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Book Review: "Southland", (2003) by Nina Revoyr

Updated on July 1, 2017

Women's Struggle in History

In her Novel, Southland, 2003, Nina Revoyr captures the struggles that women, especially those of the Asian American descent, have navigated through history. The novel provides interesting material on many fronts including aspects such as sexuality, multiracial and multigenerational family saga. The book is based upon three women characters with the main protagonist being a young Japanese American woman by the name of Jackie Ishida - a 25 year old law student in her last semester, her aunt Lois and her lesbian lover Laura. These three women in the book represent different aspects of women's struggles and the issues they have to confront in their day to day living.

Southland presents the picture of young Asian American women in their quest of trying to find out their true history and identity and which has exposed them to the larger world. The purpose of this paper will be to critically look into the struggles of the three women in the novel and to get lessons from the lives. The lives and struggles of Jackie and Lois will represent struggles of Asian American women while that of Laura will represent a woman of the African American descent.

How the Novel Relates to Women's Struggles

The novel Southland brings to the fore important aspects of women's struggles that have been witnessed over the decades and which still continue to exist even in the current perspective. It brings out the issues of sexuality, cross cultural relationships, inheritance and family issues. It also brings out issues of racialism and professionalism.

Jackie is an aspiring lawyer, who likes any other woman, tries to curve out a professional niche for herself in a male dominated world (Revoyr 2003). She represents the struggles of women to claim their place in society through education and their determination to enjoy the same rights and privileges like any other man in society which were hitherto unheard of. Through history, women have been known as the weaker sex and did not have the same rights and privileges as men and were discriminated in terms of their gender. Women discrimination can be found in many aspects of society including the right to education, employment, engagement in leadership and politics among others.

Apart from that, she has to contend with issues about her sexuality. This is clearly portrayed in the book by the fact that she was a lesbian who had a 3-year relationship with Laura but later turned to be a heterosexual as seen with her relationship with Curtis’ cousin James Lanier. The issue of sexuality has been among the struggles that women have encountered since time immemorial. Sexual orientation has become an expression of an individual’s freedom of choice and women advocating for their right to choose have been engaging in practices such as lesbiasm, prostitution, single motherhood and many other sexual expression forms. These issues have been brought to the fore with the advent of modernism.

Another aspect that clearly comes up is the issue of racial prejudices especially on women. Jackie’s family, his grandfather and wife, are forced to live in a racially integrated district of Crenshaw where they can find acceptance. Race is an issue that the novel exploits to show how women have struggled in an attempt to overcome the racial barrier that is a great impediment to their development. This is the main reason why Jackie is so obsessed with the quest of searching for her true identity by trying to solve a murder mystery associated with his father’s inheritance to Curtis Martindale, who was murdered in racial related circumstances (Revoyr 2003).

On the other hand Lois, Jackie’s aunt, represents the struggles that women have to undergo in terms of marriage and inheritance. She depicts cultural and family related issues on matters that affect women. Being a single lady and the only daughter to Frank, Jackie’s grandfather, she has a right for family support and inheritance. But her father did not leave her any inheritance upon his death. He instead wrote a will in favor of Curtis Martindale, his wife from African American descent. Neither Jackie nor Lois has heard that name before and this depicts the issue of unknown mistresses. Do daughters have rights especially when it comes to inheritance issues? This is a question that many women are faced with and has historical dimensions to it. The issue of disinheritance and law has featured in many cases where spouses, daughters and the female gender in general are denied their fair share of family inheritance due to gender. History has cases of women being left homeless and penniless after their family members or spouses die because they are not seen as valuable inheritors. The issue of marriage and support also springs up in the case of Lois. She represents the unmarried women of this world who, by virtue of being single, lack the necessary support to live a fruitful life. Most single ladies are left to depend on their families for support due to the many gender related biases that are found in society over the ages. These women are left at the whims of others cannot live independent lives of their own. Dependency usually leads to oppression and discrimination and these are issues that women have to grapple with in their quest for a better life.

Lastly, we see the struggles that African American women go through in the character of Laura who used to be Jackie's lover. She is a lesbian by sexual orientation but she is experiencing relationship problems with her lesbian lover Jackie which ultimately leads to abandonment. This then brings in aspects of abandonment and emotional as well as psychological issues that women have to go through as a result of being abandoned by their lovers. It also involves aspects of the African American way of life in sexual perspective. How women cope with abandonment in their love life and how it affects their overall quality of life is an issue that Southland tries to expose. Apparently, issues of sexual orientations and abandonment vividly spring up.

Women undergo emotional as well as psychological distress as a result of being abandoned by their lovers their sexual orientation notwithstanding. These are struggles that women have to silently contend with and usually result into health problems in some cases. The torment and suffering occasioned by such abandonment are not a current issue but is a feature that women have experienced throughout history. Abandonment then becomes a struggle because it reflects of your value as a person and plays havoc to your self esteem. Most women find themselves deeply entangled with the effects of abandonment that usually end up with more dangerous emotions like shame, insecurities, compulsions, addictions and cases of self medication like alcohol and drugs.

Lessons Learnt from the Examples

The novel has exposed various issues that are related to struggles that women have faced and continue to face over time. The women characters in the book have brought about social issues which need to be looked into deeply by society. Among the most important lessons to be learnt from this novel are social issues such as racial prejudices, relationships, sexual orientation, cultural discrimination.

The most important lesson relates to how society treats the female gender. Women should be given the same rights and privileges that are enjoyed by their male counterparts in all aspects of social life. These aspects range from the areas of inheritance, marriage, support, opportunities, roles and duties of women in society. It is wrong for society to treat women as ‘second fiddle’ as this works against the general development of the society in question. Treating women in a dismal way not only aggravates problems in society but also affects the development of the female gender and increases her struggles in this life. Women should be independent and able to make their own rational decisions without being limited by society.

The other lesson relates to discrimination in its various forms including racial, gender, sexual, economic and social. Discrimination leads to the disintegration of society and brings about divisions in society. Societies become less developed where discrimination abounds because some people are not allowed to play their social roles. Women have had a hard time when it comes to opportunities in education, employment, career, business and others due to discrimination.


In conclusion, it should be noted that women play a big role in the overall development of society and as such should be given equal opportunities and rights like any other person in society. By doing this their struggles will be greatly reduced and this will bring about positive changes in society.


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