Available Formats and Book Details Hardcover Henry Holt and Co. Metropolitan Books April 2013 Hardcover ISBN: 9780805095180 ISBN10: 0805095187 5 1/8 x 7 13/16 inches, 240 pages $25.00
From the bestselling author of The Vagina Monologues and one of Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Changed the World, a visionary memoir of separation and connectionto the body, the self, and the world
Playwright, author, and activist Eve Ensler has devoted her life to the female bodyhow to talk about it, how to protect and value it. Yet she spent much of her life disassociated from her own bodya disconnection brought on by her father’s sexual abuse and her mother’s remoteness. “Because I did not, could not inhabit my body or the Earth,” she writes, “I could not feel or know their pain.”
But Ensler is shocked out of her distance. While working in the Congo, she is shattered to encounter the horrific rape and violence inflicted on the women there. Soon after, she is diagnosed with uterine cancer, and through months of harrowing treatment, she is forced to become first and foremost a bodypricked, punctured, cut, scanned. It is then that all distance is erased. As she connects her own illness to the devastation of the earth, her life force to the resilience of humanity, she is finally, fullyand gratefullyjoined to the body of the world.
Unflinching, generous, and inspiring, Ensler calls on us all to embody our connection to and responsibility for the world.
A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.
I have been exiled from my body. I was ejected at a very young age and I got lost. I did not have a baby. I have been afraid of trees. I have felt the Earth as my enemy. I did not live in the forests. I lived in the concrete city where I could not see the sky or sunset or stars. I moved at the pace of engines and it was faster than my own breath. I became a stranger to myself and to the rhythms of the Earth. I aggrandized my alien identity and wore black and felt superior. My body was a burden. I saw it as something that unfortunately had to be maintained. I had little patience for its needs.
The absence of a body against my body made attachment abstract. Made my own body dislocated and unable to rest or settle. A body pressed against your body is the beginning of nest. I grew up not in a home but in a kind of free fall of anger and violence that led to a life of constant movement, of leaving and falling. It is why at one point I couldn’t stop drinking and fucking. Why I needed people to touch me all the time. It had less to do with sex than location. When you press against me, or put yourself inside me. When you hold me down or lift me up, when you lie on top of me and I can feel your weight, I exist. I am here.
For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the Earth. I guess you could say it has been a preoccupation. Although I have felt pleasure in both the Earth and my body, it has been more as a visitor than as an inhabitant. I have tried various routes to get back. Promiscuity, anorexia, performance art. I have spent time by the Adriatic and in the green Vermont mountains, but always I have felt estranged, just as I was estranged from my own mother. I was in awe of her beauty but could not find my way in. Her breasts were not the breasts that fed me. Everyone admired my mother in her tight tops and leggings, with her hair in a French twist, as she drove through our small rich town in her yellow convertible. One gawked at my mother. One desired my mother. And so I gawked and desired the Earth and my mother, and I despised my own body, which was not her body. My body that I had been forced to evacuate when my father invaded and then violated me. And so I lived as a breathless, rapacious machine programmed for striving and accomplishment. Because I did not, could not, inhabit my body or the Earth, I could not feel or know their pain. I could not intuit their unwillingness or refusals, and I most certainly never knew the boundaries of enough. I was driven. I called it working hard, being busy, on top of it, making things happen. But in fact, I could not stop. Stopping would mean experiencing separation, loss, tumbling into a suicidal dislocation.
As I had no reference point for my body, I began to ask other women about their bodies, in particular their vaginas (as I sensed vaginas were important). This led me to writing The Vagina Monologues, which then led me to talking incessantly and obsessively about vaginas. I did this in front of many strangers. As a result of me talking so much about vaginas, women started telling me stories about their bodies. I crisscrossed the Earth in planes, trains, and jeeps. I was hungry for the stories of other women who had experienced violence and suffering. These women and girls had also become exiled from their bodies and they, too, were desperate for a way home. I went to over sixty countries. I heard about women being molested in their beds, flogged in their burqas, acid-burned in their kitchens, left for dead in parking lots. I went to Jalalabad, Sarajevo, Alabama, Port-au-Prince, Peshawar, Pristina. I spent time in refugee camps, in burned-out buildings and backyards, in dark rooms where women whispered their stories by flashlight. Women showed me their ankle lashes and melted faces, the scars on their bodies from knives and burning cigarettes. Some could no longer walk or have sex. Some became quiet and disappeared. Others became driven machines like me.
