Photo: Kheel Center, Cornell University

Women We Read This Week


Sarah Stillman’s “Kidnapped at the Border” in The New Yorker

Sarah Stillman has done it again. The young-enough-to-make-you-feel-really-bad-about-your-accomplishments staff writer at The New Yorker has already shone a bright narrative light on the ways police routinely put teenager informants at risk, widespread abuses of civil forfeiture laws, and more. Now she tackles the big business of kidnappings along the Mexico-US border – and specifically the kidnapping of child migrants who are crossing unaccompanied, generally to reunite with their parents stateside. Here’s Stillman:

Fear of the police can loom as large as fear of captors, particularly in parts of the country where law enforcement is believed to detain undocumented people who come forward to report a crime. One person who did contact the police was Sonia Avila, a woman living in Texas whose teen-age son, Franklin, reached Arizona from Honduras in 2011, only to be abducted by men posing as good Samaritans and held captive in a stash-house bedroom. Franklin’s kidnappers phoned Avila, demanding fifteen hundred dollars. Otherwise, they told her, they would chop off Franklin’s ears, or kill him.

Avila called 911. When Franklin was rescued by federal agents, she agreed to testify against the culprits. The prosecutor’s last question to her on the witness stand made clear what she had put at stake by speaking out: “Now, do you realize you might have to face an immigration judge?”

Read the whole thing.

Louisa Thomas’ “The Boxer and the Batterer” in Grantland

I’ve mostly been avoiding the widespread coverage of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight – I don’t really want to dwell too long on the fact that Floyd Mayweather, a serial abuser of women, stands to earn tens of millions of dollars while the world looks on. But I’m so glad I made an exception for this thoughtful, precise essay from Louisa Thomas. The 12-part piece builds carefully, contrasting lyrical descriptions of Mayweather’s controlled, surgical fighting style (“He boxed like his aim wasn’t to punch his opponent’s lights out, but simply to find the switch and flick it off”) with a grim narrative of his known assaults on women. She asks the question that arises from that contrast: “A boxer who wins like a dancer allegedly beats women like a pugilist. What are you supposed to do with this?” And in the end, she finds the point at which the money, the fame, the in-the-ring control and the haywire violence out of it all meet.

Martha Gellhorn’s “A Road Trip Across America” in The New Republic

On a completely different note! Thanks to Longform for digging up this 1947 gem, reposted online at TNR in 2013. In the aftermath of the Second World War, and in the infancy of the Cold War, Martha Gellhorn took a road trip around the United States. This short dispatch covers the South, and it’s brief but evocative and packed with insight. Here’s a taste:

We drove through places called Old Hundred, Hamlet, Pee Dee. The main streets seem to have been ordered from a firm that mass-produces main streets for small Southern towns and there is nothing charming about the invariable drugstore, movie house, Woolworth’s, and the stucco gas stations on the crossroads. On the best streets, there were old or oldish houses, large, white and private behind soft trees. The other houses were dateless and styleless, but everywhere rich in roses and wisteria and clumped about with bright hydrangea bushes. And every street was a cool underwater green, shaded by arching live oaks: the towns are anchored in place by the magnificent trees. The trees remind you that America is not brand-new.



Kathleen Hale’s “The Human Repair Shop” on Hazlitt

When my husband deployed to Afghanistan he was my fiancé. But he was also an infantry paratrooper who would likely see some combat. I’ll never forget the conversations we had about the potentials: of him being hurt, wounded critically, or worse. Perhaps this is what drew me immediately into Kathleen Hale’s essay. But that isn’t the reason I finished it so eagerly.

How do you write about wounded soldiers? About war veterans badly burned or living on as amputees? How do you confront your own past, its ugliest parts and the ways subsequent emotions might shade or shape you? How do you tell a story about a moment in time when you’re completely real with someone while remaining completely walled-off?

Hale’s essay covers all these things, and it is a brave, piercing, and honest piece: informative, researched, and thoughtful. We learn that she found refuge in a library after spending two years involved in a rape trial “to take away a man’s freedom.” There she met a librarian whose son recovered from battlefield injuries at the Brooke Army Medical Center. She admits that upon learning of the center, and its rehabilitation facilities, she felt a glimmer of connection and believed she might find something by being able to involve herself with wounded veterans — people, she wrote, who were like her in age and, like her, “had been blistered and bruised by life.” She admits: “I was wrong about a lot of things.”

The narrative that grows out of this experience is sad and beautiful. Hale introduces several people, many of whom are wounded veterans. She meets Jon, the librarian’s son, and a relationship forms between two survivors of different types of trauma. But communication collapses under the heavy burden of unconfronted fears and psychological wounds. Hale, fortunately, is able to write the ending of this piece from a significant distance. – Sarah J.


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