Monday 25 February 2019

A Discovering Diamonds review of Under the Almond Trees Linda Ulleseit

The three women are interesting because they were real people doing real things that were to, eventually, go towards changing the course of women's rights."

Biographical Fiction

"Under the Almond Trees is the story of my family – three ordinary women in California who lived extraordinary lives. It started with a falling tree branch that killed Ellen VanValkenburgh’s husband in 1862, forcing her to assume leadership of his paper mill, something women weren’t allowed to do. Women weren’t allowed to vote yet, either. Ellen decided that had to change, and became a suffragette.  In 1901, Emily Williams, Ellen’s daughter-in-law, became an architect – very much against her family’s wishes. No one would hire a woman, but Emily would not be deterred. She and her life partner Lillian set out to build homes themselves. By the 1930s women enjoyed more freedom, including the vote. Even so, Ellen’s granddaughter Eva VanValkenburgh chose a traditional life of marriage and children, even closing her photography business at her husband’s insistence. When he later refused to pay for their daughter’s college education, Eva followed the example of her Aunt Emily and reopened her photography business.  I am proud to call these women family and honored to share their story."

Under the Almond Trees is set in California towards the end of the nineteenth century and is the story of three women who believed very strongly for the rights of women, and of their struggles to achieve those rights. I have always been interested in the emancipation of women in the UK - the role of the suffragettes - and was therefore keen to read about the equivalent struggle on the 'other side of the pond'. 

The three women, Ellen Van Valkenburg and her granddaughter, Eva and Emily Williams,  are interesting because they were real people, the author's predecessors, doing real things that were to, eventually, go towards changing the course of women's rights. I knew nothing of the American 'fight' or of any of the women involved, so from this perspective the book was most interesting. I did not get on very well with the first person narrative, however, and the flow was somewhat slow in places (maybe third-person narrative would have solved this?) The price for the Kindle edition, I think, is perhaps a little high?

Having said all that, the book's fascination is the courage of women such as these three, who were determined to make the world, for women, a better place. Being a little cynical, whether gaining the vote actually achieved this, is another matter entirely - but without it we would be in a sorry state indeed.

Recommended for readers interested in the history of women's rights, in the US in particular,  or the lives of real people who did their best for those of us who were to follow.

© Anne Holt

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