How about a Crazy Haggerty tonight?

a-crazy-haggertyStony River opens with two girls spying on the dilapidated house of someone they call Crazy Haggerty, a man they’ve seen stumbling drunk down the sidewalk, wearing a magician’s suit and red shoes. There’s more to James Haggerty, the reader learns over the course of the novel: former professor, practitioner of Irish witchcraft and grieving widower. He does like his whiskey, though, and keeps a flask of it in his bathrobe pocket.

A book blogger suggested I create a drink for my novel in honor of its 2016 debut in the United States. Good sport that he is and knowing whiskey isn’t my thing, my husband taste-tested a few concoctions before we settled on this recipe for a “Crazy Haggerty.”

  • 1 ounce of Irish whiskey — we used Jameson
  • 1 ounce of well-chilled dry mead — we used Magick Mead from Hornby Island, but another good dry mead will do
  • 1/2 ounce of Irish Mist honey liqueur
  • Serve over a single ice cube

According to Wikipedia (the Internet’s Oracle of Delphi), Irish Mist is “made from aged Irish whiskey, heather and clover honey, aromatic herbs and other spirits, blended to an ancient recipe claimed to be 1,000 years old.” It’s produced in Dublin but available in 40 countries. We live in Canada and found it easily at a liquor store near us.

Apparently mead is trending with the upwardly mobile, Game of Thrones crowd. Personally, it makes me picture unwashed, bearded men brawling in a dank medieval hall. It’s perfect for a “Crazy Haggerty,” however, as it has a long history with the Celts who once thought it had magic properties.

If James Haggerty had concocted the potion we named after him, he might have drunk it from the pewter chalice that sat on his altar. We used a Waterford (as in Waterford, Ireland) crystal glass.

Lest you think Stony River is all about magic spells and Irish witchcraft, I hasten to tell you it isn’t. It’s a mystery that shines a light on the type of secrets that hid behind closed doors in small-town America in a time we often romanticize. A mystery inspired by a true-crime story that shows how perilous it was for some girls to come of age in the 1950s.


The Genius Of A&P

In anticipation of Stony River’s release I’ve been posting behind-the-scenes glimpses at the book. This entry is about the A&P. Check out the old ads in Flashback. (Ads and photos used by permission of the A&P Historical Society.)

When I was a child, my grandmother would dispatch me to a small, dim shop that smelled of pickles, a few blocks from her house. There, I’d hand the white apron-clad shopkeeper a list and he’d pull the items from shelves behind him. If they were too many or heavy for me to carry, he’d deliver them personally in his ancient black car. Not for Grandma the self-serve style of grocery shopping A&P had pioneered.

When Stony River’s Buddy Jukes started working for the A&P in 1950s New Jersey, the country’s first grocery chain already was an American icon, the largest food retailer in the US with over four thousand stores across the country and in Canada. It had begun in 1859 with just a few retail tea and coffee stores in New York City.

I have vague recollections as a child of the old-style A&P in my hometown, a small, crowded store with a dark awning emblazoned with The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. That store was replaced farther out of town with a larger store and a big parking lot, reflecting, it seems to me now, the post-war growth in family cars. The newer store resembled the one in the picture on this page. (Note the issues of Woman’s Day for sale in the picture. A&P launched this still popular woman’s magazine in the 1930s as a way to sell groceries and sold it exclusively at its stores until 1958 when a publishing company took it over.)

This picture is also how I envision Buddy’s workplace and the A&P he and Tereza visit in New York City.

…the same gray and canned salmon colored vinyl tiles on the floor, the same harsh fluorescent lights… Bert led them around the store, pointing out an expanded meats/poultry and cold cuts section. Buddy perked right up at the sight of marshmallows at the end of an aisle. “Exactly where we put ours,” he said.

Bert said, “Part of the master plan. Say a man working in Proctor and Gamble gets transferred from Chicago to Manhattan. His wife should be able to come in here, first time, and know exactly where to find her favorite products.”

“Genius,” Buddy said.—From Stony River (Penguin 2012)

The reason I could so easily “imagine” my fictional A&P stores was that I had enormous help from Walt Waholek, president of the A&P Historical Society. Walt has given generously of his time to enable me to write with confidence about what Buddy wore on the job, what shifts he worked, what his tasks were and many other details about A&P culture at the time—the type of details writers need to lend credibility to even a fictional work. He’s been waiting patiently for several years to see Stony River in print and enthusiastically cheering me on.

