If, like a character in one of the stories, you are a ‘collector of treasures’ then this is one to keep. Having read many of Alexander McCall Smith’s books, and enjoyed them, I now presume that his deceptively simple and engaging writing style owes more than a nod to Bessie Head given their shared Botswanan past.
Through a collection of carefully crafted short stories Head explores the position of women in a society that, she feels, has never valued women, but now (in 1977 when the book was published) puts them in a particularly difficult position in a new, post-independence ‘modern’ Botswana where traditional values were being eroded. She seems concerned that for most people, especially men, nothing else had taken their place.
She doesn’t paint a pretty picture of women’s position or the dilemmas they face in village life, and yet these stories are not on the whole sad. Instead, crafted in the style of oral tradition, they offer us a vision of humanity, how even though some relationships may destroy us, carefully chosen, treasured and valued ones can carry us through. It says, simply, that life is hard for everyone, but mostly we have choices, and if we chose well and chose who to rely on well, sometimes it will be less hard. But for women it will be harder and sometimes they will not be able to choose, but if this is the case then everyone will lose to some extent.
For such short stories they certainly make you think, and the title story especially is a ‘treasure’ to be taken out and pondered over on dark nights. Would I do the same? Could I do the same? Is her lack of choice real because of her society or her illusion – but if the later comes from her up-bringing in that society then is it just as real to her? And perhaps most importantly, what can we do to give women all over the world choices?
It’s rare that such a short book, and such short stories make me pause and think quite as much. Throughly recommended.