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MARCH 13, 2000: 

The Bond Between Women: A Journey to Fierce Compassion by China Galland (Riverhead Books), paper, $14

This is the story of the writer's search for the unifying ties between ancient feminine deities and their modern manifestations found in the works of women activists. Galland travels to Nepal, India, Brazil and Argentina, interviewing women who strive to effect social and political change. Their motivation is what Galland calls "fierce compassion." Dr. Upretz of Nepal fights child prostitution in that country, where young girls are often sold into sexual slavery; Yvonne Mello of Brazil works educating the street children of Rio; Laura Bonaparte is one of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, who still demonstrate weekly to try to make their government accountable for its past murders.

Galland's journey is also a spiritual one. She derives inspiration and lessons from studies of deities such as the ancient Hindu goddess Durga, who ferociously fought and defeated demons. Durga promised to return if the world ever needed her. Women who actively demonstrate "fierce compassion" whether it be in Rio's slums, on the Plaza de Mayo, in a soup kitchen in San Francisco, or fighting to save a forest in India, are fulfilling Durga's promise. Galland believes in the powerful bond between women to effect creative change that is motivated by a commitment to life and its beauty.

One need not be religious or spiritual to be inspired after reading this story of the writer's journey into the interconnecting worlds of these women. As Galland quotes from the Devi-Mahatmya (the classic Sanskrit text): "Without action, one perishes." -- Ann Peterpaul

No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship by Linda K. Kerber (Hill and Wang), paper, $14

This book traces the relationship between women's lives and the law from the point of view of obligations rather than rights. In framing the argument this way, the author is able to completely bypass the issue of whether women are better or worse off under discriminatory regulations. Each of the five chapters tells the tale of a specific case that either raised or resolved some legal issue of gender roles. The book starts in the 1700s with the question of whether married women were even considered to have opinions under the law. The case in point upheld the view that the American wife of a British officer was legally incapable of committing treason against the United States, since her legal obligation was to her husband rather than to her country of birth. The last chapter deals with the implications of women in combat.

In between, this volume covers a lot of ground. There is overlap with other civil rights issues, most notably in the treatment of jury duty. I was taken aback, to say the least, to see how recently most states started requiring female voters to serve on juries. (The concern was women being subjected to indelicate matters.) Kerber's writing style is a cross between the specific -- well researched and footnoted -- and the vaguely poetic; each chapter is somewhat self-contained and deserves to be read at one sitting. The format leaves room to report progress in future editions. -- Dorothy Cole

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