It seems almost surreal to be reading a book that heavily features COVID-19. It feels so recent and raw and – as recent lockdowns show – we’re not out of the woods yet. But, here I am, having read Untold Resilience.
Untold Resilience is a non-fiction essay collection, curated by the organisation Future Women. The 19 essays in the book are written by women across Australia, reflecting on the theme of resilience. What makes women resilient? What makes women pillars of their communities? How do we take the trauma and hardship that we have been through and turn it into something we can celebrate and be proud of?
This book is filled with stories of women who have one thing in common; they have the ability to overcome what they have been through. The hardships they have faced are varied. War, exile and migration, pandemic, discrimination. These women have lived in disaster zones, they have lived through devastating losses of the people closest to them, but their stories have been told through the lens of the isolation they experienced as they wrote their stories, compiled remotely during the lockdown in Australia. Each woman is over the age of sixty, and their writings reflect their breadth of experience. The Future Women editorial team of journalists worked with the writers of these essays to uncover their stories, bringing the curation to print at the end of October 2020.
The essay that struck me most was written by Faye Snaith. Faye was 92 at the time of writing. Her writing is filled with sharp humour and evident love for life. As domestic as it seemed for her, it felt so vibrant through the way she described everyday aspects of her past and present. She writes about the pandemics she has lived through before COVID-19, such as polio outbreaks, and how her sense of resilience helped her weather the Melbourne lockdowns. As a high-risk person for COVID-19, she spent a significant amount of time in the strictest of isolation periods.
When she wrote about how she felt her youth was stolen from her in isolation and now, the final years of her life were being taken from her too, I thought of my grandmother and my sister. My grandmother, because I worried for her as a vulnerable person during the pandemic and couldn’t see her for a long time. My sister, because she has lost so many formative moments to COVID-19 that she couldn’t spend with family and close friends, such as her final year of school, receiving her driver’s licence, and her 18th birthday. Of course, while I feel sad that I couldn’t share these moments with her, I recognise that they pale in significance when looking at the global tragedy this pandemic has been. However, Faye’s philosophy that life is simply a collection of moments helped me to feel validated in mourning those lost moments because the moments we share with our families, friends, and communities is what makes for a whole and complete life.
While many of these essays detail women going through terrible, terrible hardship, the highlight of this book is in the name. The resilience of these women is nothing short of breathtaking. From heartfelt fights for equality to gentle yet fierce acts of survival, the women featured in this book are extraordinary. They write their stories with an unimaginable humility, with grace and a tenacity that can only be achieved after going through the unimaginable. The 19 women have become installed inspirations in my life and this collection is a hallmark of how tenacity manifests in our everyday lives.
Untold Resilience is a remarkable book, which impressed me far beyond what I had expected. With most essay collections, it is easy to read in spare moments, an essay at a time – however, this was one of those books that I started and didn’t stop until I was done. The editorial team at Future Women has curated a stirring collection that unearths how these featured women survive, grow and exude resilience.
Em Readman is a writer and editor from Brisbane, Australia. They are studying a Bachelor of Business and Fine Art at QUT. Her writing work has been featured in Aniko Press, Forge World, Kos Magazine, Good Material Magazine and others.
Untold Resilience is out now from Penguin Random House Australia. Note: The book featured in this review was provided to Glass and Em Readman free of charge by Penguin Random House as a press copy. However, the opinions of the reviewer are their own.