A side benefit of researching this novel was gaining Walt’s friendship and an appreciation for how a proud company has both reflected and contributed to our times. I’m pleased to say I’m on the A&P Historical Society newsletter mailing list and enjoying blasts from A&P’s past. (See this link for some of these blasts.)

One of the newsletters included the video below of old commercials. Check out the talking bean for A&P’s Eight O’Clock Coffee, which got its name way back in the 1800s because a survey showed that most people then drank coffee twice a day, once at 8 AM and once at 8 PM. (What would they name it today: 24/7?)

And you thought we abolished slavery

matsi-istock_000000168781small.jpgYour intrepid reporter here, bringing you the latest from Google Alerts.

Google sends me an e-mail when something appears online about the cheery topics I touch on in Silent Girl, such as domestic violence, sex trafficking, bride kidnapping, racism, global warming, and incest. I get so many notifications every day I shove them into a file to get them off my read page until I can find time to review them.

Yesterday, I took a look at a few about sex trafficking, a topic that falls within the broader issue of slavery which, according to some sources, is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world after drugs and guns. One source estimates that 27 million people are slaves of one sort or another. Officially abolished worldwide at the 1927 Slavery Convention, slavery continues to thrive with billions of dollars in annual profits. Approximately 80% of the “commodities” traded are women and children and 80% of the services they’re enslaved to provide are sexual.

As a writer, I try to imagine the individual stories behind the statistics. I wrote one of them (the title story in the collection) about a seven-year-old girl who, after losing her mother in the 2004 tsunami, is kidnapped and sold to a brothel. Researching the story was painful. I was appalled at what I learned and felt helpless to do anything except write about it. Luckily, others have felt empowered to do more.

Google Alerts called my attention to several organizations working in various ways to abolish modern-day slavery and provide aid for victims. Organizations like the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG), Polaris Project, Free the Slaves and Change.org.

AASG promotes awareness, engages in advocacy and activism, and provides direct aid for victims.

Polaris Project was named after the North Star that guided US slaves towards freedom along the Underground Railroad. It operates in the US and Japan, seeking out victims and providing them with social services and transitional housing. It also operates a human trafficking hotline.

Free the Slaves, headquartered in Washington, DC, goes right to the “frontlines,” they say, to liberate people. According to their site, they also “enlist businesses to clean slavery out of their product chains and empower consumers to stop buying into slavery, work with governments to produce effective anti-slavery laws then hold them to their commitments, and research what works and what doesn’t.”

Change.org takes on human trafficking as one of a number of its causes. It profiles cases and provides a forum for activists.

An intriguing headline, compliments of Google, claimed that cannibalism and sex tourism were criminalized under a bill passed by Uganda’s Parliament last week. Actually, the bill is broader than the headline implies and offers a laundry list of what might constitute slavery today.

It provides that “any person who recruits, hires or maintains, confines, transports, transfers, harbours or receives a person, through force for purposes of engaging that person in prostitution, pornography, sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced or arranged marriage is liable to 15 years imprisonment.” Also,  “Any person who commits an offence in trafficking in children, uses a child in any armed conflict, removes any part, organ or tissues from the body of a child taken alive, uses a child in a commission of crime or uses a child or part of a child in witchcraft or related practices, commits the offence of aggravated trafficking in children and is liable to life imprisonment.”

And, finally, yesterday the United Nations today launched a manual called Combating Trafficking in Persons: A Handbook for Parliamentarians —a compilation of international laws and good practices developed to combat human trafficking.

All good news, I guess, but…”organ or tissues from the body of a child taken alive”…? I would not be able to write that story.

My Take on Privilege

chained-hands-istock_000002557077small.jpg“Nobody; I Myself,” the fifth story in Silent Girl, is narrated by a white woman married to a black man in the US in 1966. Young and idealistic, she struggles with the conflict between her empathy for blacks because of the injustice they suffer and her nascent belief that they share at least a part of the blame for their situation.

Growing up in the States at that time, I was deeply moved by that injustice and both hopeful and despairing about the country’s ability to effect lasting change.  Later, as a woman trying to make it in the business world, I empathized even more with blacks: females were held back for reasons of gender as blacks were for reasons of race. It wasn’t fair (!!!) and I was all about fairness those days, despite my father having told me, “If I led you to believe life was fair, I’m sorry.”

