Book Shelf: Half the Sky

Book Shelf: Half the Sky: How to change the world by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Review by Lucy Brook

Most nights, when I’d finished a chapter or two of Half the Sky and switched off my reading light, I held the book to my chest and cried. Sometimes, I smiled, at others, I was enraged but always, I was so moved by the courage and hope of the book’s subjects that – spoiler alert! – this is the book I am buying everyone for Christmas.

Half the Sky, by Pulitzer winning husband and wife duo Sheryl Wudunn and Nicholas D. Kristof, is a groundbreaking book that exposes the “most shocking and widespread human-rights violation of our age” – the abuses of women.

Wudunn, a former foreign correspondent and business editor for The New York Times and Kristof, who writes op-ed for the Times as well as an excellent blog, lay out an agenda for the world’s women and detail the three major abuses: sex trafficking, gender-based violence and maternal mortality.

But Half the Sky, named after a Chinese proverb – “women hold up half the sky” – isn’t just a book: it’s a movement, a “call to arms” to “emancipate women and fight global poverty”.

Americans are joining the movement in droves. The book made the New York Times bestseller list, Oprah Winfrey started a giving registry on her website, a documentary and a video game version are in the works and, like Eat Pray Love before it, Half the Sky has become a Western reading group staple. But instead of leaving their husbands, women (and men) are standing up for gender equality in developing nations.

The authors, fearless travellers who stop at nothing (including purchasing sex slaves to free them) to expose the harrowing truths, introduce us to some incredible women, like Mamitu, who grew up in a remote Ethiopian village and now trains surgeons in Addis Ababa. There were times when I closed my eyes in despair or gasped reading the women’s stories, but there’s hope amidst the horror.

As Angelina Jolie said of Half the Sky, “these stories show us the power and resilience of women who would have every reason to give up but never do.”

What’s especially beautiful about the book, and what makes it so essentially unique, is that every page is riddled with hope, and every story has the capacity to inspire action and change. The authors rouse support without chastising privileged Western readers and without inciting hatred of men.

“This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women,” they write, “but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike.”

Half the Sky will educate you and open your eyes to unfathomable cruelty, staggering inequality and heart shattering tragedy, but it will also change you in ways you might never have imagined, because, as the authors say in their opening chapter, while “honor killings, sexual slavery, and genital cutting may seem to Western readers to be tragic but inevitable in a world far, far away” we, those privileged Western readers, really do have the ability to change the world. All it takes is an open heart and a little spare change.

Half the Sky: How to Change the World, $27.99, Little Brown. 

To sponsor a woman through Women for Women International, click here.
Yours truly,
Lucy @ Girl With a Satchel


ashley said...

I saw these two on the Oprah show a couple of weeks back. The stories they told were shocking and they were nothing but inspiring! The statistic that more women had died this year alone than all of the soldiers of all of the wars in the 20th century combined is numbing. I haven't read it yet but I must.

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica,

It just breaks my heart to read about the plight of women and young children. The reality is that most of us prefer not to see the ugly side of humanity, because it does stresses us out. At the same time, the amount of violence and depravity that we see in films and raunch culture desensitises us to genuine suffering.

The people who need to read about these issues are the very people in power. Basically these types of books on human right abuses should be required reading for all those in political seats.

There is very little done to help indigenous people in this nation. Many politicians claim to be of a Christian persuasion, yet would not "love thy neighbour" naturally first extend to the indigenous women, men and children of this first world nation?


Kaitlyn said...

Am hitting Book Depository as I type to see if they have a copy - can't believe I have not heard of this book before but I can't wait to read it now! I am surprised there is no Kidle version though.

Anonymous said...

Another must read book to add to my list.
Thanks for reminding me

xenien_x said...

Does Lucy have her own blog or website?

Erica Bartle (nee Holburn) said...

Hi all,
Glad Lucy's review was so well received.
Xenien, no, she doesn't currently have her own blog or website. I am blessed to have her here. She has also written for Mamamia and a plethora of publications you can see listed in her 'About' page credits.