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Writing in an Age of Silence    by Sara Paretsky order for
Writing in an Age of Silence
by Sara Paretsky
Order:  USA  Can
Verso, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Most readers will quickly associate the name Sara Paretsky with the author of the V I Warshawski mystery novels. But there's much more to Ms. Paretsky as is revealed in her Writing In An Age of Silence. In this biographical collection of essays, Paretsky covers a broad range of issues in a 138-page book, and hits them with a resounding punch. As a long-time fan of Paretsky, I learned much more about the author, the woman, the spokesperson and lecturer, the campaigner for rights and social issues - from an unhappy childhood and teen life with an overbearing father, and a bitter, jealous mother onwards.

In her Introduction, Paretsky tells us that books are among her earliest memories: 'My older brother Jeremy at age seven taught me to read and write ... I was about four, but I don't remember learning. I don't remember a time when I couldn't read.' Jeremy is a gifted linguist, who speaks eleven languages and reads fifteen. Sara was a surrogate mother to younger brothers Dan, Jona, and Nicholas, expected by her parents to tend to them and domestic chores. For some time, they believed Sara was their real mom.

She writes of her inner self, 'Perhaps it doesn't seem surprising that I became a writer, but it was, in fact, a difficult journey. This memoir traces the long path I followed from silence to speech, and the ways in which my speech has been shaped by what I've witnessed along the way ... my effort to find a voice ... understand and come to terms with questions of power and powerlessness'. Though both her parents were highly educated, their home situation was out-of-balance with violence and rage. Sara writes of psychotherapy from the mental and emotional traumas and isolated upbringing, which carried into her future life: 'I often feel numb and bewildered. I try to believe it's the result of my isolated upbringing, but it's hard to believe that, deep down, I'm not a monster.'

Though Sara hoped to study in the east, to get away, she was not allowed to attend college outside of Kansas. Told by her father that she had a 'second-rate mind', she had to finance her studies on her own, and her father selected the courses she would take. Paretsky vowed to spend summers far away from home, and that she did. The first summer she earned a scholarship to Vienna to study German; for the second in 1966, she did community service on the South Side of Chicago. Paretsky fell in love with Chicago, which she made her home, and where V I was born in 1982. She wanted the PI to be a 'street fighter'. Sara fell in love and married Courtenay Wright.

Paretsky addresses the women's movement in the 1970's and the Patriot Act. She writes of the South Chicago neighborhood and the end of the steel industries in the 1980's, when 200,000 jobs disappeared. She speaks of environmental issues of migratory birds, 'fish with tumors and rotted fins', shanties of the poor, illegal dumping, and a bit of swamp the locals named Dead Stick Pond. Paretsky received an invitation some years ago from Roger Simon to join the International Crime Writers Association - all men. When she declined telling him that she was not 'comfortable lending her name to such a male-dominated group', Simon responded 'Are you still doing feminism? I've already done that.' In Paretsky's words, 'Feminism was a fad, it had its moment ... let's do gangster rap now. But I'm still doing feminism. And so is my detective, V I Warshawski.'

During trips to Washington, Paretsky visits the Lincoln memorial and muses, 'We don't need the reckless cowboys ... galloping today across the world's range, despoiling it' but rather 'a person who is willing to be that heroic loner, to stand for Justice even as charlatans and thugs are tearing down her walls. In the absence of Lincoln, we will have to make do with our private eyes.' She reminds us that 'Silence does not mean consent. Silence means death. When we have something to say and we are afraid to speak, or forbidden to speak, we feel as though we've been walled into a closet.'

Aside from the V I Warshawski series, Paretsky is author of Sisters On The Case, Women On the Case, VI x 2, Photo Finish and Publicity Stunts, and Wind City Blues. She founded the Sisters In Crime organization for women writers and is a sought-after speaker. Many awards include the Cartier Diamond Dagger award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers' Association. Writing in an Age of Silence may be small, but it is BIG in content. I am in awe of this woman, and highly recommend her book to you.

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