Washington Square Press
Ms. Hen has recently become interested in transsexuals, not the how, but the why. Why would someone want to be different from they way they are? Why would a woman feel that she is supposed to be a man and vice versa? Ms. Hen found a lot of nonfiction books about transsexuals, but she wanted to read a novel, because she thinks she can get inside a character’s skin better if she reads fiction. She found this novel, about a transsexual man, his life and transformation.
Mary Ward feels as if she were trapped in the wrong body from the time of the two-minute silence when the king of England dies in 1952. She is six years old. Her father had lost one of his ears during World War II. Her father wanted her to be a boy when she was born, and is disappointed that she is a girl. Her brother, Timmy, is not as strong as Mary.
Mary does what she wants to do, and does not listen to people. SACRED COUNTRY is filled with lonely characters: Mary’s mother’s Estelle, goes in and out of a psychiatric hospital; her brother, Timmy, does not want to work the farm; their neighbor, Walter, dreams of going to Nashville to become a country singer. Nobody in the book has what they want, and they dream of other lives.
The setting plays a big part in how the characters feel about their lives. In Suffolk, in the village of Swaithy, people have no hope that their lives will change. Mary does not want to be a girl; when she visits her grandfather she decides that she want to be called Martin, and her grandfather goes along with that. He is intelligent enough that when the time comes for Martin to reveal his true self, the grandfather accepts him.
Mary moves to London and tries to survive in the big city, attempting to transform himself into Martin. He seeks professional help, makes friends, works at a magazine, and has a series of operations. He suffers from not getting what he wants, but he keeps going on.
Martin struggles to find peace, but it comes to him in waves. He can’t get exactly what he wants, but he finds that he does not need that much in his life to be satisfied.
Ms. Hen was pleased that there were chickens in SACRED COUNTRY. The Ward family owns a farm, so of course they had hens and roosters running around. Ms. Hen’s favorite chicken in the novel was the patient in the psychiatric hospital with Estelle, Alice, called “The Chicken Lady.” She decided one day that she would rather be a chicken than a human. Many characters in this novel want to be something that they’re not, and The Chicken Lady is an extreme version of that notion. Ms. Hen knows that The Chicken Lady is out of touch with reality, but she thinks that if someone wants to be an animal it’s admirable that she would want to be a chicken.
Ms. Hen loved this novel. She thinks she doesn’t understand the why of transsexuals, but she understands that some things simply are the way they are. We can’t change how we feel, but we can change our view of the world. Change comes from within, and viewing our lives with new eyes can be enlightening, as it is for Martin Ward when he becomes who he is supposed to be.