i read the bear woman.

I recently read a book that was part investigative journalism, part literary criticism, part feminist meditation, and part motherhood memoir. Now I’ve read another one.

I’m glad that I was not familiar with the story of Marguerite de la Rocque, otherwise I might have been frustrated by how often the author centers herself, or how often she calls previous evidence in the question. This herky jerky style and approach turns out to be the one that mirrors the action of writing, and wondering, and drafting better than any “straight” history or memoir could have. Surprises land hard, both personal and academic; blessings abound (just the right library recommended to find just the right centuries-old map). 

Ramqvist has several challenges in the telling. She must navigate the paths taken by three previous authors who have told their versions of the story, sometimes centuries earlier, and thus, sometimes restricted by personal connection to Marguerite, by connection to the uncle that banished her, by connection to centuries-old ideas of propriety & euphemism. She also cannot help but read her current self through the lenses of her selves — as a mother, as a Swede, as a once-young woman making risky choices with dangerous men.

What was most pleasurable about the book turned out to be this personal reading of the self. Her travels & frustrations with her teenage daughter reveal a lot about the blessings Marguerite lost as a mother, a lot about Ramqvist’s own understandings of independence and adventure, a lot about how we read the rare stories extant of famous women from centuries ago.

This novel was translated by Saskia Vogel, a writer whose translation of Jessica Schiefauer‘s Girls Lost is also really good.


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