Take My Hand Dolen Perkins-Valdez Phoenix, €15.99
When Perkins-Valdez first learned of the federal case of Relf v Weinberger, she was shocked to read of the forced sterilisation of sisters Minnie Lee (12) and Mary Alice Reif (14) in 1970s Montgomery, Alabama.
By creating a work of fiction, loosely based on the facts surrounding their lawsuit, the author hoped to “provoke discussions about culpability in a society that still deems poor, Black and disabled as categories unfit for motherhood”. Take My Hand does just that. It brings the human story from court transcripts and faded newspaper articles, affording a fictional personality to the victims of these shocking procedures.
Alabama, 1973. Recently qualified nurse, Civil Townsend, takes a position at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic where she is excited about providing essential services to the women in her African American community.
The daughter of a GP, Civil believes in the freedom of choice surrounding family planning but is concerned when she is asked to provide birth control injections to 11-year-old India and 13-year-old Erica.
The girls live with their father and grandmother in squalid conditions and, as the adults are illiterate and unable to consent, she begins to question the legitimacy of long-term birth control for the children.
The family are taken under Civil’s wing and she helps them relocate to a new, welfare-funded estate, where the girls begin to thrive. All this changes when the sisters are taken, without official consent, for enforced sterilisation.
The nurse discovers India and Erica are not alone. Doctors are enforcing sterilisation by threatening withdrawal of welfare and refusing to deliver their babies safely: “One doctor is doing it as soon as a woman delivers her third child. No consent whatsoever.”
Civil instigates a legal battle which will change the lives of future generations of disadvantaged females.
The novel is split into three parts and captures the atmosphere of African American communities with a genuine touch. This moving and memorable tale is one destined for the big screen.
Touching and terrifying, in equal measure, Take My Hand is a must read for anyone with a heart, or a conscience.