True, we have a lamp on the table again, and a little vase of flowers, and pictures of our loved ones, but we can no longer trust any of these things because once, suddenly, we had to leave them behind, or because we have searched through the rubble for them in vain.
It is useless to believe that we could recover from twenty years like those we have been through. Those of us who have been fugitives will never be at peace. A ring at the door-bell in the middle of the night can only mean the word "police" to us. And it is useless for us to tell ourselves over and over again that behind the word "police" there are now friendly faces from whom we can ask for help and protection. This word always fills us with fear and suspicion. When I look at my sleeping children I think with relief that I will not have to wake them and run off into the night. But it is not a deep, lasting relief. It always seems to me that some day or other we shall once again have to get up and run off in the middle of the night, and leave everything—the quiet rooms, our letters, mementoes, clothes—behind us.
Once the experience of evil has been endured it is never forgotten. Someone who has seen a house collapse knows only too clearly what frail things little vases of flowers and pictures and white walls are. He knows only too well what a house is made of. A house is made of bricks and mortar and can collapse. A house is not particularly solid. It can collapse from one moment to the next. Behind the peaceful little vases of flowers, behind the teapots and carpets and waxed floors there is the other true face of a house—the hideous face of a house that has been reduced to rubble.
We shall not get over this war. It is useless to try. We shall never be people who go peacefully about their business, who think and study and manage their lives quietly. Something has happened to our houses. Something has happened to us. We shall never be at peace again.
We have seen reality's darkest face, and it no longer horrifies us. And there are still those who complain that writers use bitter, violent language, that they write about cruel, distressing things, that they present reality in the worst possible light.
We cannot lie in our books and we cannot lie in any of the things we do. And perhaps this is the one good thing that has come out of the war. Not to lie, and not to allow others to lie to us. Such is the nature of the young now, of our generation. Those who are older than us are still too fond of falsehoods, of the veils and masks with which they hide reality. Our language saddens and offends them. They do not understand our attitude to reality. We are close to the truth of things. This is the only good the war has given us, but it has given it only to the young. It has given nothing but fear and a sense of insecurity to the old. And we who are young are also afraid, we also feel insecure in our homes, but we are not made defenceless by this fear. We have a toughness and strength which those who are older than us have never known.
For some the war started only with the war, with houses reduced to rubble and with the Germans, but for others it started as long ago as the first years of Fascism, and consequently for them the feeling of insecurity and constant danger is far greater. Danger, the feeling that you must hide, the feeling that—without warning—you will have to leave the warmth of your bed and your house, for many of us all this started many years ago. It crept into our childish games, followed us to our desks at school and taught us to see enemies everywhere. This is how it was for many of us in Italy, and elsewhere, and we believed that one day we would be able to walk without anxiety down the streets of our own cities, but now that we can perhaps walk there without anxiety we realize that we shall never be cured of this sickness. And so we are constantly forced to seek out a new strength, a new toughness with which to face whatever reality may confront us. We have been driven to look for an inward peace which is not the product of carpets and little vases of flowers.
There is no peace for the son of man. The foxes and the wolves have their holes, but the son of man hath not where to lay his head. Our generation is a generation of men. It is not a generation of foxes and wolves. Each of us would dearly like to rest his head somewhere, to have a little warm, dry nest. But there is no peace for the son of man. Each of us at some time in his life has had the illusion that he could sleep somewhere safely, that he could take possession of some certainty, some faith, and there rest his limbs. But all the certainties of the past have been snatched away from us, and faith has never after all been a place for sleeping in.
And we are a people without tears. The things that moved our parents do not move us at all. Our parents and those older than us disapprove of the way we bring up our children. They would like us to lie to our children as they lied to us. They would like our children to play with woolly toys in pretty pink rooms with little trees and rabbits painted on the walls. They would like us to surround their infancy with veils and lies, and carefully hide the truth of things from them. But we cannot do this. We cannot do this to children whom we have woken in the middle of the night and tremblingly dressed in the darkness so that we could flee with them or hide them, or simply because the air-raid sirens were lacerating the skies. We cannot do this to children who have seen terror and horror in our faces. We cannot bring ourselves to tell these children that we found them under cabbages, or that when a person dies he goes on a long journey.
There is an unbridgeable abyss between us and the previous generation. The dangers they lived through were trivial and their houses were rarely reduced to rubble. Earthquakes and fires were not phenomena that happened constantly and to everyone. The women did their knitting and told the cook what to make for lunch and invited their friends to houses that did not collapse. Everyone thought and studied and managed his life quietly. It was a different time and probably very fine in its way. But we are tied to our suffering, and at heart we are glad of our destiny as men.
