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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.