It’s hard to be critical of a book with such an important topic and message. “Half the Sky” increases its readers’ awareness of the horrific things endured by women in some parts of the world – rape, forced prostitution at an early age, honor killings, infanticide for being the wrong gender, genital cutting, etc. The book does this through a series of gut-wrenching anecdotes which succeed in putting a human face on the statistics. Despite the intensely depressing quality of these stories (and they are depressing), there is a thread of empowerment running throughout the book as you read about the individuals who try to fight this phenomenon and sometimes actually succeed.
Along the lines of “Three Cups of Tea,” “Half the Sky” hammers home the need to provide educational and vocational opportunities for girls and women as a way of empowering them. It’s a message that resonates with me. As with “Three Cups of Tea,” though, I appreciated the book’s inspiring theme far more than the book itself.
Aside from feeling really wrung out as a result of continuous bombardment with graphic horror stories (which unfortunately, started to all blur together after a while), I was bothered that the book made no pretense of objective reporting. The authors did not hesitate to describe humanitarian individuals they encountered as “saints,” to project what they thought people were thinking and feeling as opposed to quoting them or providing evidence of their leanings, or to use words like “should” or “must” frequently. I was particularly irked by the use of the word “apparently” where “presumably” would have been far more accurate. To me, “apparently” indicates that “the evidence suggests;” however, “apparently” was thrown around frequently in places where it was pretty obvious that the authors were “presuming” (or more likely, projecting) rather than scrutinizing the evidence, which was nonexistent. Certainly I agree with most if not all of what the authors were saying; really, it’s hard to imagine disagreeing that these women’s human rights are being violated and that something must be done. Yet the tone of the book was off-putting to me. The overload of graphic descriptions followed by polemic felt manipulative somehow.
The book’s cause is unquestionably a worthy one, which makes me feel terribly guilty feeling and voicing this criticism. I feel like I should really be saying, hey, do whatever works to get attention and assistance for these women. And had the authors gone to the other extreme and reported in a detached manner, I might have found that offensive, or simply ineffective, in a different way. Still, I can’t help but think the book might have actually been more powerful had the author’s agenda been less overt.
On a more positive note, this book made me want to go on a rooftop and sing “God Bless America” at the top of my lungs. I’m so grateful to be a product of 20th century western civilization. I’m so grateful to be dealing with my petty little hassles and not living the tragic lives described in this book. Even if I got nothing else out of this book (which, in fairness, is actually not the case; the book was both informative and interesting throughout notwithstanding my issues with its tone), that realization alone deserves at least 3 stars.