justice_turtle: Image of the TARDIS in a field on a sunny day (Kermitpire)
justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-09-09 08:57 am

Review: Pran of Albania (Elizabeth Cleveland Miller)

Summary: A fourteen-year-old girl (of marriageable age in that culture) in pre-Communist Albania gets romantically involved with a boy who lives in hiding under an assumed name. Obstacles that come between them before the obligatory Happy Married Ending include the Albanian custom of blood feud, a war with a neighboring Balkan country, and a misunderstanding about the name deal that leads to the girl temporarily becoming an Albanian sworn virgin.

Reaction: The most heteronormative possible treatment of a set of cultural customs with a LOT of potential for questioning gender relationships. I mean, seriously, Albania is (as far as I know) the one place in Europe where the oppressive idea that a man "owns" his wife and daughters was taken so far that it doubled back on itself and included a provision for a way a woman could legally become a man in order to escape that oppression or even "own" other women who then didn't legally need a cisgender man in their lives.

(I use past-tense verbs because the Communist takeover of Albania included efforts at eradicating gender oppression, and I don't know the current situation very accurately.)

And it's treated of in a STRAIGHT-UP HETERONORMATIVE ROMANCE STRUCTURE. 'Scuse my yelling. o_O But the moral of the story is that blood-feuds are bad because they won't allow the protagonist and her future husband to expect a Happily Ever After life, and none of the gender oppression stuff is questioned at all, just treated as an integral part of the structure of the story. Which is one way to handle writing about oppressive cultures, but I VERY VERY STRONGLY judge Ms Miller's choice to write this particular narrative (rather than, say, a story about a girl who actually became a sworn virgin for life, for ANY POSSIBLE REASON besides "I thought my father sold me to a guy I didn't love rather than the one I did! I will now proceed to be my boyfriend's puppet and make happy sappy cow-eyes at him!"). :P

Also, it's an incredibly slow book, laden down with exhaustive detail about Albanian rural life of the (unstated) time period. And due to a couple of odd wordings about a festival Mass, I don't even know how much I trust the author's research. O_O

Also also, in the spot where changing one attribution would have made Pran the first female Newbery protagonist to have agency - just letting her, instead of her boyfriend, suggest that she go and speak to the council that is considering abolishing blood-feuds for a while longer, and then just not having her GO ALL WIBBLY AND UNSURE ABOUT IT! - she, well, doesn't. :P One word. I'd have given this book four stars (lopping off the fifth because it's slooooow) if that had been the case. :PPPPPP

Conclusion: One star. Because the use of language and the research is relatively good, but I'm so angry about how pointless it was to make our formerly quite assertive-seeming heroine into a wishy-washy catspaw of her beloved Man-Hero at that one spot. BLAAAAAAAGH.