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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Any Other Woman By Monica Kidd

(Logo by Susan Newman)

I've mentioned before
that I'm a bit of a slacker when it comes to environmental responsibility. It's not that I don't care about Mother Earth, it's just that she's not my top priority. Before you start forming that angry mob, I can boast about a few things: I don't litter, I do recycle, and I just started growing my own vegetables in a little container garden behind my house. I know it's not much, but it's better than doing nothing, right? But I have to assuage my guilt somehow, so I joined The Green Books Campaign, a project headed by Raz Godlenik, CEO of His idea is simple: To promote publishing practices that are environmentally friendly, book bloggers will simultaneously post reviews of 100 books that have been printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper on November 10 at 1 p.m. EST. Because I am both a book lover and a tree lover (not to be confused with a tree hugger) who firmly believes that the two can co-exist peacefully, I joined up.
If you've never heard of Eco-Libris, head on over to its website. The group works to "green up" the book industry by "promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books." Search the site for more information on how you can help Eco-Libris with this important cause.
The following review is my very small way of contributing to the promotion of environmentally-friendly practices in the book industry. This biography is printed on recycled paper:
(Book image from Amazon)
Anyone who's ever been bitten by the family history bug will relate to Monica Kidd's book, Any Other Woman: An Uncommon Biography. In it, she describes her long, frustrating search for information about her great-grandmother. As any geneaologist will attest, such a quest is almost always filled with equal parts aggravation, triumph and providence (which Kidd refers to as Rosencratz moments and LDS researchers believe is divine intervention). Kidd's experience is no different.
Monica's journey begins with a story: Early in the 20th Century, Andrew Zak, a Slovakian immigrant proposes to Rosalia Patala in a letter. Although she has never met this suitor, 16-year-old Rosalia agrees to marry him. She travels from New York to Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, and weds a virtual stranger. This hopelessly romantic beginning leads to what can only have been a difficult existence for the new couple - Andrew labored in a coal mine, while Rosalia kept house and struggled to bear healthy children. Captivated by her great-grandparents' bare bones story, Kidd nonetheless sees its many holes. Did Rosalia really just sail off into the sunset with a man she didn't know? Why would she leave a steady job in New York to come to the barren north? Did she grow to love her husband? Or did she resent him for all the hardships she must have endured as a frontier wife? Did she miss Slovakia, a country she also called home? As a journalist, Kidd finds the mysteries irresistible. Rosalia haunts her, as if demanding that her story be pulled out of obscurity.
Finding the truth behind family lore proves to be a difficult task. Scouring vital records, employee lists from local mines, headstones and any other possible leads, Kidd struggles to find anything useful. Through interviews with family members, historians and strangers, she gets some details, but certainly not enough. A life-changing trip to Slovakia brings significant discoveries, including the deep, uncanny connection she feels to the land. Despite the fact that Kidd carries none of Rosalia's Slovakian blood (she's adopted), she feels the energy of the earth on which her ancestors once stood. She explains:

"Genetics has nothing to do with the power this land holds over me, just as it has for anyone who has ever longed for a piece of earth. Without Rosalia, my own life would not have unfolded the way it has. Without this land, there would have been no Rosalia. Therefore, I choose to call this my own.
She's one of ours.

What's so special about this place? Nothing. Everything" (139).
While Kidd's account feels unfocused and unfinished, it's nevertheless a testament to the lure of geneaology, the impact of family, the great influence of our past on our present. It also provides an intriguing glimpse into the lives of those brave women who tenaciously carved out a place for themselves on the merciless Canadian frontier. While I'm not sure Kidd really has enough material for a satisfying biography, I think Rosalia's story would make an excellent novel. The alternating chapters, in which Kidd beautifully fictionalizes Rosalia's experience, prove she's more than capable of producing a compelling historical. Whether or not that happens, I still feel richer for having "met" Rosalia.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:
PG for references to nudity

To the FTC, with love:
I received this book from Eco-Libris in exchange for writing a review. Even though this book is "green," I didn't receive any for evaluating it.


  1. Hi Susan,

    You're right. Sounds like it might make a more interseting novel.

    (And, I love your comment to the FTC. I don't think they ever thought about book bloggers.)

    Lesa -

  2. This would make a more interesting novel for sure. Thanks for the review. I'm trying to stop by every one on the green books campaign.

    thanks for the review.

  3. Hi and thanks for the interesting review. Sounds like an interesting concept, I sure would love to know more about my ancestors, but it would so very hard to find the info.

    Check out our reviews also on Frogs are Green and i-tees.



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