Two women, two countries – American wives abroad in the mid-20th century

One of my favorite places to acquire books is in the free book box in front of Maine Charitable Mechanic Association – these books, weeded from the MCMA book collection, are ripe for the picking, and often include many wonderful travel books written in the mid-20th century. Two of these books caught my eye, and I enjoyed reading each one, savoring stories of women living abroad, with their husbands leading the way.

One of the books was Amalia Lindal’s “Ripples from Iceland,” published in 1962. Amalia met her Icelandic husband in college, married him, and moved to Iceland, where she proceeded to have 4 children, all boys (and apparently there was a 5th child born after the book was published). The book covers the years 1949 to 1961, and Amalia’s perspective alternates between personal stories of her life there, and her general insight and opinions about Icelandic life. The photo on the back shows her with her husband and four young boys – although she has a smile on her face, she appears somewhat exhausted, and for good reason! Not only raising children and running a household, but also negotiating a difficult language and foreign culture, not to mention very traditional women’s roles – fortunately her good humor probably saved her. As usual, after I finished the book, I wanted to know what happened to her. Sadly, rather than spending the rest of her life in Iceland, as she intended, she left in 1972 – divorced her husband, moved to Toronto, and remarried. She instructed “Short Story Writing” at the University of Toronto, and was a free-lance writer. She died sometime before 1985.

The second book I picked up was Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s “A view from the Nile” published in 1970. In this case, Elizabeth, or “B.J.” married an American man, Robert A. Fernea, an anthropologist – they initially lived in Iraq, while he was working on his doctorate. This book was written about their life in Egypt – she is pregnant in the beginning of the book, and by the end of the book she has had three children. She has less general observations about Egyptian life than Amalia about Icelandic life, but the impressions of local life are quite interesting and entertaining. B.J. knew this was a temporary part of her life, which may have made it a more special time. They came home to America in 1965, and she went on to become “an influential writer and filmmaker who spent much of her life in the field producing numerous ethnographies and films that capture the struggles and turmoil of African and Middle Eastern cultures” (Wikipedia). She died in 2008.

Both these books offer an interesting perspective on what life was like in these vastly different countries, and how these women negotiated marriage and motherhood while living in places totally foreign to their usual lives at home in America.