Today's the day when the first batch of political deportees arrives from Weimar. They phone me from the center in the morning. They say I can come, the deportees won't be there till the afternoon. I go for the morning. I'll stay all day. I don't know where to go to bear myself.
Orsay. Outside the center, wives of prisoners of war congeal in a solid mass. White barriers separate them from the prisoners. "Do you have any news of so and so?" they shout. Every so often the soldiers stop; one or two answer. Some women are there at seven o'clock in the morning. Some stay till three in the morning and then come back again at seven. But there are some who stay right through the night, between three and seven. They're not allowed into the center. Lots of people who are not waiting for anyone come to the Gare d'Orsay, too, just to see the show, the arrival of the prisoners of war and how the women wait for them, and all the rest, to see what it's like; perhaps it will never happen again. You can tell the spectators from the others because they don't shout out, and they stand some way away from the crowds of women so as to see both the arrival of prisoners and the way the women greet them. The prisoners arrive in an orderly manner. At night they come in big American trucks from which they emerge into the light. The women shriek and clap their hands. The prisoners stop, dazzled and taken aback. During the day the women shout as soon as they see the trucks turning off the Solferino Bridge. At night they shout when they slow down just before the center. They shout the names of German towns: "Noyeswarda?" "Kassel?" Or Stalag numbers: "VII A?" "III A Kommando?" The prisoners seem astonished. They've come straight from Le Bourget airport and Germany. Sometimes they answer, usually they don't quite understand what's expected of them, they smile, they turn and look at the Frenchwomen, the first they've seen since they got back.
I can't work properly; of all the names I record none is ever his. Every five minutes I want to give it up, lay down the pencil, stop asking for news, leave the center for the rest of my life. At about two in the afternoon I go to ask what time the convoy from Weimar arrives. I leave the circuit and look for someone to ask. In a corner of the main hall I see about ten women sitting on the floor and being addressed by a colonel. I go over. The colonel is a tall woman in a navy blue suit with the cross of Lorraine in the lapel. Her white hair has been curled with tongs and blue-rinsed. The women look at her. They look harassed, but listen open-mouthed to what she says. The floor around them is littered with bundles and cases tied with string. A small child is sleeping on one of the bundles. The women are very dirty and their faces look tired and shocked. Two of them have enormous bellies. Another woman officer stands nearby, watching. I go over and ask her what's going on. She looks at me, lowers her eyes, and says delicately, "STO volunteers." The colonel tells them to get up and follow her. They rise and follow her. The reason they look so frightened is that they've just been booed by the wives of the prisoners of war waiting outside the center. A few days ago I saw some other STO volunteers arrive. Men, this time. Like the other men they were smiling when they arrived, but gradually they realized and then their faces too looked shocked. The colonel points to the women and asks the young woman in uniform who's just told me who they are, "What are we supposed to do with them?" The other one says, "I don't know." The colonel must have told them they were scum. Some of them were crying. The pregnant ones stare into space. The colonel has told them to sit down again. They sit down. Most of them are factory workers, their hands blackened by the oil of German machinery. Two of them are probably prostitutes, their faces are made up and their hair dyed, but they also must have worked with machinery, they've got the same grimy hands as the others. A repatriation officer comes up. "What's all this?" STO volunteers." The colonel's voice is shrill, she turns toward the volunteers and threatens, "Sit down and keep quiet ... Do you hear? Don't think you're just going to be let go ..." She shakes her fist at them. The repatriation officer goes over to the bunch of volunteers, looks at them, and there, right in front of them, asks the colonel, "Do you have any orders?" The colonel: "No, do you?" "Someone mentioned six months' detention." The colonel nods her beautiful curly head: "Serve them right ..." The officer blows puffs of smoke—Camels—over the bunch of volunteers, who've been following the conversation with eyes wild with apprehension. "Right!" he says, and goes off, young, elegant, a born horseman, his Camel in his hand. The volunteers watch, looking for some indication of the fate awaiting them. There is none. I stop the colonel as she makes off. "Do you know when the convoy from Weimar arrives?" She gives me a searching look. "Three o'clock," she says. She goes on looking at me, weighing me up, and says with just a touch of irritation, "No point in cluttering up the place waiting. It'll only be generals and prefects. Go home." I wasn't expecting this. I think I insult her. I say, "What about the others?" She bridles. "I can't stand that kind of attitude! Go and complain somewhere else, my dear." She's so indignant she goes and tells a small group of other women in uniform, who listen, are also indignant, and look at me. I go up to one of them and say, "Isn't she waiting for anyone?" The woman looks at me, scandalized, and tries to calm me down. She says, "The poor thing's got so much to do, her nerves are in shreds." I go back to the Tracing Service at the end of the circuit. Soon afterward I go back to the main hall. D.'s waiting for me there with a forged pass.
