Thursday, September 4, 2008

Guest post: Between Friends: A Year in Letters by Oonagh Berry and Helen Levine (a review)

Between Friends: A Year in Letters by Oonagh Berry and Helen LevineI’m excited that my friend and fellow LibraryThinger suncloud9 is allowing me to post one of her reviews on my blog, because I think she’s a fantastic reviewer. (I’m trying to encourage her to start her own blog.) Without further ado...

Every so often a book comes along that is so abundant with heartfelt honesty, one cannot help but re-evaluate one’s own life and find some new insights along the way. Between Friends: A Year in Letters is such a book. Two long-time friends, Oonagh Berry and Helen Levine, decided to spend fifteen minutes every two weeks writing longhand letters to one another. In a world of emails and text messaging, what ensued was an honest, thought-provoking account of what it means to be a woman, wife, mother and creative, aging being in this fast-paced, youth-oriented society of ours.

Berry, who emigrated from Ireland to England to Canada in the early 70s, worked as a teacher and counsellor for years. Now retired, she lives in B.C. with her husband, poet Christopher Levenson. A writer/activist/feminist, she candidly offers her upbringing and struggles in Ireland as the catalyst for her later efforts to strike a balance between her roles as wife and mother, and her need to be true to her passionately creative self.

In contrast, Levine, now in her eighties, comes from a Jewish background, but in her reflections, focuses more on the socio-political climate that has helped influence and define her. A retired professor of Women’s Studies at Carleton University, she received a Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case in 1989 for her many contributions to the feminist cause.

It should be noted that the September 11th attacks occurred during the writing of some of these letters, and both Berry and Levine touch on the horror of the event and the many thoughts and feelings it evoked for them.

Both women are excellent writers, Berry assuming a more personal voice in her letters, Levine a more schooled tone. This diversifies the text enough to keep the reader engaged throughout, even when, occasionally, both women stray from one theme to another without fully completing their thoughts. Regardless, Between Friends is a rich, expressive, candid read, and one that I highly recommend. I love this book and have added it to my permanent collection.


  1. This looks like a great book and I've added it to my wishlist. I am fond of books that are written in letters. Great review!

  2. Thanks for commenting, Bonnie. Suncloud9 just gave me a copy of this book yesterday, so I'm looking forward to reading it too!

  3. Thank you, red lady-bonnie. I'm thrilled that you've added 'Between Friends' to your wish list! I'm also very fond of books comprised of letters as I love the honesty and flow that accompanies them. I'm very happy that you found my review helpful. Happy reading!

  4. I love collections of letters (as well as epistolary novels) - wondeerful review!

  5. Thanks, teabird. I will pass on the compliment to the author of this review!