Thursday, November 17, 2011
Book Review: The Virgin Cure
Usually I'm way behind the masses on what I read. I typically find books that were bestsellers long ago and discover them after everyone has already "been there, read that". But I was pretty much lined up to get Ami McKay's latest. Her first novel, The Birth House, is a real favorite of mine and I knew without even reading the back cover, that I would appreciate this one as well. Besides, she's a Nova Scotia writer and I support that!
Both of her books combine Wise Woman knowledge, some historical fact, traditional cures and potions, and just a bit of mystic. Good combinations in my opinion.
The Virgin Cure, is definitely a book about survival. The novel is set in New York, lower Manhattan actually, in 1871. Moth, the main character, at the age of 12, is sold by her mother to a wealthy woman to be a servant. The first 12 years of her life were no picnic either, but Moth has a personality and perhaps a life purpose, that ensure she will thrive despite the odds. She goes through some pretty murky worlds of begging, circus type sideshows, and brothels along the way. But somehow I always had this sense that Moth was going to fly and I appreciated that. Took some of the angst away during the reading!
This book really got me thinking! On so many levels and on many different subjects.
In the late 1800's , syphilis was a common disease that affected and killed many. In many circles, the mere mention of the disease was taboo. Neither the cause nor cure was well understood. Rumors, myths, prejudice, and ignorance around the disease were widespread. Many of the treatments were as brutal as the disease. People who had or were suspected of having the disease were hidden away, shunned, and avoided out of fear and misunderstanding. They were considered "dirty", and of low class and morals. There was a common belief that if a man with the disease could have sex with a female virgin, his blood would be cleansed and he would be cured of the disease. This misconception allowed young girls to become commodities to be bought, sold, or traded, sometimes even by family members. It also spread the disease and increased the death toll in a portion of the population (very young girls) that might otherwise never have been unexposed.
Now take the above paragraph and change the date to the late 1900's/early 21st century. Put today's date in if you wish. Do a computer "search and replace". Replace the word "syphilis" with HIV-AIDS. The tragedy is, that without a single other change, the paragraph will still be correct. Hmm....
Moth hasn't been dealt a very good hand. But she really doesn't dwell a lot on those facts. She's too busy in survival mode maybe. She doesn't turn her back on where and who she came from. She uses the skills that have been handed down to her both through nature and nurture and tweaks them to be her own style. It works for her. And that makes me think about the idea of life purpose and how perhaps we owe it to ourselves to consider from whence we come. Perhaps those ancestral traits are in us for a reason. Maybe they need to be modified a bit. No doubt they need to be adapted to our present situations, but perhaps they would point us to both purpose and survival. Maybe they would help enable us to thrive. Hmm...
At least in this part of the world, society has changed a lot in a couple of hundred years. We do have child protection laws, health care and social programs that would prevent the course of events that occurred to Moth- I think. But I wonder if some of those changes haven't always been in the right direction. I felt the same when I read some of Jeannette Walls books http://pixiedusthealing.blogspot.com/2010/10/teen-age-disconnect.htmlWhat always strikes me when I read books from this era is how smart and capable teenagers were. If we have advanced so much since then, and have grown so much in educational programs and information dissemination, why do we think that teenagers today are so less capable? Shouldn't they be more capable of surviving and thriving? Why don't we trust them to find their own way anymore? Before you send social services to my door, I'm not suggesting at all that we "throw them into the streets", or sell them off to a higher bidder. I'm suggesting we look at them with a bit more respect and acknowledge the survival skills they have deep within them. Maybe we could help them test those skills out a bit. Isn't there a middle ground where we could nurture them but allow them to spread their wings a bit too? Maybe we should just ask them what they really think they want and need from us. Hmm....
But you don't have to think this hard. You can just enjoy the book. It's well written with engaging characters. You really feel like you're walking the streets, wearing the clothes and experiencing Moth's life. You might get some good remedy ideas in there. You might thank your lucky stars that fashion has changed. You might want to consider your own roots and your family backgrounds. After all, that's how Ami McKay came to tell the tale in the first place.