No Cer­tain Home

Mar­lene Lee

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MON­ICA CARTER

Holland House Soft­cover $15.99 (340pp) 978-1-910688-00-7

No Cer­tain Home re­veals an Agnes Smed­ley who, though she felt like an out­cast for much of her life, be­came a true revo­lu­tion­ary for hire.

“A ci­ti­zen of the world,” says writer, jour­nal­ist, and spy ex­traor­di­naire Agnes Smed­ley: “I’m a free­lance revo­lu­tion­ary.” Mar­lene Lee’s No Cer­tain Home is a fic­tion­al­ized ac­count of Smed­ley’s life, one that may take some lib­er­ties with di­a­logue and char­ac­ter mo­ti­va­tions but re­mains true to the time­line of Smed­ley’s ad­ven­tur­ous and coura­geous life.

The novel be­gins in Shang­hai in 1937, as Smed­ley in­ter­views the Chi­nese gen­eral Zhu De. Zhu De’s story is al­ter­nated with chap­ters of Smed­ley’s bi­og­ra­phy, be­gin­ning with her child­hood in Mis­souri. Born into poverty in the late nine­teenth cen­tury, Agnes worked from a young age, took care of her three younger sib­lings, and re­fined her skills as a hunter, gath­erer, and equestri­enne. Fu­eled by her love of read­ing and a keen in­tel­li­gence, she par­layed her au­to­di­dac­tic ways into a teach­ing job in re­mote New Mex­ico. Lee con­veys Smed­ley’s sense of in­de­pen­dence with a clipped nar­ra­tive voice that re­sem­bles re­portage and al­lows for lit­tle self-re­flec­tion or self-pity. Smed­ley is a brac­ing woman of ac­tion.

Smed­ley’s ac­tions are mo­ti­vated by in­jus­tice, in­equal­ity, revo­lu­tion against the rich and pow­er­ful, sex­u­al­ity, and a hunger for knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the world around her. Lee gives con­text and ground­ing to Smed­ley’s many causes, in­clud­ing her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the fight for In­dian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies to over­throw British rule, and her pas­sion­ate de­vo­tion to the Com­mu­nist Chi­nese party. Lee also cov­ers Smed­ley’s in­ner strug­gle with sex­u­al­ity, the idea of mar­riage, and her even­tual ac­cep­tance, and phys­i­cal en­joy­ment, of men as part­ners. This in­ter­nal di­ver­sity is all well mapped and ef­fec­tively con­veyed.

No Cer­tain Home re­veals an Agnes Smed­ley who, though she felt like an out­cast for much of her life, be­came a true revo­lu­tion­ary for hire. From pi­o­neer to re­porter to spy, and through many call­ings in be­tween, Smed­ley had a ver­i­ta­ble vagabond spirit, able to be con­tained by no man, ide­ol­ogy, or po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Lee’s nov­el­iza­tion of this his­tor­i­cal fig­ure is as breath­tak­ing as was Smed­ley her­self.

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