Silent Girl

Paperback | May 10, 2008

byTricia Dower

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Silent Girl, stories by Tricia Dower, takes us into the remarkable and poignant lives of fictional daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, wives, and mothers through a story collection inspired by Shakespeare's plays. Set in twentieth and twenty-first century Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, and the United States, these insightful stories portray girls and women dealing with a range of contemporary issues such as racism, social isolation, sexual slavery, kidnapping, violence, family dynamics, and the fluid boundaries of gender.

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Silent Girl, stories by Tricia Dower, takes us into the remarkable and poignant lives of fictional daughters, sisters, friends, lovers, wives, and mothers through a story collection inspired by Shakespeare's plays. Set in twentieth and twenty-first century Canada, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, and the United States, these insightful stories po...

Tricia Dower was a corporate communications and human resources executive before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her short fiction has been published in Room of One's Own, The New Quarterly, Hemispheres, Cicada, NEO, Insolent Rudder and Big Muddy. Having explored life in various North American locations, she now lives and writ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:248 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.5 inPublished:May 10, 2008Publisher:Inanna PublicationsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0980882206

ISBN - 13:9780980882209

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From the Author

Q&A with Tricia Dower This is your first foray into fiction. How did you come up with the idea for this work? A University of Toronto production of Othello sparked Silent Girl. I had studied the play years before without having seen it performed. Reflecting on how willingly Desdemona allowed her life to end, I thought of domestic abuse victims and the seeming collusion of some in their own misfortune. Many, like Desdemona, are socially isolated. The story that resulted from that evening - "Nobody; I Myself" - ended up being as much about idealism and racism as it was about social isolation, but that's the thing about stories: they often end up being about something other than what you intended. Anyway, after conceiving of the first Shakespeare-inspired story, I wondered how many other contemporary counterparts of Shakespeare's female characters I could find and I set out in search of them. What was the creative process like for you? It took me three years to write the eight stories in Silent Girl. I might have been done sooner except my husband and I uprooted ourselves partway through. We sold our house in Toronto and headed out for parts unknown with only whatever fit in the car. We arrived in Victoria two years ago and haven't left. Creating the collection involved the typical highs and lows for me: conceiving a "perfect" story in my mind and being unable to translate it to the page; gathering so much research I was sure a story would write itself and discovering it would take the usual hard work. Near the end of the collection I was impatient to be done until I stumbled onto the eighth story which so energized me I have decided to develop it into my next book. Who did you read as a kid, and how did these first forays into reading fiction affect your sensibilities as a writer? I was an early, quick reader, but other than Wonder Woman comics, I can't remember much of what I read when I was very young. When I was about twelve or thirteen, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith and, possibly because the protagonist was a girl my age, I began to think I could write a story like that one day. Another book that left an impression on me was a fictionalized account of Anne Boleyn's life. I was sure I had been her in another life. What are you reading right now? I just finished Cormac McCarthy's powerful The Road and am mid-way through Bill Gaston's wonderfully-researched and engaging Sointula. Gaston must have been a woman in another life the way he gets into the skin of the main character Evelyn. How and where do you write? I have a sanctuary that gets the morning sun from a window, framing an ivy-encrusted tree. I have the luxury of being able to write every day and I spend hours at it. I use a computer most of the time, but occasionally I'll take notepad and pencil out to the kitchen table to do some "thinking writing." This is usually when I need to get deeper into the emotions of one of my characters in a particular scene. Do you write with a certain audience in mind? Who is your "ideal reader"? No. My ideal reader, I guess, is me! If a story doesn't work for me, no one else is ever going to see it. Name one person in your life who profoundly influenced your work, and why did you choose this person? I'd have to say Alice Munro because her stories and the way she writes them resonate with me deeply. She knows her characters so intimately their contradictions come across as the most natural of phenomena. By trying to emulate her, I've been rewarded: the more I learn about my characters, the more interested I am in writing about them, so it's a technique that not only informs the writing but nourishes the writer. I also admire the way Munro can make the most ordinary character's life extraordinary. Who is your favourite protagonist in a work of fiction or poetry, and why? No real favourite comes to mind, but a contemporary one I responded to from the heart was Silver in Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping. She's heartbreakingly courageous, vulnerable, resourceful, poetic, and thoroughly original. In your own work, which character are you most attached to, and why? I suppose I identify most with the narrator in the fifth story in the collection, "Nobody; I Myself." The story is set in my "era," and I was once as idealistic and naive as she is. I could easily have been in her situation given different circumstances. However, I'm probably most "attached to" Selanna in the last story, the novella-length "The Snow People: AGM 30-46," because of the both proud and pragmatic way she deals with oppression. Which story was most difficult to write and why? Emotionally, the title story, "Silent Girl," was the most difficult because of the subject matter: sex trafficking of children. I was astonished at the scope of this brutal business and to learn that it isn't just happening "over there, somewhere." I wanted readers to experience how devastating trafficking is to even one child but there were times when I wondered if I was wrong to write the story, if I was not contributing to the horror. Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it. Most of the stories in Silent Girl are, in some way, about women who are silenced by oppression, by the "system," or by their own fears. That's too simple a statement, of course, because the characters are more complex than that. But it became apparent to me as I got deeper into the research and writing of this collection that some things haven't changed for women since Shakespeare's time. The reason, I suspect, is that we are still locked into gender roles and a patriarchal value system despite the efforts of many women and men to change their thinking and their behaviour. I felt compelled to explore this, I think, to understand my own life, to help free myself and move on.

