San Francisco Book Review of Stones by Jeanie Kortum

Kenya, 1984. I first knew the cutting was close when the sun rose and the young girl who had been dancing all night, bleating through a whistle, was dragged across the clearing by an old woman and lowered to the ground. All around her, women fell to the ground, emitting strange cries. The old woman held a piece of glass in her hand. The men sitting around the fire drinking from large calabasas, turned away.

The whistle in the young girl’s mouth was replaced with a stick so that she would not cry out and curse the ceremony.

When the cutting happened it was quick, grubby and gynecologically matter of fact. The old woman turned and dropped the clitoris onto a leaf. The stick had worked. Though the little girl’s legs were shaking and her eyes leaked tears, she hadn’t cried out.

When I went to visit her a little later someone had piled a small hill of maize on her wound. Transfixed, I watched as small tributaries of blood leaked into the white flour.

That morning, as if I too had a stick in my mouth, I withdrew into the comfortable objectivity of North American scrutiny: I too did not cry out. For thirty years I have carried the shame of that moment, whatever I could have done to stop the proceedings, sealed forever in the resin of my silence.

It had begun as a brave dream. I was going to do a series of books about endangered cultures. To research the first, I dogsledded to a village at the top of the world in Greenland and lived with the Inuit. That book easily sped out of me. To research the second I lived with a hunter-gatherer tribe, then went back for a second year with them and witnessed the clitoridectomy. [Read the whole article here]

Advanced Praise for Stones

Everything Jeanie Kortum writes (and does!) is informed by a huge heart, a gentle and tenacious intelligence, a fierce longing to tell truth stories, a passionate dedication to the betterment of humanity.  She is a wonderful writer.
— Anne Lamott, author of the novels: Hard Laughter; Rosie; Joe Jones; All New People; Crooked Little Heart; Blue Shoe; Imperfect Birds; and non-fiction: Operating Instructions; Bird by Bird; Traveling Mercies; Plan B; Grace (Eventually); Some Assembly Required; Help, Thanks, Wow; Stitches; Small Victories; and Hallelujah Anyway
Not since Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy has a novel so boldly placed female genital mutilation at its heart. Stones does not turn away but looks directly at this ancient rite, encompassing and also challenging modernity’s response to it. Stones is as rewarding as it is provocative.
— Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University
As a survivor of female genital mutilation, I welcome the complex tale Jeanie Kortum has spun in Stones. On so many levels, her fiction tells the truth about a custom whose psychological density and convolution escape the rigid categories of sociology and statistics. In their place we find spirituality, tribal identity, myth, mysticism, and art – beliefs that anchor FGM in defiant emotions that must be uncovered and addressed in order that we activists will sooner see the end of a noxious tradition.
— Khady Koita, author of Mutilée (2005),  translated as  Blood Stains: A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights (2010). Khady Koita founded the EuroNet-FGM in 2002 and served as President until 2009. She then launched La Palabre in Thiès, Senegal, a shelter and educational institution for girls fleeing FGM. Finally, hers is the face of the movement against FGM at the UN where she took a leading role in lobbying the UN General Assembly to adopt a worldwide ban on Female Genital Mutilation.
Jeanie Kortum is a storyteller in the ancient tradition that she writes of: at once poet, dreamweaver, detective, medicine woman, and visionary. Each sentence of Stones is a work of art, each word a surprise and at the same time deeply remembered from an indigenous past buried in our cells.... An epic poem, a healing spell, an ancient incantation and a page-turner novel, the reader may emerge as changed and awakened as the characters and cultures in these pages.
— Kim Rosen, author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words  (Way House 2009) and founder of the S.H.E. Fund
At the heart of Stones is a harsh tradition, female genital mutilation that tethers its tribal actors to the Kenyan earth, the cradle of humanity. Tradition encroaches upon modernity as the young anthropologist intent on scientific investigation assumes the role of a messianic heroine, the Stone Woman as an archetypal decipherer of futures inscribed in ancient runes. Powerful language deterritorializes; and a dreadful evocation of perpetual suffering fuses past and present, the here and elsewhere, assigning to the reader the burden of witnessing wherever slicing of vaginal flesh and shedding of blood are rendered a fearful tribute to the chains of moral necessity. The dead live on in the spirit world of our richest imaginations, so the author tells us. They are as real as the world that we see, and they demand obeisance. Carried by the soundscape of Kortum’s story, readers search for origins, struggle with change, chafe against inevitability. They are also granted the opportunity to loosen the chains of conflicted complicity through the authority of an extraordinary language.
— Dr. Maria Jaschok,  Director, International Gender Studies, Centre Lady Margaret Hall University of Oxford
Reading Stones made my mind sweat, like listening to poignant music can do. Partly this is because of its tasty flavorful words, which exceed what we call ‘poetry’. And partly it is because in the protagonist Emely/Amely, one experiences a human being turning into a divinity. All of the ethical issues are serious, mature, and harrowing; for here we inhabit a world in which people maim and mute Nature for the malicious sport of it. But, listen for the subtlety of the talismans. Nature can turn herself on. When we can’t wake ourselves up, the dead—the past—and the dreamers will wake us.
— Shao John Thorpe, author of The Cargo Cult