I cherish the day I discovered Rebecca Solnit’s voice. And so, as a woman and a writer, it was chilling for me to read the words that present her latest book, Recollections of My Non-Existence, to the reader as follows: “An electric portrait of the artist as a young woman that asks how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent.”
Solnit’s voice is a voice of reason, compassion and celebration. She could not be silenced. She is the author of over twenty titles, ranging from books about hope and walking to women’s rights and storytelling. Her oeuvre is a torch that lights the way through the darkness of this world.
Recollections of My Non-Existence tells Solnit’s personal story and weaves the history of feminism into it, empowering readers to follow in her extraordinary footsteps and yet find their own path. With every page you turn, you feel more inspired, and if you are a woman, you feel seen and recognised. The connection allows you to comprehend the ultimate need for “freedom, equality, confidence” that reality all too often denies us, but we must never abandon the desire to seek them out and make them our own.
Recollections of My Non-Existence
Review first published in the Cape Times on 24 December 2020.
There are numerous writers out there who understand the complexity of the present. Many can also clearly convey their insights. But few do it as strikingly as Rebecca Solnit. I have discovered her work only recently, but have read and loved all the books she has authored by now. Her latest is another intellectual delight.
Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters is a collection of essays Solnit penned over the last three years. At the heart of the book is the ancient question of who and how is allowed to tell a story. It might seem simple at first glance, but there are no easy answers. And when one realises how many seminal stories are silenced and for which reasons, one can grow terrifyingly worried about the narratives that infiltrate our lives.
Storytelling and power are tensely interlinked. Credibility or lack thereof forms part of that connection. Having a voice doesn’t necessarily mean that it is your time to speak. Truth and accuracy are paramount. And perhaps most importantly for our strange times, the dominant story is often the one that is lethally misleading: “Gaslighting is a collective cultural phenomenon, too,” Solnit notes, “and it makes cultures feel crazy the way it does individual victims.” Whose Story Is This? is worth reading just for the explanation of this concept. But the book offers so much more.
Solnit’s intense clarity of thought and compassion allows us to follow her as she “maps or machetes” paths out of “this horrible tangle.” She says that it is all about the “active practice of paying attention to other people.” It is also about kindness. Our world can use a lot more of these vital skills, if we want to envisage a future that is meaningful to most, not only a few.
Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters
Review first published in the Cape Times on 20 December 2019.