Since then, much has improved for blacks (and women) but, as a society, we still grapple with how to provide equity for all, including blacks and other visible minorities, aboriginals, women, the disabled, gays, lesbians, and the transgendered —who have I forgotten? Some say we’ve gone too far to accommodate anyone who feels different and/or mistreated, that we’re encouraging too many folks to feel entitled to preferential treatment. Some are tired of what they see as attempts to make them feel guilty for not being among the disenfranchised. As a bonafide Libra, I tend to see everyone’s point and find it difficult to take a firm stand. (Is there a support group for Librans?)

Because of my fence-sitting proclivities, I was attracted to this article by Wendi Thomas about the 10th annual White Privilege Conference going on right now in Memphis, Tennessee. Under discussion at the conference is the question of how much difference it makes to your success in life to be part of the dominant group (in this case, Whites). As Thomas writes, “The conference is not about blaming white people, but raising awareness about privilege wherever it lies,” and that privilege is not just about race. You can be privileged because of gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness (is that a word?), beauty, wealth, etc. I like this extension of the definition because it encourages us to look at ourselves in a fuller way, not as simply “us” or “them.” I may be “disadvantaged” due to being female, old, and hard of hearing, but I’m privileged in other ways because I’m white, heterosexual, able-bodied (except for the old and hard of hearing parts), literate…and so many other things. If I were black, I’d still have literacy going for me. (And, according to a friend, I’m more privileged than she because I “have someone.” As that someone is Colin, I have to agree.)

By no means does this broader view take away from the reality that blacks, for example, are “twice as like to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be imprisoned compared with whites,” according to this Chicago Tribune article. We can find similar statistics highlighting the “cost” of being a woman, disabled, homosexual, or a member of another non-dominant group.

What it does say to me is that each of us can appreciate the abilities we have, admire those of others, and use whatever privilege we enjoy to create a society where the development of those abilities is not limited by dominant views of who is entitled to accomplish what. It doesn’t say that all will end up the same or that no one will suffer. Dad was right.

Why “It’s [once more] the Economy, Stupid”*

1928-great-depression.jpgThis article reports that Dennis Blair, the US Director of National Intelligence, believes “the plunging global economy is an even bigger threat to the United States’ national security than the al Qaeda terrorist network or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”  We’ve seen violent regime changes in so-called Third World countries and could live to see them in North America. As distasteful as it is for fiscal conservatives in the United States to see their government commit to enormous debt-producing spending, many of them must realize large numbers of people without homes and jobs can easily turn into violent mobs.

Economic troubles also set the stage for social ills. A Victoria hotel has changed its practice of paying for a minimum of four hours for an employee called in for a shift. It’s now only two hours. Many hotel employees cannot afford to live in downtown Victoria. It’s costly in time and money to commute for two hours of work, but that may be all they can get. We have to be vigilant against devolving into a society of virtual migrant workers: denied a living wage and afraid to complain for fear of being “deported” to the ranks of the unemployed.  Women (and, increasingly, men) are more vulnerable in poor economic times to sexual harassment and recruitment into unsafe sex work.

According to this New York Times article, women may be surpassing men in the workforce, because more jobs held by men are “getting axed.” This could be good news for gender dynamics, provided men take on more housework and childcare responsibilities.

Unfortunately women’s jobs, on average, tend to be for shorter hours, less pay, and fewer benefits. The average income for women in Canada is $27,000 a year, compared to $45,000 for men. And those working fewer than 35 hours a week are not eligible for unemployment benefits, so if a part-time worker supporting her family loses her job, the family is shit out of luck. (An article by crusading journalist Jody Paterson looks at how the Harper government’s stimulus package misses the mark when it comes to women.)

There’s an indication that economic hard times are leading to an increase in domestic abuse as frustration expresses itself as rage. And I’ve read of two cases of murder/suicide in the U.S. where notes left indicated the dead had lost their jobs, were overwhelmed with debt, and decided to take their families with them.

Intolerance may be on the rise, as well. I’ve been reading the comments following news stories about the economy. Many Americans are angry and lashing out at Wall Street, for sure, but some also don’t want any jobs going to immigrants—legal or otherwise—and they want Buy American protectionism, despite the reality that few products are manufactured in the US anymore. Some who are fortunate to have jobs don’t want stimulus funds going to the jobless, whom they characterize as freeloaders. As the situation worsens, people will feel freer to make negative judgments about others and deny them a helping hand.