Read from the Book

Excerpt from "Kesh Kumay" from Silent Girl by Tricia Dower ISBN: 0-98088-220-6 (Inanna Publications, 2008) The afternoon was for horse games. Usen returned as if on cue, shimmering in the sun as he crossed the plateau. That he didn't forget filled Kyal's stomach with mortifying gratitude. He joined his brothers and nephews in ulak tartysh. Kyal described it to the tourists as "polo with a difference." The ball was a gutted, legless, decapitated sheep, weighted down with wet dirt. Each man attempted to scoop it up and keep it firmly atop his horse while charging to a goal line. It was a free-for-all that made the tourists shout and gasp at the noise and the dust and the horsemen's skill. The danger was what excited Kyal. What she loved about riding. About living. Next: her turn to make the tourists gasp and Usen look at her with pride. Time for kesh kumay. She fetched the sole white mare in the herd, hers since her sixteenth birthday. Aisulu. Beautiful Moon. The horse lifted her legs up and down in a nervous dance. Kyal closed her eyes and sucked in a breath before massaging Aisulu's shoulders and back. She took her time. The tourists would watch and wonder what was so daring that girl and horse must calm themselves. When Aisulu lowered her head and released a deep fluttering breath through her nostrils, she was ready for the saddle. Kesh kumay required a young man. Kyal's cousin Almaz had been drafted for the part the past two summers. As family he was unsuitable, but family was all Kyal had. Striding the herd's black stallion, Almaz rode out with her to where Usen waited - some distance from the tourists but not too far to be seen. When Kyal and Almaz were in position, Usen shouted "Go!" Knowing her father would give her a fifteen-second head start, Kyal took off, whip in hand, leather boots straining against the stirrups, legs burning with ambition. The wind she stirred lifted the braids off her neck. Almaz whooped like a barbarian behind her. She imagined her father awhirl in her dust, lost in admiration. My daughter. No one can catch her. Tradition said if the boy could catch and kiss the girl, she was bound to fall in love with him. If he lost, she could whip him. Kyal was born to the saddle and had trained Aisulu to cover ground quickly. That her cousin might steal a kiss was revolting. She won, as always, and declined to whip him. The tourists applauded her magnanimity. It was just a game but a deeply satisfying one. After the race, the American woman said she had heard most Kyrgyz brides were kidnapped. Kyal laughed. "No, no, no. Ala kachuu has been illegal since the Soviets took over. We're independent, now, but it's still against the law." She didn't say that everyone whispered of someone who was taken against her will and that the police were too corrupt to enforce the law. Ambassadors weren't expected to reveal all they knew. Excerpt from "The Snow People" from Silent Girl by Tricia Dower To the child in my womb I say: the blood passing between your heart and mine comes from the very first Snow People, two lovers who defied an ancient taboo and ate the liver of a polar bear. It should have killed them. Instead, it turned their skin and hair as white as the great bear's fur and their eyes the colour of a glacial lake. The lovers had seven children, all with the same white skin and hair, all but one with the same startling eyes. For thousands of years, the lovers' white-skinned, white-haired descendents pledged allegiance only to The Land, surviving on what it bestowed until the winter ice began to thin and fewer of the fish they caught and fewer of the animals they hunted passed their way. One year the ice refused to return, and water swallowed The Land. The Snows loaded up their boats and began the Great Migration south. After many seasons, they landed on an island populated by people the Snows called Rainbows in a republic the Rainbows called New Columbia. Not until the Rainbows took their boats away did the Snows realize they would not be allowed to hunt and fish. Snow history reflects their monumental displacement. My birth was recorded as eleven years After Great Migration. Yours will be 31 AGM. Your aaka Adawalinda's was re-dated to 7 BGM. Seven! Imagine leaving the only life you knew at that credulous age, your trust packed up in a flotilla of assurances. The sun was everywhere that May afternoon, gloating at its triumph over months of relentless rain. Gruzumi and I flowed out of the Village with the others to collect like storm water at the edge of the nature reserve - an undulation of alabaster bodies, most in mismatched, second-hand clothes, pant legs and shirt sleeves too short. We must have numbered a thousand. No more polite tugging on sleeves for promises of small gains. We were ready, at last, to reclaim the dignity of our Elders. Ada - my mother liked me to call her that - had stayed behind. "You'll cause us nothing but trouble, acting so big," she'd said earlier that day, leaning on the doorpost of the bedroom we shared, arms folded across her indignant red blouse. Watching me step into the jumpsuit she'd made of black denim and striped cotton cadged from the recycling centre where she worked. No ill-fitting clothes for Adawalinda's daughter. "You refuse to see all they do for us," she said. "They could put us on the street tomorrow, cancel our jobs, let us starve." "You refuse to see their ignorance," I said, flicking my long, straight hair behind my ears, knowing she thought it looked too severe. I felt more powerful than she could imagine, bound to a mission I could not yet name. Reasoning with her was pointless. "They'll drop you from the program, miss high and mighty," she said, lifting her dyed eyebrows into cartoonish frowns. "You can't have it both ways." "I don't care," I said which wasn't true. I was one of the few Snows in the Sustainable Skills teaching program. I could identify everything edible on the island and tell you which plants healed, which ones poisoned. My gift, if indeed it was that, came from my grandmother, my aaka Elin. In less than two years, I would explain to my students why mackerel swam in our waters but salmon no longer did, how evening primrose seeds could stop a migraine, that every part of a dandelion was useful. My students. I had populated my inner world with them already, had spawned their need for me and mine for them. But I couldn't choose them over freedom.