The context in which we read books is important. My reading this week has reflected the state of affairs in Australia for the past month. The book is Cassandra speaks, When women are the storytellers, the human story changes by Elizabeth Lesser, published in late 2020.
Lesser, the founder of the Omega institute in New York, is an author who also organises retreats and conferences on topics ranging from women and power, mindfulness, health, sustainability and creativity.
She wrote this book when reflecting on the stories of women such as Eve, Pandora and Cassandra. Of course, you will have heard of Eve, the woman charged with eating the apple which forever changed the course of human nature and Pandora, whose curiosity let evil spirits out of the box. Do you know Cassandra’s story? She was a princess from Troy, and both Zeus and his son Apollo were in love with her. Apollo gave her the gift of seeing into the future. But when she refused his advances, Apollo cursed her – she would remain clairvoyant but would never be believed. In vain, Cassandra tried to warn her people of the fall of Troy and other devastations but she was mocked and disbelieved.
See any parallels with current events?
Lesser invites us as women to speak with courage and confidence about the things that matter to us. She encourages women to be the storytellers, rather than seen through the lens of the male perspective.
This is not a new idea – female characters have been seen through the eyes of male writers for centuries. Hello, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy. Virginia Woolf, one of the earliest feminists, wondered about Shakespeare’s fictional sister in a series of lectures, published as A room of one’s own. How would this sister, Judith, have written her poetry had she been given the same opportunities as her brother?
Lesser’s book is equal parts practical and observational. She talks of her own experience – she was a single mother of two small boys, and is now remarried, with a stepson, ‘three daughters-in-love’ and a few grandchildren. She tells stories of her parents, her work as both a midwife and then a conference founder and author.
This is not a book that denigrates men – it is fair and open and non-judgemental.
Lesser offers practical suggestions for moving past our own biases towards the ‘other’, incorporating mindful practices and gathering the courage to make our voices heard.
I imagine that even if you were to read this book in a few months, a few years, it will still be relevant. Sadly. Change is slow, but it is a grassroots movement, as seen around our cities this week.
I hope my copy of Cassandra speaks will become dog-eared as I pass it around to both the women and men in my circle.