Then I went somewhere else. I went outside what I thought I knew. I went to the Congo and I heard stories that shattered all the other stories. In 2007 I landed in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. I heard stories that got inside my body. I heard about a little girl who couldn’t stop peeing on herself because huge men had shoved themselves inside her. I heard about an eighty-year-old woman whose legs were broken and torn out of their sockets when the soldiers pulled them over her head and raped her. There were thousands of these stories. The stories saturated my cells and nerves. I stopped sleeping. All the stories began to bleed together. The raping of the Earth. The pillaging of minerals. The destruction of vaginas. They were not separate from each other or from me.
In the Congo there has been a war raging for almost thirteen years. Nearly eight million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and tortured. It is an economic war fought over minerals that belong to the Congolese but are pillaged by the world. There are local and foreign militias from Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. They enter villages and they murder. They rape wives in front of their husbands. They force the husbands and sons to rape their daughters and sisters. They shame and destroy families and take over the villages and the mines. The minerals are abundant in the Congotin, copper, gold, and coltain, which are used in our iPhones and PlayStations and computers.
Of course by the time I got to the Congo, I had witnessed the epidemic of violence toward women that scoured the planet, but the Congo was where I witnessed the end of the body, the end of humanity, the end of the world. Femicide, the systematic rape, torture, and destruction of women and girls, was being employed as a military/corporate tactic to secure minerals. Thousands and thousands of women were not only exiled from their bodies, but their bodies and the functions and futures of their bodies were rendered obsolete: wombs and vaginas permanently destroyed.
The Congo and the individual horror stories of her women consumed me. Here I began to see the futurea monstrous vision of global disassociation and greed that not only allowed but encouraged the eradication of the female species in pursuit of minerals and wealth. But I found something else here as well. Inside these stories of unspeakable violence, inside the women of the Congo, was a determination and a life force I had never witnessed. There was grace and gratitude, fierceness and readiness. Inside this world of atrocities and horror was a red-hot energy on the verge of being born. The women had hunger and dreams, demands and a vision. They conceived of a place, a concept, called City of Joy. It would be their sanctuary. It would be a place of safety, of healing, of gathering strength, of coming together, of releasing their pain and trauma. A place where they would declare their joy and power. A place where they would rise as leaders. I, along with my team and the board at V-Day, were committed to finding the resources and energy to help them build it. We would work with UNICEF to do the construction and then, after V-Day, would find the way to support it. The process of building was arduous and seemingly impossibledelayed by rain and lack of roads and electricity, corrupt building managers, poor oversight by UNICEF, and rising prices. We were scheduled to open in May, but on March 17, 2010, they discovered a huge tumor in my uterus.
Cancer threw me through the window of my disassociation into the center of my body’s crisis. The Congo threw me deep into the crisis of the world, and these two experiences merged as I faced the disease and what I felt was the beginning of the end.
Suddenly the cancer in me was the cancer that is everywhere. The cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed, the cancer that gets inside people who live downstream from chemical plants, the cancer inside the lungs of coal miners. The cancer from the stress of not achieving enough, the cancer of buried trauma. The cancer that lives in caged chickens and oil-drenched fish. The cancer of carelessness. The cancer in fast-paced must-make-it-have-it-smoke-it-own-it formaldehydeasbestospesticideshairdyecigarettescellphonesnow. My body was no longer an abstraction. There were men cutting into it and tubes coming out of it and bags and catheters draining it and needles bruising it and making it bleed. I was blood and poop and pee and puss. I was burning and nauseous and feverish and weak. I was of the body, in the body. I was body. Body. Body. Body. Cancer, a disease of pathologically dividing cells, burned away the walls of my separateness and landed me in my body, just as the Congo landed me in the body of the world.
