Tag Archives: Anna Funder

Wifedom – Anna Funder

Wifedom – Anne Funder

This was a Christmas present. Given to me by a friend who wanted to discuss it (what a good way to create a little book club). There has been a lot of hype about this book, which always makes me trepidatious, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This book lives up to its reputation.

I have read All that I Am, which I enjoyed and I meant to read Stasiland but I haven’t read it (yet).

Here’s the blurb …

This is the story of the marriage behind some of the most famous literary works of the 20th century —and a probing consideration of what it means to be a wife and a writer in the modern world

At the end of summer 2017, Anna Funder found herself at a moment of peak overload. Family obligations and household responsibilities were crushing her soul and taking her away from her writing deadlines. She needed help, and George Orwell came to her rescue.

“I’ve always loved Orwell,” Funder writes, “his self-deprecating humour, his laser vision about how power works, and who it works on.” So after rereading and savoring books Orwell had written, she devoured six major biographies tracing his life and work. But then she read about his forgotten wife, and it was a revelation.

Eileen O’Shaughnessy married Orwell in 1936. O’Shaughnessy was a writer herself, and her literary brilliance not only shaped Orwell’s work, but her practical common sense saved his life. But why and how, Funder wondered, was she written out of their story? Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder re-creates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War in London. As she peeks behind the curtain of Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer—and what it is to be a wife.

I thought the structure was very interesting. A combination of historical facts and quotes (complete with notes), imaginative non-fiction (is that a thing? Where the author imagines conversations and thoughts within a known historical context?) and personal anecdotes about her life, marriage, domestic duties, etc.

I have read both 1984 and Animal Farm, but I was indifferent to George Orwell, now I think poorly of him.

This book is about speaking truth to power, about how women’s labour is taken for granted in a patriarchal society. And it’s the mental labour as well, what is everyone going to eat for dinner? Who needs to be where and when? Even with the most helpful of husbands it is usually still the wife asking the husband to do domestic chores; pick up the children, cook dinner, buy food etc.

In the Orwell household Eileen not only did all domestic chores, but she was also the main bread-winner (mostly) and she typed and helped edit his work. I don’t know why she stayed, particularly when he openly had affairs (and even implied that she was OK with that).

I think everyone (but definitely men) should read this book.

A review.

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Filed under 5, Biography, Historical Fiction, History, Recommended

All That I Am – Anna Funder

This novel won the Miles Franklin Award for 2012. As you can imagine, this makes it a popular book club choice. I enjoyed it and I shall try to get hold of Stasiland.

Here is the blurb …

All That I Am is a masterful and exhilarating exploration of bravery and betrayal, of the risks and sacrifices some people make for their beliefs, and of heroism hidden in the most unexpected places.

When eighteen-year-old Ruth Becker visits her cousin Dora in Munich in 1923, she meets the love of her life, the dashing young journalist Hans Wesemann, and eagerly joins in the heady activities of the militant political Left in Germany. Ten years later, Ruth and Hans are married and living in Weimar Berlin when Hitler is elected chancellor of Germany. Together with Dora and her lover, Ernst Toller, the celebrated poet and self-doubting revolutionary, the four become hunted outlaws overnight and are forced to flee to London. Inspired by the fearless Dora to breathtaking acts of courage, the friends risk betrayal and deceit as they dedicate themselves to a dangerous mission: to inform the British government of the very real Nazi threat to which it remains willfully blind. All That I Am is the heartbreaking story of these extraordinary people, who discover that Hitler’s reach extends much further than they had thought.

Gripping, compassionate, and inspiring, this remarkable debut novel reveals an uncommon depth of humanity and wisdom. Anna Funder has given us a searing and intimate portrait of courage and its price, of desire and ambition, and of the devastating consequences when they are thwarted.

I found this book fascinating for a number of reasons. First, I know very little German history – I’m Australian the only European history we learn is about the ‘mother country’, i.e England. Reading about World War One and the lead up to World War Two from a German point of view was interesting (particularly because we know what Hitler does to the world). Secondly, I enjoyed the narrative style. It is written chapter about by two different narrators; Toller and Ruth. I must say I enjoyed Ruth’s chapters more, but I think that was simply a personal preference rather than anything inherent in the writing. Ruth is an elderly woman living in Bondi who is remembering (with greater clarity than she can remember current events) her life before the war. I think Ms Funder did a brilliant job of capturing Ruth’s life in Bondi with Bev the cleaning lady/home help. I could hear the tone that Bev would use when talking to Ruth.

This novel is full of suspense and yet we know Ruth survives and we know something happens to Dora (we presume death), but when it all comes to a climax it is still shocking. There are hints along the way and I think I would notice more with a second reading, but I don’t know if I would ever expect the depth of betrayal that occurs.

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