The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Stavia is a councilwoman in the gated city of Marthasville. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she is giving up her son, Dawid, to become one of the Warrior Garrison who lives outside the city. He has made his choice to reject living in the Women’s Country to live outside with the fighting men. All boys are given the chance to choose. Even though she knew it would break her heart, she also knew which life Dawid would choose.
In this apocalyptic land after the “convulsion”, women live inside gated cities, and most men live in garrisons outside. A few times a year there are carnivals when the men come in and the sexes party together. The rest of the year the men practice their swordplay and warrior games for when they are needed to fight a war. Occasionally, every five to twenty years or so, a war breaks out between the garrisons of different cities.
The women are responsible to raise the children, although boys leave to live with the men when they are five, then visit their mothers and siblings until they make their final choice at 15. The women are in charge of the politics of the city, the medicine, the knowledge, the agriculture, the husbandry, and what little manufacturing the desolate land can now support. They have books that describe their land before the convulsion, but now those appear as dreams. Much of the plant and animal life has died off, much of the land is no longer useable, and most humans had died off. They are only now reaching a population that is beginning to expand beyond what the land can support.
Stavia has grown up in this society, and knew its rules. Yet she questioned when younger. Cheron, one of the warrior young men, also questioned. He asked Stavia for her books. She snuck them to him one at a time, getting one back for each he borrowed. The two had an attraction for each other. There were undercurrents, though. Cheron knew more than he was revealing. Stavia stay within her ordinances despite the difficulty. They found a way to be together, circumventing the rules governing both groups.
No question – this is a feminist book. It is an anti-war book. It is also a well-written book, with characters that feel real. Clues to the ending of the story show up within the first few flashbacks of Stavia’s memories. The past is seen and revealed through older, wiser eyes, and the memories are poignant. There is a wealth of characters who each have their own moment to help define the story. I had a problem with the patriarchal Holylander storyline when it appeared. It seemed abrupt to me, although necessary for the complete tale. I think some sort of reference could have been made to it earlier. Although we are told lawless people and Gypsies live outside the walled cities and garrisons, I believe references could have been added to other possible societies that try a different type of government.
I recommend this book – although men may not appreciate it.