"The face that launched a 1000 ships" is metaphoric enough to get my 6th and 7th graders all excited as we go across the stories from the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Yet that face is just a beautiful one of a person who is a victim of her fate, manipulated as it was by the Gods and men around her.
Then, the excitement of the Iliad takes over, featuring heroes sporting bravado, machismo and brutality. Although they fight for ‘the face’, the story barely mentions her until she is ‘rescued’ in the end.
A story from our own tradition, also tells of a beautiful, kind princess…Sita, who is outwitted by a rakshasa in disguise, kidnapped and kept in captivity until she is rescued.
The pictures painted of these two women are simpering, beautiful, delicate creatures. While the great epics tell of them, the stories revolving around their rescue tom-tom the victories, brave deeds and cunning of the men in the stories.
Who are these women? What makes them tick?
These were not seen as something worthwhile enough to put down in their character arcs.
Their stories have traversed time. Helen of Troy is known for her beauty and faithlessness.
Sita for her dedication, purity and loyalty. Was this all they were?
What did they feel about their marriages, their abductions, their captors, their husbands?
What made them tick?
My Story, my voice - Sita and Helen by Shailee, reimagines Sita and Helen beyond the patriarchal frameworks of their stories, looking at them as real women, alive, thinking, intelligent women.
After I read the book, I couldn’t help but question my own acceptance of these stories and my narration of them with emphasis on the brave deeds of the men. As a story educator, this book made me aware of the shortcomings as a narrator and the need to be able to guide my students question the narratives that we so readily accept.
The book is in graphic nover format and the dialogue could be a bit stiff in places as it is narrated by the two women, throughout.
The illustrations by Priyadarshini Banerjee are outstanding and bring the stories and the emotions to life.
A powerful read, especially for teens, young adult readers and adults alike.