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Laura Stuff @ LnE
Laura Reviews: Sowing Glory
Sowing Glory, written in 1931 by Percival Christopher Wren (or Perce as I like to call him), is a Foreign Legion novel which claims to be based on the diaries of one Mary Ambree, an English woman who entered the French Foreign Legion and fought in some war, necessarily disguised as a man.
***Note: This review is subject to change because I haven't yet finished the book.
***Note: The character's name was changed from Mary to Jacqueline something-or-other, but it's obviously changed to something male early in the book, but since it's in first person, I don't know what the name is for most of the book. So for the purposes of this essay, the main character is named Rog (pronounced "Rodge").
This book was overall enjoyable, and a reccomended read in the categories of Military/War, Foreign Legion, or Transgender/Crossdressing adventure books.
The following is a list of things that stood out for me, due either to their brilliance ("Good") or drear ("Bad").
Precocious understanding of transgender issues. I was pleasantly surprised at the extent that many of Rog's statements in the first few chapters still ring true today. Not that it's pleasant that not that much has really changed in the understanding of the trans population since 1930, but it's pleasant that ol' Perce was able to write so sympathetically and positively about it.
Consistency of character. A decision was early on that Rog was going to be a regular guy, and Percy never backs down. The book is written from the point of view of a man--a young man, no more than a slip of boy, perhaps; but a man who just happens to have a woman's body. Rog isn't perfect--he sometimes wears the wrong pants or falls asleep on the job and gets into trouble with his superiors--but his imperfections can be attributed to his youth and inexperience, and never to his biological femininity. In fact, by allowing Rog his little quirks, Perce reinforces his masculinity; acting too tough and manly all the time could be construed as doth protesting too much. Methinks.
Separate plot. This isn't as much a book about transy issues as it is a foreign legion story. Sure, there are moments when Rog's cover is almost blown, just like with any other disguise--but that's not all the book is about. Having a whole other plot downplays the trans stuff, which is a good thing--it makes it seem like Rog's secret is not that big a deal. Which again reinforces Rog's masculinity: real men have more on their minds than thinking about being men.
Separate plot. As much as I wholeheartedly approve of Perce's decision to keep the book a regular foreign legion story, I kind of wish there was more gender issue stuff, or detail about how Rog keeps his cover so well. I guess I just like transy novels better than foreign legion stories. But that's my problem, not the book's.
Interludes. I like conversation where all the characters join in, or dialogues between Rog and others, but I hate the long, long narratives by non-Rog characters about things that have nothing to do with the plot. If I want their life story, I'll read their book. But this is Rog's glory we're supposed to be sowing here people!!
Terence. For some reason Rog is, like, in love with this dude, Terry. I personally think Rog should be into chicks, but apparently he's gay or bi. Either Perce was all psyched to put in a queer character and made him both transy AND gay, or, in a single delirious moment of thinking of Rog as a girl, decided the world wasn't ready to handle a lesbian. Either way, Rog has a bit of a crush on this punk. It's not too heavy--he doesn't lie awake at night daydreaming about kissing him or anything, he just thinks he's really cool. I don't think he's that cool. Terry is just some English dude. Sometimes he wisecracks; sometimes he plays a practical joke; sometimes he drinks too much. All the time, he leaves me cold.
The introduction. The introduction told the story of how a woman with the pseudonym Mary Ambree sent this diary of her time in the Foreign Legion to Perce. She explained that it was dull and needed rewriting, but she wasn't a good writer, so could Perce please do it? According to the introduction, Perce agreed, and that's how Sing G came to be. I'm pretty sure it's one of those fake "how I found the manuscript on my doorstep, ha ha ha, but I'm really the writer" introductions; I don't know for sure how much of it is based on fact, or whether it's all just fabrication. I wish I did, because if Rog is a figment of Perce's imagination, then Perce has a right to write to story in first person, and say what Rog thinks about things; but if he's based on a real person, Percy ought to have made clear what were really Rog's thoughts and feelings and what was based on conjecture. That's all.
Don't get turned off to the book by my rants. I'm just nitpicking. It's really a good book, and you should check it out. Because it's a book. And that's what you do with them.