Terrible Virtue

Harper. Mar. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9780062407559. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062407573. F
In her latest novel, the award-winning Feldman (The Unwitting) has created a compelling portrait of Margaret Sanger (1879–1966), the famous champion of birth control. The first-person narrative, with short excerpts in the voices of friends, family, and lovers, portrays Sanger as a complex woman, torn between her family and cause. Married, she was also unfaithful and promiscuous. Her obsessions meant she spent little time with her children; her sons felt neglected, and her daughter died young. Yet the author also depicts in compelling detail the hardship imposed on large, desperately poor families by the lack of contraception. She further captures the excitement of Sanger's involvement in the political and social movements of the times. The only unsettling note is a trite dismissal of Sanger's reputation for being a eugenicist.
VERDICT Feldman draws on extensive research to tackle with aplomb the difficult task of writing a novel about a woman whose life is well known and whose story remains controversial decades after her death. Those interested in the history of the women's movement and its impact on today's world will find lots to ponder here. An excellent choice for book groups.
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