Not for the squeamish or the fainthearted. Not for the indifferent or the complacent. Eve Ensler, famous for her play, The Vagina Monologues, has written an impassioned memoir which uses her personal story of enduring treatment for a huge, Stage IV uterine tumor, as a metaphor for our destruction of our planet and for our toleration of the atrocity of gang rape as a weapon of war. Again and again, Ensler shows us the links between her own ordeal and the ordeal of a suffering planet, especially its women.
Ensler became absorbed in the stories of these women, especially in Congo, who had been so savagely raped that they developed fistulae (a fistula is a tear in the vaginal wall), which made them permanently incontinent. Ensler was so horrified by their ordeals that she vowed to create, for these women, a refuge where they could heal, physically and emotionally. She pays tribute to a brilliant and selfless, heroic doctor, Dr. Mukwege, who has performed surgery on these damaged women, and to the women who, even if they cannot walk, still sing and dance, and who, in turn, help others like themselves. Ensler began fund-raising for a place, called City of Joy, where women could receive surgery to heal their bodies AND, at the same time, rescue their souls.
Given her own history, Ensler was shocked to discover the irony of a tumor the size of a grapefruit in her uterus. Although aware that something was wrong, she ignored the tumor until it had spread throughout her reproductive system, threatening her, at 57, with disfigurement and death. She shows us the links between her own personal denial and our collective denial of phenomena like global warming, the destruction of species, and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Fully aware of this irony, she, who had written so compellingly about these women, developed the same sort of fistula as they, although she was lucky enough to have insurance and access to skilled care. For me, the story of Ensler's own ordeal was, the most compelling aspect of the book; I sometimes got a bit tired of her belaboring the correspondences between her own story and that of our damaged planet. I know that, for her, these correspondences are all-important, but even feminist environmentalist pacifists may tire of her incessant pontificating.
Still, In the Body of the World, is a bold, engrossing, impassioned plea for all of us to wake up to the damage we are doing ourselves, others, and our planet. Although this book is graphic, uncompromising and terrifying, it is ultimately a testament to survival, and to joy.