Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Learning through Art: HIV/AIDS in Books--Women in the Grove, by Paula W. Peterson

 I find it fascinating how books leave a remarkable imprint in our lives. They do change our lives, or, better said, our perspective in life. They teach us new ways to look at our existence. Women in the Grove is such a read. I truly enjoyed this remarkable collection of nine AIDS-related stories. The review originally appeared in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine. Hope you'll enjoy it, too, and hope you'll get to read this fascinating book.

As always, thanks for visiting.

Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness

Women in the Grove
By Paula W. Peterson
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Although their stories are set in San Francisco area, the protagonists of Women in the Grove portray nine modern-day HIV-positive mothers coming from different corners of life, giving the collection a multi-cultural, multi-ethnical and multi-social element... same multi- characteristic of today's global AIDS pandemic. 
Because most of their characters come from backgrounds of desperate poverty, fear of disclosure and stigma, the nine stories are in danger to be left untold; yet, Peterson cannot let that to happen.  The author effortlessly identifies with each one of her protagonists, giving them a voice and delivering their stories to us, their audience. 
Disclosure, stigma and loneliness associated with HIV/AIDS are only a few of the topics expressed and explained throughout the collection.  Although each of the protagonists struggle with accepting their HIV/AIDS in their lives and in their children's lives, AIDS is not a main character in their stories, but rather a common background for all characters and for the author, herself.  After all, Peterson and her fictional identities from Women in the Grove have something in common: they are, all, loving, devoted, HIV-positive mothers.  Together, they create a spiritual bond, a safety net of guardian angels that, either in spirit or in flesh, watch over their loved ones.  This spiritual element marks the collection and gives the portrayed image of AIDS a truly universal dimension.  The spiritual element suggests the complexity and continuity of our existence-physical and spiritual-and shows itself throughout the collection, through visitations from ghosts or from God Himself, or as the spirit of a mother, guarding her child from the Beyond.
This particular image comes to life "In the Grove," the story that sums up the sentiment of a mother's love and life's triumph presented throughout the collection.  "In the Grove" revolves around the "heart" of San Francisco AIDS Memorial Grove-the Circle of Friends-a sacred ground carrying the names of AIDS victims, where the narrator's now teenage son comes to lay flowers over his mother's name. 
What is unique about this particular story is its multi-dimensionality:  a mother's love bridges not only generations, but also physical and spiritual worlds.  What makes the story different from the others in the collection is that "In the Grove" the spiritual is waiting for a sign from the physical existence, not the other way around; also, in contrast with the other stories, the connection is never completed. 
Women in the Grove stories overwhelm us or help us explore the shaky grounds of our own lives.  As a result, we learn about love and honesty, we regain our faith in life, our beliefs in a higher power, and in ourselves.        

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