I don’t know what we can do about the dismal global picture but in our communities we can help neighbors in need, protest injustice masquerading as economic necessity, promote inclusiveness, and adopt the frugal practices of parents and grandparents who made it through the Great Depression. (What will we call this one?) If we’ve made any gains over past decades in areas of social justice, it would be a shame to lose them to greed and fear.

*”It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase used in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign to suggest he was a better choice than Bush the First because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had gone into recession.

Futuristic Fiction


From the Silent Girl preview video.

Welcome to 2009.

An assumption underlying my Silent Girl story, “The Snow People: 30-46 AGM,” is that the Arctic ice will melt and oceans will rise high enough to seriously endanger people living in low-lying areas of the earth. I started writing the story after I read projections that the ice could be gone as early as 2040 and that sea levels could rise as much as 13 feet. The story is set in the future, but not too far ahead, maybe 70 years from now. It opens with the Snow People’s creation myth:

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 descendants worshipped The Land and survived on what it bestowed until even 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 called New Columbia. The Rainbows took their boats away and the Snows could no longer hunt and fish. They could no longer worship The Land.

I don’t consider my story science fiction, because its use of hard science is minimal. It’s more of a futuristic fantasy, but I didn’t realize how important the scientific projections I based it on were to me until NPR reported on a new study that predicts a sea level rise at closer to six feet than 13. And a CNN report about a NASA study says it won’t be more than three feet by the end of this century.

This is good news for those of us living on islands, but I can’t tell you how much it deflated me. I had intended to develop my story of Selanna, her son Akintunde, and Chloe, the messiah of Akintunde’s dreams, into a novel. Granted, it’s fiction, and you should be able do whatever you want in that genre, but it took the prophetic winds out of my sails. So, I decided to embark on a different novel. The change in sea level projection wasn’t the only reason. Until I wrote “The Snow People,” I didn’t realize how much of a bias against science fiction/fantasy writing exists in some circles and I’m just not ready at this point to buck that tide.

“The Snow People” is my editor’s favourite story in the collection and I heard from one reader that she also liked it best. But others have told me it’s not their “thing” because it’s set in an unfamiliar time and place. Two members of my writing group were relieved I decided to abandon my idea of turning it into a novel, because they just can’t “get into” fantasy and science fiction. And a former professor told me that some literature professors she taught with refused to read even Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake because they don’t read futuristic literature on principle. They consider it beneath them — akin, I suppose, to bodice rippers and paperback westerns.

I’m glad I don’t have such principles. I would have missed out on Atwood’s brilliant work, not to mention Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Ursula Le Guin’s probing stories. In my unschooled opinion, if the primary value of literature is that it deepens our understanding of the human condition today, futuristic literature can allow us to reflect on how the human condition might evolve in a hypothetical tomorrow that begins right now in our minds.

What say you?


Read my ‘tory? Or listen to it?

the-squirrel-twins-ride.jpg“Read my ‘tory?” my now-grown daughter, Katie, would ask when she was little, toddling up to me with book in hand. One of her favourites was The Squirrel Twins’ Ride, a Tiny Elf book in which Chipper and Chatter board a train to see their Aunt Maria. On the way they meet various characters, including an old owl. When I read it to her, I did all the voices—Chipper’s and Chatter’s were high and fast, Old Mr. Owl’s deep and slow. When a character whispered or shouted, I whispered or shouted. If I slipped up on one of the voices, Katie would let me know.

Since we enjoy such expressive reading when we’re children, why do so many authors read to us in muffled monotone? Before I launched Silent Girl this past May, the only book readings I’d attended were torture. Performance poetry events, on the other hand, were often electrifying. I had the opportunity to see Sheri-D Wilson last year and could have listened until her voice ran out. Wanting to not bore the pants off of my audiences, I enlisted the help of my writing group before the launch of Silent Girl. I asked them which passages from various stories I should read. And I asked them to listen to me practice.

Don’t hurry through your words, they said. Don’t drop your voice at the end of a sentence. The title story includes a character called Maw-Maw. “What does she sound like to you?” Diana asked after I read from that story. Both intimidating and injured, I replied. A woman whose “flesh as spongy as dumpling dough spilled from the sleeveless arms of her dress, trembling with each plop of the spoon.” A woman with a smoker’s voice.

