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Women in a World at War: Seven Dispatches from the Front

by Madeleine Gagnon, Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, trans.

Women in a World at War, by Quebec writer Madeleine Gagnon, is an extraordinary work. Less investigative journalism than an extended effort to view the war-torn world through a poet’s gaze, the book crosses borders of country, culture, and language to touch fundamental truths in lyrical and haunting prose.

Gagnon voyages to seven of the world’s hot spots, surveying the conflicts between religious and ethnic groups as well as the domestic war waged between men and women. The women in the world’s war zones, whom Gagnon allows to speak directly to her readers, do not separate their countries’ battles from their own daily struggles for freedom. Rita, the director of the Community Health Centre in Palestine, tells Gagnon: “We are becoming feminists. In the West, you do not like that word any more, you are too spoiled.” In uncovering the psychological roots of violence, Gagnon reveals the systemic and domestic abuse of women to be an underlying basis for the brutalities of war.

Women in a World at War does not shy away from difficult realities. Gagnon confronts the suffering that occurs beyond the media’s war coverage without resorting to gratuitous and didactic language. Instead, we feel her outrage, as in the sections on Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and her dolour in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon, where the cessation of violence has wrought a depressing state of limbo for the countries’ women and men. And yet the book’s overall tone is hopeful, for both the women and the devastated countries where they reside. The book pays tribute to the spirit and energy of women who drive activist movements across the world.