Morris, Bonnie J. “Sappho’s Bar and Grill”, Bywater Books, 2017.
Back to the Past
Hannah Stern is a history professor and she is lonely. One night she walks into her local lesbian bar to talk to her friend Isabel who bartends there hoping to get some advice. Hannah has settled into the life of academia and raises her glass and announces that this year will be lonely like the others and she will be forced “to date” women’s history. However, that remark takes her on a voyage through time and she is totally surprised to find herself meeting with the women that she teaches about. It seems that she is caught up in something akin to time-travel that is somehow connected to Sappho’s Bar and Grill.
Writer Bonnie Morris cleverly takes us on a tour of women’s history and it is great fun. We can only imagine how it is to meet the people we study about and Hannah has the chance to do just that. Now she is a scholar so right away she begins to wonder what these historical women have to tell her ad what kind of questions can she ask of such women.
Let’s go back to when Hannah walks into the bar. Of course, she is lonely—it is Valentine’s Day and she is alone once again. As she speaks with Isabel she also drinks Isabel’s strange and exotic herbal cocktail and she begins to realize that perhaps she is missing something in Isabel. However, unknowingly how she did so, Hannah unleashes history and she is soon meeting the women who played an important role in the world over time going all the way back to Sappho. These meetings she has give her a new lease on life and her love for history and for women has been rekindled. She soon feels the need and desire for romantic love that has been slipping away from her up to this point. Suddenly she has centuries of feminist wisdom and knowledge at her fingertips. The chance for finding love is right in front of her and she finds these women to be seductive. Is there love there for her or perhaps somewhere else. What there is, it seems for the first time in a long time, prospects for love.
Neatly divided into chapters, each is for a certain time of year and a visit from a corresponding historical woman. As a male reading this, a light bulb went off in my head. I have worried that the younger generation of gay men is oblivious to our history and often seem totally disinterested (just as reading disinterests some) but what a great way to bring our history home. I love Bonnie Morris’ idea; it is a very clever way to impart history (something the organizers of Chicago’s Dyke March need very badly). We see here Morris’ own relationship to history and because she is such a good writer, the book is both educative and fun. Her prose entertains throughout and she gives us wonderful characters that live and breathe womanhood (I suppose that sentence should be in the past tense). It is a real treat to have these historical women come together to speak about issues such as history, politics, sexuality, and patriarchal notions even today exist. Issues seem to never change even though the approach to them does. I love that we are given a great deal to think about and we even feel challenged to act just as Hannah does. It is not easy to write a book that jumps through time and it is even harder to maintain its truthfulness but writer Morris has done both beautifully.
I am far from an expert on women’s literature but I know what I like and I know what is good literature. Hannah Stern and Bonnie Morris get A’s on both.