Cancer was an alchemist, an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I am no apologist for cancer. I am fully aware of the agony of this disease. I appreciate every medical advance that has enabled me to be alive right now. I wake up every day and run my hand over my torso-length scar and am in awe that I had doctors and surgeons who were able to remove the disease from my body. I am humbled that I got to live where there are CAT scan machines and chemotherapy and that I had the money to pay for them through insurance. Absolutely none of these things are givens for most people in the world. I am particularly grateful for the women of the Congo whose strength, beauty, and joy in the midst of horror insisted I rise above my self-pity. I know their ongoing prayers also saved my life. I am in awe that it happens to be 2012, not twenty years ago even. I am gratefully aware that at just about any other point in history I would have been dead at fifty-seven.
In his book, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee says, “Science is often described as an interactive and cumulative process, a puzzle solved piece by piece with each piece contributing a few hazy pixels to a much larger picture.” Science, then, is not unlike a CAT scan, a three-dimensional magnetic electronic beam that captures images as it rotates around the body. Each image is separate but somehow the machine makes them seem like one.
This book is like a CAT scana roving examinationcapturing images, experiences, ideas, and memories, all of which began in my body. Scanning is somehow the only way I could tell this story. Being cut open, catheterized, chemofied, drugged, pricked, punctured, probed, and ported made a traditional narrative impossible. Once you are diagnosed with cancer, time changes. It both speeds up insanely and stops altogether. It all happened fast. Seven months. Impressions. Scenes. Light beams. Scans.
"A masterpiece. Ensler has accomplished the impossible: weaving together huge, bold, world-changing ideas with beautiful writing, amazing metaphors, and original structure. Truly one of the most courageous and original works of our time." - Naomi Klein
"This book is a ride, a river ride through rapids and depths and shallows, dried-up eddies, whirlpools and torrents, crystal-clear pools and the vast ocean at the end. What a thrill and what a spear through the heart. I am astounded by the honesty and clarity of each word." - Elizabeth Lesser
"Ensler has written a profound and vulnerable book, full of tenderness and strength. I was amazed by the clarity of her vision and the power of her message about the body and self. This book isn’t meant only for patients; it is meant for anyone whose life has intersected with illnessin short, for all of us." - Siddhartha Mukherjee
"I dare anyone to read In the Body of the World without crying, without crying out, without getting up and rising to this beautiful broken world with awe and gratitude. There is no pity here, only the raw force of courage in the face of fear and violence, and the healing grace of honesty." - Terry Tempest Williams
"Eve Ensler incarnates the pain of the women in the Congo, victims of rape and torture; and of the Earth, victim of so much desecration. Her heart and body are broken, her anger is like fire, and the passion of her writing rattles your soul. This is true literature and true " - Isabel Allende
Eve Ensler’s brave memoir is a wake-up call and a testimony to her fighting spirit.
Eve Ensler’s visit to India happened to coincide with the brutal rape in Delhi, a time when the nation stood poised at a solemn moment resolved in unprecedented solidarity to bring about speedy, effective and strong legislation along with a change in the perverse mindset. The One Billion Rising events initiated by Ensler around the world against gender violence and sexual orientation coincided with this national outcry. It was a moment of reflection, introspection and accountability on the pervasive culture of male-dominated power structures, on the pathology of apathy and the callous disregard of human rights.
Ensler’s presence in India during the days after the rape lent a new impetus and an awareness of our social malaise. The success of her play The Vagina Monologues inspired this galvanising feminist activist to create a global movement called V-Day, which stands for economic security and self defence as well as education for deprived women in countries such as Congo, Kenya, Iran and Afghanistan. After the V-Day events grossed more than a $100 million, Ensler utilised the funds to set up revolutionary women’s organisations around the world, particularly building the City of Joy in Congo to fight gender violence, discrimination, and genital mutilation. She has been of immense inspiration to Congolese women through her literacy movements, which have enabled them to express themselves through their literature and other art forms.
