Author: Nikki McWatters
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Liberty is a magnificent book about three women who lived in three different centuries but who were all fighting for the same reason – their freedom.
Firstly, we are introduced to Jeanne, a teenage girl living in 1472, France. Jeanne is from a poor, disgraced family – her father is known as Matthew, the Coward. Due to her family’s lack of circumstances, Jeanne is forced into an arranged marriage. At the same time that Jeanne is dealing with the fact that she can’t marry the man she loves, war is coming to her beloved town of Beauvais. The townspeople have elected to fight their enemy, even though their numbers are low and they are not suitably equipped to fight.
In 1797 Ireland, Betsy is living in her much-loved Ireland and has joined the rebel army along with her brother and best friend to free Ireland from English rule. Betsy and the rebel army want Ireland to be liberated and they want to live lives free from oppression.
Our final story is told from Fiona’s perspective. The year is 1968 and Fiona is heading off to university for her first year as a law student. During this time, Fiona’s brother receives his draft notice and suddenly Fiona begins to take more notice of the anti-Vietnam protests that are occurring around her.
What I particularly loved about this book was that though each story is fiction, they are based on real events that happened in history. Jeanne and Betsy are both real women from our past and I’ve no doubt that there was a real-life Fiona who was grappling with what was happening in 1968 and wondering how she could make a difference.
It is evident that McWatters has done extensive research for this book. Each story is distinct. The sense of the period in each story is unmistakable. Each story unfolds in alternate chapters and there is never any confusion of which story is being told – each young woman is distinct and each story is captivating.
If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Betsy. At the beginning of Betsy’s story, she is spirited, young and a little naive. Being so young Betsy is idealistic and sees that England occupying her treasured Ireland is wrong. By the end of Betsy’s story, she is still young, but she considers life with more matured eyes. Betsy has fought a battle and that battle has made her wiser and stronger. Betsy has been through a war and she now knows the exact price of war, but still, her spirit and resolve remains strong. McWatters is a master writer because since finishing this book, Betsy has never been far from my thoughts.
Being a student of history, I know that rarely is history told through the eyes of females and so this book by McWatters is quite remarkable. I love that McWatters sheds light on two brilliant young women from history who fought for what they believed. I loved that McWatters showed that women were making a difference. I also loved that McWatters showed men and women working together to make a difference. Jeanne, Betsy and Fiona all had strong and supportive men in their lives. These men knew what these women were capable of and they wanted to help these women reach their potential. The men in these women’s lives were in awe of these strong, independent and spirited women. I loved that these were stories of women empowering women but also of strong, decent men empowering women.
Liberty is a brilliant book for women and men. I hope that young men read this book and are just as inspired as the young women readers. If you love politics, this is the book for you. If you love history, this is the book for you. If you love great storytelling, this is the book for you.
Thank you, Nikki Mc Watters, for giving us a book that resonates long after you have finished reading.