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Extended Audio Sample A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,820 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Kate Walbert Narrator: Nicola Barber, Ruth Moore, Kathleen McInerney, Eliza Foss Publisher: Highbridge Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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The novel opens in England in 1915, at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragist and one of the first women to integrate Cambridge University. Her decision to starve herself for the cause informs and echoes in the later, overlapping narratives of her descendants. Among them are her daughter Evie, who becomes a professor of chemistry at Barnard College in the middle of the century and never marries, and her granddaughter Dorothy Townsend Barrett, who focuses her grief over the loss of her son by repeatedly defying the ban on photographing the bodies of dead soldiers returned to Dover Air Force base from Iraq. The contemporary chapters chronicle Dorothy Barrett’s girls, both young professionals embarrassed by their mother’s activism and baffled when she leaves their father after fifty years of marriage.

Walbert deftly explores the ways in which successive generations of women have attempted to articulate what the nineteenth century called “the woman question.” Her novel is a moving reflection on the tides of history, and how the lives of our great-grandmothers resonate in our own.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Ambitious and impressive…Reminiscent of a host of innovative writers from Virginia Woolf to Muriel Spark to Pat Barker…A witty and assured testament to the women’s movement and women writers, obscure and renowned.”

    Washington Post

  • “Wickedly smart…A gorgeously wrought and ultimately wrenching work of art.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “The prose is vivid and sympathetic, the characters believable.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “Ambitious…Wickedly funny.”

    Seattle Times

  • “Daring and devastating: 20th-century history made personal.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “It’s gripping, intense, and powerful. Walbert’s language is elegant, her images resonant. Characters are recognizable but not clichéd and will stay with readers as wise, if also flawed and struggling, exemplars of political and intellectual engagement.”

    Library Journal

  • “Walbert’s look at the twentieth century and the Townsend family is perfectly calibrated, intricately structured, and gripping from page one.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • A 2009 New York Times Book Review Top 10 Book of the Year
  • A 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Fiction

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Barbara | 2/17/2014

    " A novel featuring generations of women beginning with a suffragist starving herself to death in England. The writing is good but the structure jumpy and the women's names so similar that I had to repeatedly refer to the genealogical table at the beginning of the book to keep the characters and times straight. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Deb Christenson | 2/17/2014

    " Walbert's history is thin but her characters are interesting and the narrative of generations of women in one family devoted to suffrage and women's rights is rich. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Mary | 2/16/2014

    " Initially, this book reminded me of every book I only read because it was assigned for school. Like medicine - good for you, but unpleasant. By the end, though, I liked it more and found a couple of characters sympathetic. It is a short book, but the history of women covers 5 generations, beginning with the original Dorothy, an educated - but not degreed - widowed, mother of a 13-year old daughter, Evelyn, and 10-year old son, James, who kills herself by hunger strike over the status (or lack thereof) of women. Or, perhaps she stops eating because she is depressed: unhappy with her own life, her son's clubfoot, life with her self-absorbed mother. Each of the subsequent generations of children are inescapably affected by Dorothy's decision to die, and equally unhappy with their lives. Evelyn and James, abandoned by their grandmother are separated: Evelyn sent north to a small boarding school during the war, and James sent to live with a family in California. Evelyn, one of the few fulfilled characters in the novel ultimately becomes a chemistry professor, living in Morningside Heights with a man who has lost his own wife and child. Since Evelyn never marries or has children, the generations continue through James's daughter, Dorothy, married to a survivor of a Pacific theater WWII POW camp, Charles. Dorothy and Charles have two daughters, Caroline and Liz, and have lost one son, James, to cancer. Caroline - a Yale educated lawyer - has no children, but Liz - an artist - has several including Suzanne, and a younger set of twins. The book is narrated in third person, but through the viewpoints of the characters, and in changing writing styles, so that the chapters about the more recent events even take the form of blog entries and a social networking page. I almost didn't get there though, because the initial chapters are so grammatically garbled and lacking in guiding punctuation (didn't the English use commas before WWI?), with no plot or compelling characterization, that they seem not worth the trouble of reading. This is a discussion-worthy book for those who stick with it and get to the end. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Sarah | 2/12/2014

    " One of the worst books I've ever read. What spineless men and what depressed women. "

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