As is clear from her unflinching activism and her writings, Ensler has been passionately involved with the suffering of women and especially the brutality of violence in Congo, which becomes a heartrending narration in her engaging memoir In the Body of the World (Random House, India) where she remembers the nightmare of being raped by her father from the age of five to her early teens. Other than her harrowing childhood experience, she battled a long, painful treatment of uterine, colon and liver cancers which finally led her to connect with her body through all its agonising suffering and mutilation, ‘pricked, punctured, cut, scanned’. Her bodily pain and illness become the objective correlative of the devastation and ravaging of the world. This connection underlines her sense of responsibility towards the overall health and well-being of the world. The private and the public coalesce in her scheme of being, and from a state of ‘exile’ she finally returns to her body and, in turn, the body of the world: “It was like that moment when the Gulf oil spill happened, when I had that horrible infection in my gut and I had days where I just couldn’t separate the drilling in the Gulf and the explosion, from the horrible infection and tubes in my gut. I became porous, no separation.”
Having missed out on the love and care of her mother, Ensler writes: ‘A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother... The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.’ Her body became a burden for her until she began her struggle to discover it through drinking and rampant sex that gave her the experience of being held by another ‘body’: ‘Why I needed people to touch me all the time. It had less to do with sex than location.’ Living in a state of exile and estrangement, her life would become a ‘machine’ trying to revisit her body. She began to question other women across the world about their sexuality, visiting more than 60 countries: “I went to Jalalabad, Sarajevo, Alabama, Port-au-Prince, Peshawar, Pristina. I spent time in refugee camps, in burned-out buildings and backyards, in dark rooms where women whispered their stories by flashlight.” This experience of women talking about their vaginas and their miserable sexual lives forms the text of The Vagina Monologues.
But then came her visit to Congo where she finally awoke to the horror of violence and pain witnessing two events: a young girl incessantly incontinent because she had been repeatedly raped and an old woman whose legs were broken at the hip when soldiers ravaged her. Horrified, Ensler writes: “All the stories began to bleed together. The raping of the Earth. The pillaging of minerals. The destruction of vaginas. They were not separate from each other or from me… I witnessed the end of the body, the end of humanity, the end of the world. Femicide, the systematic rape, torture, and destruction of women and girls, was being employed as a military/corporate tactic to secure minerals. Thousands and thousands of women were not only exiled from their bodies, but their bodies and the functions and futures of their bodies were rendered obsolete: wombs and vaginas permanently destroyed.”
Through the ages, men have used violence on the body of the earth and of the woman to inflict maximum damage to the environment and woman’s selfhood, feeling empowered when they hurt her at her most personal space. It’s a man’s prerogative to violate her so completely that she’s destroyed from the inside out.
Ensler had finally arrived where the experience of the world mimicked the pain of her diseased body ridden with cancer: “The cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed, the cancer that gets inside people who live downstream from chemical plants, the cancer inside the lungs of coal miners. The cancer from the stress of not achieving enough, the cancer of buried trauma. The cancer that lives in caged chickens and oil-drenched fish... Cancer, a disease of pathologically dividing cells, burned away the walls of my separateness and landed me in my body, just as Congo landed me in the body of the world.” This was her reconnection with her body and the body of the world. Chemo became for her a ‘shamanic experience which could burn away things inside of me that needed to go’ leading to her transformation.
This deeply personal and evocative account lends passionate impetus to the vibrant movement for women’s rights, and hopefully, will result in a worldwide revolution of making patriarchy history and ecological consciousness the single most vital need of the hour. Her story, both raw and ugly, takes civic activism to new levels in a very alert and consciously written memoir that draws attention to the biggest irony and paradox in our society where we worship god in the form of a woman, we climb mountains and stand in queues waiting for her sacred darshan, and then we come home and spurn the woman in our personal lives, demean her, dishonour her as a lesser human being and think of ways of despoiling our Himalayas with new strategies of neo-liberalism and free market economy, a parallel reflected in the pursuit of minerals and wealth in Ensler’s candid view of Congo.