About three o'clock there's a rumor: "They're here." I leave the circuit and station myself at the entrance to a little passage opposite the main hall. I wait. I know Robert L. won't be there. D. is beside me. His job is to go and question the deportees to find out if they know Robert L. He's pale. He doesn't pay any attention to me. There's a great commotion in the main hall. The women in uniform fuss around the volunteers and make them sit on the floor in a corner. The main hall is empty. There's a pause in the arrivals of prisoners of war. Repatriation officers go back and forth. The loudspeaker has stopped too. I hear people saying, "The minister," and see Frenay among the officers. I'm still standing at the entrance to the little corridor. I watch the entrance. I know Robert L. can't possibly be there. But perhaps D. will manage to find out something. I don't feel well. I'm trembling, cold. I lean against the wall. Suddenly, there's a hum of voices: "Here they are!" Outside, the women haven't shouted. They haven't applauded. Suddenly, two scouts emerge from the passage carrying a man. He has his arms around their necks. They've joined hands to support his legs. He's in civilian clothes, shaven, he appears to be in great pain. He's a strange color. He must be crying. You couldn't say he's thin, it's something else—there's so little of him left you wonder if he's really alive. But no, he is alive, his face is convulsed by a terrifying grimace. He doesn't look at anything. Not at the minister, not at the hall, not at the flags—nothing. The grimace may be a laugh. He's the first deportee from Weimar to arrive at the center. Without realizing it I've moved forward, I'm in the middle of the hall with my back to the loudspeaker. Two more scouts come in carrying another, an old man. Then another ten or eleven arrive. These appear to be in better condition, they can walk, with help. They're installed on garden benches that have been set out in the hall. The minister goes over to them. The second one to arrive, the old man, is weeping. You can't tell if he's as old as all that, he may be only twenty, you can't tell his age. The minister comes over, takes off his hat, goes up to the old man, holds out his hand. The old man takes it, but doesn't know it's the minister's. A woman in a blue uniform bawls at him: "It's the minister! He's come to meet you!" The old man goes on crying, he hasn't even looked up. Suddenly I see D. sitting down beside him. I'm very cold, my teeth are chattering. Someone comes up to me: "Don't stay here, there's no point, it's making you ill." I know him, he's a fellow from the center. I stay. D. has started to talk to the old man. I go over it all quickly in my head. There's one chance in ten thousand the old man might have met Robert L. In Paris they're beginning to say the army has lists of survivors from Buchenwald. Apart from the old man crying and the rheumatics, the others don't seem in too bad condition. The minister's sitting with them, as are the senior officers. D. talks to the old man at length. I don't look at anything but D.'s face. I feel this is taking a very long time. I move very slowly toward the bench, into D.'s field of vision. He notices, looks at me, and shakes his head to signify, "No, he doesn't know him." I move away. I'm very tired, I feel like lying down on the ground. Now the women in uniform are bringing the deportees mess tins. They eat, and as they eat they answer questions. What's so remarkable is that they don't seem interested in what's said to them. I'll find out next day from the papers that among these people, these old men, are General Challe; his son Hubert Challe, who had been a cadet at Saint-Cyr and who was to die that night, the night of his arrival; General Audibert; Ferrière, head of the state tobacco industry; Julien Cain, director of the Bibliothèque Nationale; General Heurteaux; Marcel Paul; Professor Suard of the faculty of medicine at Angers; Professor Richet; Claude Bourdet; the brother of Teitgen, the minister of information; Maurice Nègre; and others.
