I just finished reading a beautifully written book that I received as part of a blog book review tour from Feminist Press. Did you know that some younger women do not like to be called feminists? What is up with that? But I digress.
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Rahna Reiko Rizzuto is the author and she is truly a writer. She is able to share her world in such beautiful language that I even dog-eared some pages so I would not lose the parts that I just had to re-read.
Here is an excerpt:
I can tell you the story but it won’t be true.
It won’t be the facts as they happened exactly, each day, each footstep, each breath. Time elides, events shift; sometimes we shift them on purpose and forget that we did. Memory is just how we choose to remember.
We choose. It begins in our house, on the top floors of a 19th century brownstone. I’m sitting at our long dining room table across from my husband Brian, my two, brightly-pajamaed sons asleep – finally – after slipping downstairs for water, and then just one more kiss between the banisters. The year is 2001, the place New York City, and in the quiet of the last, warming days of May, I am making a list.
I am a list maker, a super-organizer who measures her success in life by how many of the items she’s checked off. This is who I’ve always been, and it’s never occurred to me to question it. It occurs to me only that I have a goodbye party to throw for myself, which will involve a 25-pound pork butt, Hawaiian rock salt, and ten yards of purple plumeria-patterned fabric that I’ve ordered on the internet but has yet to arrive. If I think about plates, about feeding fifty of my dearest friends who will come to wish me well, I will not have to think of this trip of mine – my first trip away, my first trip alone, my six-month long “trip” to the other side of the world. Brian watches me busy myself. And then the question: “Why are you going to Japan?”
…In Brooklyn, in 2001, I was making a list. I knew I was leaving, but if I had known how thoroughly my life would shatter over the next six months, into gains just as astonishing as the losses; if I knew I was saying goodbye to the person I was that night, that decade, that lifetime; if I understood I was about to become someone new, too new, someone I was proud of, who I loved, but who was too different to fit here, in this particular, invisible narrative that I was sitting in but couldn’t feel, would I still have gotten on the airplane?
This is the question people will ask me. The question that curls, now, in the dark of the night. How do any of us decide to leave the people we love?
She shares her fears and doubts in a open honest account of her relationships that is rarely found even in our over-sharing world today. But I do have to confess that when I first read Ayelet Waldman‘s book blurb*, I took note – that is to say I was on high alert. Ms. Waldman has proven to be controversial (but never dull) and her own take on Motherhood has raised more than a few eyebrows…feminist or otherwise. I feared at first that this would be an anti-mothering screed that would make me uncomfortable. It is and it isn’t, it does and it doesn’t.
Ostensibly, it is the author’s journey to Japan to interview the surviving victims of Hiroshima and how her experience getting them to share is altered by 9/11 in that the people she is interviewing are suddenly more emotionally accessible after America also suffered a tragedy. The stories of the people who were in Hiroshima are heartbreaking and painful and raw. The stories are faithfully re-told and this part of the book I found moving and jarring and true.
While it isn’t a screed (a : a lengthy discourse b : an informal piece of writing (as a personal letter) c : a ranting piece of writing) – no wait, it kind of is one. It is a memoir of a woman who is searching for herself and her history and her relationships – past and present – and who is trying to see where she actually begins and ends…if that is at all possible.
While the writing is lovely, I got a little impatient with the author, a privileged person not unlike the heroine of Eat, Pray, Love. Oh, shut up. Julia Roberts is lovely and I am sure it was a nice movie (I read the book) but show me a real person (yes, you – the ones who bought the book or a ticket to the movie) who gets a major cash book advance, leaves her stultifying marriage and then pulls herself together by managing to finally (!) gain weight in Italy, meditate and hang out with some yogic cowboy in India and find love (I had something else here but this is a family blog) in an island paradise. But again, I digress.
The author, Rizzuto, has lots of time for self-reflection but isn’t very good at it. She comes across as the adolescent she refers to in her subway memory (only with a good vocabulary and a poetic way of writing about the world) and she is a pretty petulant one at that. I guess my biggest problem with the book is that after 9/11 and with her children and husband in New York City…the author didn’t go home. Okay? Really? How do you not go to your family? So there is some restriction that if she were out of the country for more than seven days it meant she would lose her grant. So…go home. The flight does not take seven days. That is why her husband was pissed – okay, that’s why I would have been pissed – Sorry for projecting.
I am not immune to wondering “Are you anything else when you are a mother or is that your defining role/characteristic/fate?” I get it. I don’t get making your child wait for the bathroom (he was three years old) until you eat the rest of your noodles because this would be the chance for you to come back to them emotionally . Huh? Total and complete disconnect for me. Take the kid to the G-D bathroom when he has to go.
Here is a nice review of her first book, Why She Left Us which I will read at some point but not just yet. I sense, ahem, a theme.
I liked the book enough to send it to my mother-in-law as a gift but I did have the furrowed brow thing going for parts of the book.
*”This searing and redemptive memoir is an explosive account of motherhood reconstructed. Pulling from the wreckage of two wars, as well as the loss of her own mother to Alzheimer’s, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto recasts her identity as a mother and a daughter, and finds a truer connection to her family.” — Ayelet Waldman