Book Review: ‘In the Body of the World’ by Eve Ensler By Judy Bolton-Fasman/| Globe Correspondent
Eve Ensler chronicles her fight with cancer and the battles the women of the Congo fight against rape.(Brigitte Lacombe)
Eve Ensler’s extraordinary new memoir begins with the body her body a place from which she was exiled and, “forced to evacuate when my father invaded then violated me.” As a consequence, she has focused her life’s work on reclaiming her body and helping others do the same. Her quest began by asking women about their vaginas. The urgency to “talk incessantly and obsessively” about vaginas stemmed from Ensler’s estrangement from her own body, and the stories Ensler heard lay the groundwork for her much acclaimed play “The Vagina Monologues.”
Over the years, Ensler has bridged the distance between herself and her body by traveling to over 60 countries to seek out stories of women who have experienced trauma. “These women and girls had also become exiled from their bodies and they, too, were desperate for a way home.”
The way home for Ensler took a devastating turn when she was diagnosed with stage IV uterine cancer in 2010 at the age of 57. But it was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007 where Ensler witnessed “the end of the body, the end of humanity, the end of the world,” and to which she returned to understand that her internal cancer and the world’s external violence were symbiotic.
“In the Body of the World” is not an easy book to read. There are horrific descriptions of the rape, torture, and mutilation of women and girls. But it is a necessary book to read for its fierce, passionate commitment to making the world a safe place for women. In the Congo and then later in the hospital, Ensler considers the ways in which a life is ruptured by war crimes as well as disease. “Cancer,” she writes, “threw me through the window of my disassociation into the center of my body’s crisis.” And during her crisis she became one with the ravaged women of the Congo. The cancer that had blindsided Ensler leads her to explore the uncomfortable politics of advantage when she returns to the Congo. “My naked head suddenly feels like insane privilege all the attention and care I have received. I am embarrassed by how much money (insurance), equipment, healers, surgeons, nurses, and medications have gone into saving me.”
Living in cities, amid concrete for most of her adult life, Ensler found that the tree outside her hospital window integrated her into the natural world. Too weak to do anything but stare out the window she writes, “on Tuesday I meditated on the bark; on Friday, the green leaves shimmering in late afternoon light. For hours I lost myself, my body, my being dissolving into a tree.” A tree also took root inside of Ensler in the form of taxol, a chemotherapy drug derived from tree bark.
Cancer initially divided Ensler from her body and the world until it united her with suffering across the globe. The scar that runs down her torso is the earthquake in Haiti. The abscess in her stomach with 16 ounces of pus is the contaminated Gulf of Mexico. In one of the many poignant scenes in the memoir, a friend of Ensler performs a healing ceremony in which she baptizes Ensler with flowers, honey, and water from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the gulf where Ensler swam as a young woman. It’s the gulf where her dying parents gazed at the horizon. It’s the gulf of illness and recklessness and greed. It’s the gulf that drips down Ensler’s bald head.
Ensler’s closest women friends surround her throughout her cancer ordeal. This group is a microcosm of the City of Joy in the Congo, a concept that “grew out of the women of the Congo and was shaped by their desire and hunger. It was literally built with their hands. It is a sanctuary for healing: it is a revolutionary center.”
Ensler begins her intense, riveting memoir with the body, so it’s fitting to end with the body. Today she has “a second life,’’ and no longer needs a colostomy bag. Although cancer brought her to “dangling’’ on the edge of death, it was there, she writes, that “I found my second wind. The second wind arrives when we think we are finished, when we can’t take another step, breathe another breath. And then we do.” In celebration and camaraderie she dances with the women of the Congo in the City of Joy, finally reunited with her body.