Lest We Forget
When I went to undergrad, I didn’t fully grasp how many people would be actively trying to keep me from attaining my goal of going to medical school. I lived in a state of blissful ignorance that allowed me to believe that if I did the work and made the grades, I would have the same chance of admission to medical school as everyone else. And then my adviser refused to write my letter of recommendation for my med school application. “You’ll just waste a spot that a man could take. You’ll go to school and go to residency and then quit working after a year or two when you decide you want to have kids."
I remember just looking at him and thinking, “What?!” Instead I said, “I don’t even want children.”
“You’ll change your mind. Women always do. You’ll want kids, and you’ll quit working, and all that time and money that the state and the school invested in you will have been for nothing. And a man will have missed out on his chance.”
I never did convince him. I had to get another adviser and have her write the letter. This was in 1994. Nineteen hundred ninety-four.
In that same year, on the other side of the world, somewhere between half a million and a million Tutsi were killed in the span of a hundred days.
Over the last couple of years, I have noticed an increasing number of posters and billboards and flyers warning about human trafficking. At work, we are getting regular education on how to spot victims of human trafficking. Slavery is still a thing, and it’s on the rise. In 2019.
As Americans become increasingly fearful of exposure to painful words, as we become more averse to being uncomfortable as we hear the truth of history, I fear we will forget. I fear we will forget that until well into the last century women were believed to have smaller, less effective brains, that they were not allowed to own land or vote or even work in most professions, that often they were used as bargaining chips. I fear that we will forget that genocides actually happen, and that in the twentieth century there were multiple. I fear that we will forget that humankind has the capability to enslave its own. I fear that we will forget from whence we have come, and a history forgotten is a history destined to be relived.
When I went to a recent book signing for Linda Fairstein’s new book Blood Oath, I certainly didn’t anticipate being inspired by the telling or her own history. Nor did I expect to come away wanting to thank her for paving the way for me to be me. Turns out that not only is Ms. Fairstein the author of a crime series with heroine Alexandra Cooper, but she was also the head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office (think Law and Order: SVU) for over 25 years. Actually, she was the woman who headed it from the time of its inception in the 70’s until well into the twenty-first century. In her talk at the book signing, Ms. Fairstein spoke of going to law school in the early 70’s and coming out to work in the DA’s office only to be shielded from many of the cases because the men felt that it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to be exposed to the violence and gore. Apparently, she demonstrated great decorum under pressure, though, because it really wasn’t that much later that she was offered the job of heading the none-too-genteel sex crimes unit. Like many of the women I know who were lone wolves in their fields for a long time, she didn’t seem to have faced all of this “for women’s rights.” My impression was that she found herself in a man’s world because that’s where she wanted to be, and she was bound and determined to get there. That she was laying the ground work for all the women who would come behind her doesn’t seem to have crossed her mind.
I went to that signing to get out, be around some other bibliophiles, and hopefully get a peek into another writer’s process, maybe even learn a little bit about what I can do to be successful at this game. I came away genuinely wishing I could take Ms. Fairstein to dinner and hear her war stories — not of the cases she prosecuted or the books she wrote, but of the things she endured as a woman going through law school during the Vietnam War and practicing law in a time when women were still “supposed” to be bringing coffee and sitting quietly in a corner with a steno pad. Because of her and women like her in other fields, I had the opportunity to go to medical school and now get to practice in an environment that is becoming more friendly toward women with each passing year. I haven’t been called “honey” by a surgeon in months! I came away with a large measure of respect for her as a person, as a professional, and as a writer, and I would have loved to be able to thank her for the example she has set.
Hearing the stories of women, men, children, and peoples who have personally lived injustice reminds us of human resiliency and the dark capabilities of humankind and keeps fresh in our minds the sort of injustices we must fight never to repeat.
If you haven’t been introduced to her crime series in which Alexandra Cooper is an assistant District Attorney of the Manhattan Sex Crimes unit, I encourage you to pick up one of Ms. Fairstein’s novels. Blood Oath is her twentieth, and I finished it with the thought that I was glad to have another great heroine to follow for a while. Ms. Fairstein also has that great knack of using historically rich settings that are little known to most of the world despite their being right out in the open. I happen to like tidbits like that. I also like characters with faults and quirks, and the ones in this novel have both. Making the victim a person who is easy not to like can be a risk, but it is done well here and adds a bit of tension that helps pull the story along. I don’t want to spoil it for you because I genuinely hope that you’ll read it because I certainly enjoyed the experience.
If you have young readers, Ms. Fairstein also writes a young adult series that harkens back to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. You can check out the Devlin Quick series here.
If you’d love to win a signed copy of Blood Oath from Linda Fairstein, simply add yourself to my mailing list (I promise I don’t spam, and rarely send anything out more frequently than once a week), comment below, then share this post on Facebook, Twitter (@estora_adams), and Instagram and tag me in the posts. Signing up for the mailing list is the only mandatory step, and it gets you one entry. (If you’re already on my list, you get credit for that along with your first share.) Each share gets you another. The winner will be announced Thursday afternoon, and the book will be mailed out on Friday.
If you’d rather buy your own, please consider doing so at your local bookseller. If it weren’t for Vero Beach Book Center and their wonderful events, I likely would never have found this series and certainly would never have had the fortune of hearing Ms. Fairstein speak.
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Unless otherwise noted, all material--written, photographic, and artistic--is the original work of Estora Adams. All rights reserved.