A 19th-century patriarchy cannot stop an independent woman and her granddaughter from determining their futures in this debut novel.
Emma Wool, born in 1812—the fifth child and only daughter of a prosperous wool merchant in the village of Greenland—is raised in a severely misogynistic society. Her only future rests in acquiring a suitable husband, for whom she must produce sons. Her father clarifies the gender demarcation when she is age 6 and wants to go outside with her brothers: “You are a girl; you can’t play with boys anymore.” And so Emma is eventually married off to Arthur Waves, a “great warrior,” who becomes a devoted husband—until her first pregnancy results in the birth of twin girls, Alice and Rose. Arthur becomes indifferent and cruel, and the townsfolk turn against her. When she next gives birth to twin sons, Albert and Fred, her social position, if not her warm feelings toward Arthur, is re-established. Arthur is killed in battle, and Emma, the respected widow of a hero, inherits his house and land. This is when she begins to shine. Determined to control her own destiny, she refuses to consider another marriage and devotes her life to raising her four small children and to building the most successful farm in Greenland. Enduring a lifetime of plot twists and tragedies, Emma presses on, ultimately finding joy in the knowledge that her youngest granddaughter, Mary, has the same strength and independence that has propelled her. The sometimes-overwrought novel reads much like an extended fable, with an implicit, scathing indictment of the mistreatment of women. Kallas’ text is linguistically simple, with few descriptions. Greenland does not exist in any specific country (it is just the name of a farming village), creating a sense of dislocation in the reader. Surnames are generic—Wool, Waves, Great—and characters, with the exception of Mary, are two-dimensional, serving more as archetypes. Emma is the backbone of the story, but readers often are not privy to her internal life. The deftly developed Mary is the one they get to know more intimately.
A message-driven narrative that encourages women to follow their own paths.