I got to work trying to replicate that voice. It set off a small coughing fit at my first reading, so I tempered it to protect my throat. My editor wants me to project Maw-Maw more loudly, but my friend Suzie says she finds the softer tone more sinister.

I’ve been told my words are big, but my voice is small. When I asked another woman for advice—Victoria’s petite performance poet Missie Peters who doesn’t need a microphone in the fullest of rooms—she said, “Speak from your diaphragm and your heart.” (I resisted the temptation to tell her that, at my age, I haven’t needed a diaphragm for years, but I can still find my heart.)

Anyway, right now, please listen to my ‘tory, Silent Girl. The first five minutes of it, anyway. Click on the link below. Any suggestions for how I might read it better the next time?

Tricia Dower reading Silent Girl

Three Years Ago

Exactly three years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast, only eight months after walls of water two stories high swept entire villages to sea and killed a quarter of a million people in a dozen other countries. The Indian Ocean earthquake that raised those walls is said to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.

Katrina had nowhere near that force, yet after nearly every levee in metro New Orleans was breached, 80% of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes were flooded for weeks. Seventy-one percent of New Orleans’ occupied housing was damaged, making it the largest residential disaster in U.S. history.
The title story of my collection, Silent Girl, is bookended by these catastrophes of biblical proportions. I researched them for that story and like to check in from time to time to find out how recovery is proceeding. Whether we’re talking about New Orleans or Asia, the ones who suffered the most were the most disadvantaged to begin with.

For example, over 100,000 undocumented Burmese migrants were working in the rubber, construction, and tourism industries on Thailand’s western coast when the tsunami hit. Those who survived were deliberately excluded from all official assistance, denied shelter in camps, and left on their own to survive.

Remember the pictures of the mostly poor, mostly black people in New Orleans abandoned to primitive conditions at the Superdome?  As Ruth Gidley reports in this Reuters News article, “Katrina not only changed the way the rest of the world views one of the richest countries on the planet, it changed the way storm survivors think about their government.”

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey revealed that most New Orleans residents still feel forgotten by their government and their fellow citizens. Contributing to that feeling is the fact that less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding has actually been spent on it. Similarly in Asia, $1.6 billion was earmarked for rebuilding after the tsunami but war and politics have slowed down the work. A UN-led effort has begun to install tsunami-warning systems in the Indian Ocean, but work on strengthening the levees in New Orleans won’t be done until 2011.

This is on my mind right now because I’ve been following coverage of the Democratic Convention in Denver and trying not to get swept away by the rhetoric on change. It’s tough, though. I shed a few tears during Ted Kennedy’s speech. Not due to affection—I haven’t forgotten Mary Jo Kopechne—but because of his call for “a better world” with “justice for the many.”  It brought me back to the days of JFK when I, like the many young Obama disciples today, were eager to stand on the edge of the “new frontier” he spoke about. I wept during Michelle Obama’s speech, too, when she recalled Barak saying we too easily accept the distance between “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be.” And I wept during his acceptance speech when he said, “Enough!” and “America, we’re better than that.”

I’d like to believe he would lead the effort to bridge the distance between what is and what should be but my hope is tempered by history. Time and again we demonstrate how little we care for the poor and the others we marginalize.  We send money when disaster first strikes but we quickly lose interest, junkies for the next sensational story, unwilling to share long-term with others. It’s difficult for us to sustain the effort required to effect lasting change. In New Orleans, that would involve dealing with the deep-seated racism and class divides that are barriers to a good education for all, decent housing for all, and livable wages for all.

In Canada and many other parts of the world, I’m guessing it would be the same.

Mind Our Own Business First


A few days ago, as part of an outdoor arts event, I read excerpts from two stories in Silent Girl, one of them “Kesh Kumay,” which takes place in Kyrgyzstan. I related the statistic that a third of marriages in Kyrgyzstan result from non-consensual kidnappings (versus the consensual kind we call elopements). A woman came up to me afterward and told me she had traveled extensively in countries we criticize for their treatment of women.

“We shouldn’t be too quick to judge them,” she said. Maybe a third of marriages result from kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, she noted, but “one in four women” in our country are assaulted by their partners. “Exotic” abuse is always more interesting to talk (and write) about.  We should mind our own business before pointing fingers overseas.

