Monday, February 22, 2010

Rachel Swirsky's "A Memory of Wind" (novelette, feminist dystopia, free): An innocent girl is killed by her monster of a father

Illustration by Sam Weber accompany the story A Memory of Wind by Rachel Swirsky at Sometimes very moving story of a young girl, sacrificed to please a god in the hope of getting a boon, by her own father - after luring her to sacrificial grounds by promise of her marriage.

Thing I didn't like about it was: it sounded like cruelty fetish. Early in the story, we know she's going to be killed by her dad; story is narrated by her spirit. Why drag us through the horror throughout the story? In fact, the girl herself & her mother knows she's about to be killed long before the story ends; we go through their detailed reactions awaiting her execution!

Two audiences will likely read more into this story than I could:

  1. Readers familiar with ancient Greece. That's where this story is set.
  2. Women. This is essentially a feminist dystopia - world seen from the eyes of a woman, a world whose rules are made by & for men, according to story's thesis.

Fact sheet.

First published:, 4 November 2009.
Download full text from publisher's site (note the online version is spread across 17 pages. Compressed HTML from download option in sidebar makes more convenient reading.)
Rating: A.
Nominated for Nebula Award 2009 in novelette category.
Related: Stories of Rachel Swirsky.


Rachel Swirsky said...

Hello! Thanks for the review. I hadn't been thinking of the story as a cruelty fetish, but I understand why it might read that way. Heh.

I hope this isn't out of line--I don't read this as a negative review, so I'm not trying to argue or anything. I just though I could give you my answer, in case this question that wasn't just rhetorical--"Why drag us through the horror throughout the story?"

As you probably know, the original myth is the subject of a surviving Greek tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis. The classic interpretation of the myth, as rendered in the play, is that the tragedy isn't Iphigenia's--it's Agamemnon's. He has to sacrifice her, and isn't that tragic?

At least one modern interpretation of Iphigenia at Aulis recasts the play as Clytemnestra's tragedy. Her daughter gets sacrificed, and isn't that tragic?

Both stories are tragic, more or less. But I found it very frustrating that over thousands of years, we've listened to the stories of mother and father--and brother, not incidentally--but Iphigenia receives comparatively little treatment. Surely the tragedy of Iphigenia's death is mostly her own.

I apologize if all that's obvious, or if this strikes you as out of line, or if you really just meant it as a rhetorical question. I just thought this might be of some interest.

Thank you for taking the time to read and review!

Tinkoo said...

Rachel: Before reading your story, I'd never even heard of Iphigenia; Greek literature is not exactly popular where I live. Though I'd heard of Helen & the hollow wooden horse used in the war of Troy. I might now look up the plays you point to. Thanks.

So, I basically read it literally. In fact, I had to mentally twist the names so they won't be tong twisters - I'm not used to Greek names either.

One thing came to me after posting this note - while the story is really of the girl's agony, it's also a portrait of her dad - pretty much every episode adds to a picture of him.

Overall experience was good enough that I actually completed it. And less than 15% of the stories I read translate to a recommendation - that's A-rating; so I'm at least putting it among top 15% of my reading list. Thanks for the story.

Anonymous said...

beautifully written.
i really enjoyed this. Thanks Rachel