Do not be put off by the price, this book is a gem. Photojournalist Gianturco spent four years visiting and photographing seventeen festivals around the world that, despite many hav­ing their roots in a time long ago, are being celebrated -- beautifully and in full blazing color -- by women today.


This oversized coffee-table book (and I took that quite literally, as my copy has coffee stains from staying up late one caffeinated night with it) features scores of fabulous photos to leaf through. But you would do yourself a disservice if you didn't check out the accompanying text. You can easily jump around the chapters in this book, rather than read it from start to finish, though all the festivals lire certainly worthy of a read.


You'll learn about young women celebrating midsummer night in Poland, the virtue of kindness exhibited in the winter on Santka Lucia Day in Sweden, and oh-those-wacky-Finns partic­ipating in the annual wife-carrying contest (anorexia is discour­aged so the victorious husband wins his wife's weight in beer). Gianturco goes to Calcutta to witness Durga (the warrior goddess) Puja (worship). One lunar cycle later. Kali Puja occurs. In China and in 97 degree heat, the Mazu festival is fea­tured, where the goddess Mazu -- Proiectoress of Fishermen -- is celebrated. Mazu was also named Tian Hou, Empress of Heaven.


But if you are as puzzled as I was as to why the Miss America pageant is included, you will also learn that "every year, the Miss America Organization provides contestants with $45 million in scholarships. That's more scholarship money than women received from any other institution in the world."


However, I can't help but note that it might be interesting if the contest was like the Miss Nakhon Ratchasima finals in Thailand where videos are shown of "contestants climbing walls, rappelling, and parachuting."


Throughout, Gianturco faithfully photographs the vibrant clothing, colorful offerings, festive dances and foods associated with the celebrations. There are so many festivals celebrating women that there is a month-by-month addendum with this information, and although lacking the spectacular photos, if any particular celebration piques your interest, this can always lead to more research.


One bone to pick regarding the book was with whoever laid out the text. The text is varying red, blue and black, and in par­ticular, the light blue against the white is difficult to read. And sometimes text appears as a caption under a picture, and other times not: an annoying inconsistency. However, these are just small complaints regarding an otherwise wonderful addition to any TBP reader's permanent library- or coffee table.


~ review by Diane Saarinen

Author: Paola Gianiurco

PowerHouse Books 2004

239 pp., $49.95