In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler

29th Jul 2013

In the Body of the World
Eve Ensler shot to world wide prominence with the publication in 2001 of The Vagina Monologues. After travelling the world listening to women talk about their bodies, she ended up working with women whose bodies had been violated as a deliberate tactic of war to destroy the spirit of the enemy. It was while working with such women in the Congo that she discovered she had a massive tumour in her uterus.

The memoir of Eve Ensler’s subsequent diagnosis and treatment for uterine cancer,  In the Body of the World, will make you laugh and cry and rage all within the space of one paragraph.

As well as Ensler’s personal story, it also tells the stories of the women who have suffered horrific injuries as a result of rape and torture in war.

But she does not tell these stories as one who is looking from outside. She has embodied their stories to such an extent that the cancer has exactly the same effect on her body as the violent rapes had on the women of the Congo.

She is pregnant with the trauma of these women and all women of the world whose bodies are used by others for others’ ends.

It is not a book about rage and love, it is a pure expression of both rage and love.As a child, Ensler endured rape by her father which left her disassociated from her body. Through all the years of drink, drugs and sex and the subsequent sobriety and activism on the subject of women’s bodies, that disassociation had remained.

It was not until cancer forced her to become pure body; vomiting, bleeding, a mass of tubes and bags, at the mercy of the medical profession, that she finally got in touch with her own physical self.

The writing is incredibly powerful. It is not a book about rage and love, it is a pure expression of both rage and love. She has embodied the suffering of the women of the Congo and each sentence is pregnant with that same experience.

It is through the cancer that she learns what love is, both from the friends and family who care for her, and from the volunteers – strangers both in the US and the Congo – who give their lives to help others.

This book must come with a warning. The accounts of her treatment, although at times tragically funny, are unflinching and graphic. To call the stories of the war crimes in the Congo harrowing does not come close, but somehow she tells them in such a way that it is the dignity and humanity of the women which stays with you.

Ensler writes that ‘hysteria’ is “a word to make women feel insane for knowing what they know.” She knows what she knows, she embodies it and expresses it. Highly charged, yes. Powerful, absolutely. Hysterical, no.

In the Body of the World was published by Metropolitan Books in April and is available in hardback now.