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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, January 20, 2002

Women in These Stories Face Struggles

I've been reading biographies by and about women for years. It's a good way to learn about other women's lives as well as painlessly pick up some facts about history. Judging by some recent titles, women have had a hard time lately.

Mrs. Kennedy; the missing history of the Kennedy Years by Barbara Leaming (Free Press, 2001).

The biographer of Orson Welles, Katherine Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe has produced a salacious and utterly irresistible account of Jackie's marriage to Jack Kennedy.

I kept reading particularly scandalous passages to my husband David, who responded that Leaming wasn't known for her historical expertise and that it was a very one-dimensional effort. Who cares? I for one can't resist scanning the tabloid headlines (and even reading a few articles) in the grocery store line.

I ended up concluding that Jack's behavior with women was outrageous, but the fact remains that the couple loved and admired one another and made a great team until the very day he was killed.

Picasso, my grandfather by Marina Picasso (Riverhead Books, 2001).

Marina Picasso is the granddaughter of Pablo Picasso's son Pablito by his first wife, Olga Khokhlova. One of four Picasso grandchildren, she became a rich woman when he died, inheriting a quarter of his vast wealth, including 400 priceless paintings. This book, however, focuses on her impoverished childhood and adolescence.

Her parents divorced when she was quite small, leaving her and her younger brother at the mercy of her deranged, alcoholic mother. The family depended on whatever money her father Pablito got from the Great Picasso by working as his chauffeur and by taking the children on periodic visits to beg, visits she describes in excruciating detail.

A woman who has finally come to terms with her past, Marina now lives in the South of France in a villa inherited from her grandfather. She is the mother of five children, including three Vietnamese adoptees, and is the founder of several charitable organizations.

Stolen Lives; twenty years in a desert jail by Malika Oufkir (Hyperion, 2001).

Featured on Oprah, this is a riveting account by an extremely brave woman who, with her mother and six younger siblings, was held in various Moroccan dungeons and prisons for 20 years before managing to escape. Their crime was being the family of a top general who tried to assassinate the King.

Malika lived a charmed life until the age of five when she was given the honor of being "adopted" into the royal family as a companion to King Hassan II's daughter. She lived as a princess among the king's many wives and concubines in the cloistered royal household until granted permission to go back to her family at age 16. Three years of cosmopolitan, carefree adolescence ended when her father was executed for his coup d'etat attempt, and the years of terror and ostracism began.

The endurance, inventiveness, and perseverance of the Oufkir women and children are hard to believe. You won't put this one down until you're finished.

Power; the Ultimate Aphrodisiac by Dr. Ruth Westheimer with Dr. Steven Kaplan (Madison Books, 2001).

Dr. Ruth, the world's premier sex expert, takes a historical look at the link between sex and power, using as examples such leaders as Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Eva Peron, Elizabeth I and John Kennedy.

She explores why certain powerful people have indulged in seemingly ill-advised sexual behavior and whether it affected their ability to govern wisely.

She also analyzes the "trophy wife" trend, observing that divorce and remarriage to younger women has become a symbol of power and an asset -- rather than a liability -- in corporate circles. She points out that "trophy wives" are generally better educated, with successful careers and their own interesting lives, than the unfortunately "worn-out" wives they replace.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.