15 May, 2018

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

/ posted in: Reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes
on July 7th 2015
Pages: 391
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark

The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.


This book is absolutely tragic. I read it in one day and then it took me a while to break out of the emotional dead space this left me in.

This is a story about the Chinese Exclusion Acts. Basically, a lot of Chinese immigrants came to the West Coast of the U.S. to build railroads. When that work was finished, many towns decided that they didn’t want Asian people living there anymore. Mobs would form to force Asian people away from their homes with just what they could gather rapidly and carry.  Other towns just murdered their Asian inhabitants. This history isn’t as well known as it should be.  I read about it in detail for the first time in Sundown Towns.

This book is set during the ethnic cleansing of Seattle. Mei Lein and her family are forced onto a boat supposedly heading for China. When they suspect that the ship’s captain is up to no good, her father throws her overboard near an island because she can swim. It is remote enough that she is able to mostly hide with the white man who finds her but she is still treated horribly by the others on the island.

The second timeline in this book takes place in modern times. The daughter of a wealthy white family wants to develop her family’s island vacation home into a hotel. She finds an embroidered sleeve hidden in the stairs. The embroidery tells a graphic story of Chinese people being killed. In attempting to find out about the sleeve, she starts to uncover her family’s part in the ethnic cleansing of Seattle.

This book was written by a white woman. Some people may have a problem with the historical part of the story not being told by an Asian person. I think where this book shines though is in pointing out all the ways in which white people try to avoid looking at the impact of racism.

In the historical sections when Mei Lein can point out people who were there when her family was rounded up, the white person who is helping her has a hard time believing her. They are his neighbors. They’ve always been nice to him.

In the present Mara’s first instinct is to hide evidence that reflects poorly on her family. Other family members don’t want to hear that their inherited wealth is based in racist acts.

This is absolutely relevant to today where people are trying to decide on the legacy of historical people and people in our own families who have been found to be involved in hideous behavior. 

18 Aug, 2016

The Other Einstein

/ posted in: Reading The Other Einstein The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict
on October 18th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Switzerland and Serbia

“What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”

Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Maric

This was one of the books that I was most excited about after BEA. It is a book that seems designed just for me.

  • Historical fiction ✔️
  • About women’s history ✔️
  • Science ✔️

So why did I delay reading this until now?

Every time I picked it up I couldn’t quite bring myself to read it.  I knew what it was going to be.  It is yet another story of a woman who was forced to give up her own ambitions to fit in with the mores of her time.  Honestly, the thought exhausted me.

The book is a well written story of the life of Mileva Maric.  She was a Serbian woman who attended university in Zurich in physics.  She was Einstein’s classmate.  She finished her coursework but failed her degree.  She had a child with Einstein before they married.  That child either died young or was given up for adoption.  Nothing is known for sure.  After their marriage they had two sons.  They divorced when he was having an affair.  His mother didn’t like her because Mileva was an inferior dark-skinned Slavic person.  (I don’t know.  She looks pretty pale to me but I’m Slavic too so Mama Einstein probably wouldn’t have cared for my opinion either.)

It isn’t known if she helped him with his scientific work.  There are some letters from him to her where he refers to “our work” but it is earlier in the relationship.  This book imagines that she had the idea for relativity and worked on the math.

What follows is a story of erasure.  Her name isn’t on the paper because it wouldn’t look good that he needed the help of a woman.  He stops asking her for advice.  She feels like he sees her as just a housewife.  He spends more and more time away and blames her for being selfish if she questions him.  He tries to impose a bizarre contract on her in order to keep the marriage together for the sake of the children.


A. You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:

1. my sitting at home with you;
2. my going out or travelling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.”  Source

This is the part that was hard to read.  I wish I was more surprised by it but my feeling as I was reading this was, “Yeah, same ol’ same ol'”  This is the story of ambitious women from the beginning of time.

I was thrilled when she was awarded the proceeds of any future Nobel Prize in the divorce settlement.  You go girl!  She got it too.  That’s actual historical fact.  Actually she got to live on the interest from it which she invested in rental properties.

I’d recommend this book to any historical fiction fans.