So, is it one in four – 25%? The latest stats I could find, from Family Violence
in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2005
from Statistics Canada, indicated that seven per cent of women and six per cent of men end up abused by their current or former partners. In terms of numbers, that works out to an estimated 653,000 women and 546,000 men. The reported abuse included having something thrown at them and/or having been:

•    pushed, shoved or grabbed;
•    threatened to be hit;
•    beaten or choked;
•    slapped;
•    kicked, hit or bit; and
•    sexually assaulted

The data showed that female victims of spousal violence were more than twice as likely to be injured as male victims. Women were also three times more likely to fear for their life, and twice as likely to be the targets of more than 10 violent episodes. And, overall, female victims were twice as likely as male victims to be stalked by a previous spouse.

So, women are at greater risk of serious injury than men but what are we to conclude about the nearly equal numbers of men and women reporting spousal abuse?

When I began writing my story “Deep Dark Waves,” I intended to portray a  “typical” domestic abuse situation: man as aggressor, woman as victim.  But my research unearthed a more intriguing scenario: woman gets off on violence, is in fact addicted to it. It was so much more interesting to me as a writer. But I realized the story could be controversial. A woman who interviewed me on the radio said she was “conflicted” when reading “Deep Dark Waves” for that reason.

Several people have reviewed the book but, so far, the radio interviewer is the only one who has commented on the disparity between what we believe to be true about domestic violence and the scenario my story presents. Because we don’t believe that women are violent, we don’t have any services in place to counsel those who are. And because our society considers a man who can’t defend himself against a “mere” woman to be weak, he may be too ashamed to seek help. If he does, we can’t offer him much. So, our beliefs aren’t doing us much good.

That is…if we believe the stats. Do you?

Global Watch Update: Ala kachuu in Kyrgyzstan

Yurts beside Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan

Three years ago, I completed a story that drew upon the phenomenon of bride kidnapping, or ala kachuu, in Kyrgyzstan. That story, “Kesh Kumay,” part of the Silent Girl collection, was ignited by Petr Lom’s moving documentary “Kidnapped Brides “on CBC’s Passionate Eye in 2004. At the time, I had no idea that women were kidnapped into marriage in Kyrgyzstan. How many women, Lom didn’t know. In this interview, he said, “there are almost no scholarly studies on the subject, and the international human rights community has given the subject almost no attention.”

As a woman, I was horrified by what the documentary revealed. As a writer, I was excited. I had been looking for a modern counterpart to Shakespeare’s Kate (The Taming of the Shrew). When one woman tells Lom, “After the kidnapping, you’ve no choice —you start loving, even if you don’t want to, you have to build a life,” I knew I had found my Kate in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan.

It took me many months to write that story as I needed to research life in Kyrgyzstan as well as the history and practice of ala kachuu. My research led me to conclude that women had fared better under the Soviets when it came to human rights. It was the Soviets that had made ala kachuu illegal as far back as 1927. It is still against the law, but ever since Kyrgyzstan became an independent republic in 2001, incidents of ala kachuu have become more frequent and the police seem to look the other way. As this 2004 article in Women’s News relates, the status of women fell in many areas following independence.

Recently I came across the name of Dr. Russell Kleinbach, professor of sociology at Philadelphia University. He was a Fulbright Lecturer at Osh State University in Kyrgyzstan from 1998-1999 and has made bride kidnapping one of his scholarly pursuits. (Apparently Petr Lom did not know about Kleinbach’s work with Sarah Amsler, instructor of Sociology at American University in Kyrgyzstan.) I wrote to Kleinbach and inquired about the current situation.

“I can say small progress is being made on the ala kachuu problem,” he wrote back. “For the first time, there are now crime statistics on kidnapping.”

He sent me a table of those statistics for 2006. Out of 73 cases that were registered with law enforcement agencies, 53 were dismissed and 16 were treated as criminal. It’s hard to say how many cases go unreported. Articles I had come across during my research indicated that as many as a third of Kyrgyz marriages result from non-consensual kidnappings (as opposed to consensual elopement type kidnappings). Kidnapped women are pressured by their parents to accept the marriage so that they won’t be “cursed.” Often the marriage is consummated by force, leaving the woman “spoiled” and unlikely to attract another husband.

Dr. Kleinbach also wrote, “We have done enough research to know a lot about non-consensual kidnapping, including that it is not an ancient Kyrgyz tradition, in addition to being illegal and not allowed in Islam. While the practice continues with tragic consequences, it is sometimes successfully resisted. This summer we plan to begin a one year study to test the effectiveness of our anti kidnapping educational program.”