I leave the center at about five in the afternoon and go home along the river. The weather's fine, it's a lovely sunny day. I can't wait to get back, to shut myself up with the telephone, be back again in the black ditch. As soon as I leave the embankment and turn into the rue du Bac, the city is far away again and the Orsay center vanishes. Perhaps he will come back after all. I don't know any more. I'm very tired. I'm very dirty. I've been spending part of the night at the center, too. I must make up my mind to take a bath when I get in, it must be a week since I stopped washing. I feel the cold so badly in the spring, the idea of washing makes me shudder, I have a sort of permanent fever that doesn't seem to want to go away. This evening I think about myself. I've never met a woman more cowardly than I am. I go over in my mind other women who are waiting like me—no, none is as cowardly as that. I know some who are very brave. Extraordinary. My cowardice is such that it can't be described, except by D. My colleagues in the Tracing Service think I'm crazy. D. says, "No one has the right to destroy himself like that, ever." He often tells me, "You're sick. You're a madwoman. Look at yourself—you look like nothing on earth." I can't understand what people are trying to say to me. [Even now, transcribing these things from my youth, I can't understand the meanings of those expressions.] Not for a second do I see the need to be brave. Perhaps being brave is my form of cowardice. Suzy is brave for her little boy. The child we had, Robert L. and I, was born dead, he died in the war too: doctors didn't usually go out at night during the war, they hadn't enough gas. So I'm on my own. Why should I husband my strength? There's nothing for me to fight for. No one can know my struggle against visions of the black ditch. Sometimes the vision gets the upper hand and I cry out or leave the house and walk the streets of Paris. D. says, "When you think about it later on you'll be ashamed." People are out in the streets as usual, there are lines outside the shops; there are some cherries already, that's what the women are waiting for. I buy a paper. The Russians are in Strausberg, perhaps even farther, on the outskirts of Berlin. The women standing in line for cherries are waiting for the fall of Berlin. I'm waiting for it too. "Then they'll see, then they'll find out what's what," people say. The whole world is waiting for it. All the governments in the world are agreed. When the heart of Germany stops beating, say the papers, it will be all over. Zhukov has a ring of guns only a hundred yards apart pounding the city from a range of less than forty miles. Berlin is in flames. It will be burned right down to the roots. German blood will flow among its ruins. Sometimes you think you can smell the blood. See it. A prisoner who's a priest brought a German orphan back to the center. He held him by the hand, was proud of him, showed him off, explained how he'd found him and that it wasn't the poor child's fault. The women looked askance at him. He was arrogating to himself the right to forgive, to absolve, already. He wasn't returning from any suffering, any waiting. He was taking the liberty of exercising the right to forgive and absolve there and then, right away, without any knowledge of the hatred that filled everyone, a hatred terrible yet pleasant, consoling, like a belief in God. So what was he talking about? Never has a priest seemed so incongruous. The women looked away, they spat upon the beaming smile of mercy and light. They ignored the child. A total split, with on the one side the solid, uncompromising front of the women, and on the other just the one man, who was right, but in a language the women didn't understand.
|Universal Declaration of Human Rights|
|1||War and Remembrance|
|Wind and Widow||3|
|The Son of Man||4|
|An Estate of Memory||16|
|A War Letter||27|
|My War in Four Episodes||28|
|Conversation with a Stone||36|
|War and Memory||47|
|Blind Chinese Soldiers||65|
|2||Imprisonment and Censorship|
|Freedom from Fear||80|
|The Border Patrol State||85|
|The Legend of Miss Sasagawara||93|
|A Window on Soweto||110|
|North American Time||116|
|Piercing the Blockade||120|
|Block 4 Barrack 4 "Apt" C||128|
|Threads Drawn from the Heart||129|
|A Dead Child Speaks||139|
|On the Road at Night There Stands a Man||142|
|My City: A Hong Kong Story||143|
|My Father Would Recall||147|
|The Storm: A Poem in Five Parts||150|
|I Won't Christen You||163|
|My Father and My Mother Went Out to Hunt||169|
|All But My Life||170|
|The Child of the Enemy||176|
|A Little Arab Girl's First Day at School||178|
|4||Exiles and Refugees|
|Packing My Bags||209|
|A Woman in Exile||213|
|Bosnia, or What Europe Means to Us||223|
|The Moon, the Wind, the Year, the Day||230|
|5||Domestic and Political Violence|
|Against the Pleasure Principle||244|
|My Harem Frontiers||259|
|Musee des Faux Arts||261|
|Child of the Dark||265|
|Language and Shame||274|
|As a Blackwoman||277|
|Six Days: Some Rememberings||280|
|The Ritual of Sati||286|
|6||Resistance and Refusal|
|City of Fire||289|
|That Other World That Was the World||290|
|Arriving at the Plaza||304|
|The Trikeri Journal||307|
|The Dance in Jinotega||311|
|E. F. Schumacher Memorial Lecture||316|
|The Hour of Truth||320|
|The Writer's Commitment||348|
|Notes on Contributors||353|
|Copyrights and Permissions||363|