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Taking deeper look at First Ladies

News day / Take, for instance, President Donald Trump. He’s had his fair share of controversial headlines, but First Lady Melania seems to be captivating everyone with her sense of style and dignity.

She has overcome her plagiarism incident in the primaries and emerged as a strong, dignified First Lady who swats away her husband’s hand-holding gestures at inappropriate times.

Everyone is waiting to see what causes she will support and how she will define herself as a First Lady.

First Ladies are interesting in their own right as you will see if you decide to read two of my favourite books – First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Betty Caroli and Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson by William Hazelgrove.

Students preparing for CXC, CAPE and SAT exams should read both of these books because they are excellent examples of literature that builds analytical skills for Caribbean and US exams.

(The Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT , is the entrance exam for US universities).

First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama… presents vignettes on all of the First Ladies with the exception of Melania Trump, but what is more important is the book’s ability to present the development of the First Lady’s job, which changed and developed according to society’s definition of wives at various times in history.

Readers will see women developing in three distinct ways: as individuals, as trusted spouses of the president and as representatives of US culture.

On the other hand, Madame President concentrates on one First Lady, Edith Wilson who ran the White House after her husband, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke.

There is no real dispute that this happened and the author lays out a compelling case for Edith being the first woman president of the US.

Edith’s power is well documented so there doesn’t seem to be much for an author to write about.

Hazelgrove creates an intriguing story of how Edith came into the picture as Wilson’s second wife and how she garnered so much power.

Weaving history throughout the story, Hazelgrove opts for a book that follows no semblance of chronological order. In this way, he is able to present the story like a puzzle with each interlocking piece leading to the big picture. His total disregard for the order of events forces readers to engage in textualisation by constantly turning back to chapters to remind themselves where they are in terms of the past or present. While some readers found the structure disconcerting (there will always be people who prefer a clear time frame for a story) most readers did notice the structure and commented on its effectiveness. Madame President is not a perfect book. The author overdid the mention of Edith as president.

He did an admirable job of showing this so it felt unnecessary to mention it so often.

Hazelgrove paints a clear picture of both Edith and Woodrow Wilson capturing them as a fiction writer would by developing well-rounded characters whose faults are plain to see. It is a masterful blend of biography and history presented with a clearly defined theme.

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