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Women Unbound: Persepolis, The Skin Between Us, and Baby Catcher

November 19, 2009

Continuing with my themed multi-review posts, today I’ll be talking about three memoirs I read for the Women Unbound Challenge: Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, The Skin Between Us by Kym Ragusa, and Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent. Coincidently, that’s not only the order I read them in but also an ascending order of how much I enjoyed them. ;)

I think most of the blogosphere has already read Persepolis, Vol. One, a graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi about her childhood in revolutionary Iran. And most of them love it, which makes this a bit more difficult to say. Because I didn’t love it. It’s not so much that I disliked it-I enjoyed the art style, and often times the stories Satrapi had to say were interesting, but it lacked a spark for me. I didn’t really care that much about Satrapi and what happened to her (I know that’s horrible to say), and the memoir felt a bit thrown-together. But I think part of the problem is that I’ve read several books about the Iranian revolution; if I was seeing this material for the first time, I probably would have found it more engrossing. There were some interesting mini-stories in the book, but they tended to only get a few pages and then never come up again, which frustrated me and contributed to the disjointed feeling. I don’t have any interest in reading the second volume of Persepolis, but I’m not giving up on Satrapi yet-I got her bookEmbroideries from the library, which seems more my style anyway (and is also for the Women Unbound Challenge). But seriously, everyone else I know loved this book, so don’t let my lukewarm feelings dissuade you.

The Skin Between Us by Kym Ragusa is a book about growing up half African American, half Italian American, and woven in with her own childhood memories are stories about her mother, grandmothers, and even great-grandmothers. I picked this up based on the Color Online recommendation, which had me thinking it was a memoir by three different women (my own fault). Once I figured out my mistake, I adjusted and began to enjoy myself. I’m not usually a huge fan of memoirs, especially the ‘oh woe is me and my childhood’ kind; fortunately, Ragusa never enters that territory. She obviously didn’t have a privileged childhood, and at one point later in the book when she’s living with the Italian American side of her family, things made me a bit nervous, but the not-great-bits are presented in a matter of fact way that doesn’t demand your pity at all. More than Ragusa’s own childhood, though, I really enjoyed the stories about her matrilineal lines. She weaves family stories in with a bit of her own research to tell about both sides, and her African American line especially has some neat stories. Her mother was a model who lived in Italy a lot, and her grandmother had lived in Hollywood and even apparently roomed with Marilyn Monroe for a bit, while her great grandmother was a flapper during the Harlem Renaissance. :) You gotta love it! Meanwhile, her Italian American stories tell about immigrants and that classic American experience, although there are a couple drunken abusive husbands which made me sad. I don’t feel like I’m reviewing this book very well-Ragusa is obviously a wonderful storyteller (she’s a documentary maker), and she weaves in information about all of these women perfectly. I really, really enjoyed reading it, and I think anyone who enjoys memoirs, or meditations on family histories, will as well. Even if you’re not a huge memoir fan (like myself), give it a try!

Then there’s Baby Catcher, the memoir of midwife Peggy Vincent. I’m not sure there are enough words for me to tell you how much I loved this book! After a couple chapters of background, so we know about Vincent studying nursing and how she ended up in Berkley, and then a chapter here and there on her professional development, most of the book is devoted to chapters about individual women she helped and their labours. Vincent has a loving, joyful, hilarious writing style that had me cracking up almost every other page. I mean, it is Berkley in the 70s, so she obviously has some great source material, and I laughed so hard I cried a couple of times. I would read bits aloud to my mom, and she’d started laughing and grab the book away to read more. There are a few sad stories in the book, because not every pregnancy ends perfectly, but there are the extreme minority, and Vincent handles them just as wonderfully. I cried several times while reading, not because there were more than maybe 3-4 sad cases, but because I cry easily and Vincent is great at teasing out the emotions she feels. This is a book that celebrates women-their bodies’ miraculous ability to give birth, the sisterhood of women supporting the labouring one, Vincent’s own career, and more. The pages flew by for me-usually I read books in 50 page chunks, but in the case of Baby Catcher, I’d read 80-100 pages before convincing myself to put it down (I do a rotating reading thing). Not only do I think anyone who reads this book will love it, I also think it would make a wonderful ‘Winter Holiday’ (lol) gift for the women in your life. Seriously-I can’t praise it highly enough. Go read it! (Oh, and I just discovered the book has website where you can read two excerpts.)

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2009 2:22 pm

    I haven’t read Persepolis but I do really want to I have to admit. I saw the film and really, really loved that. Maybe it just wasnt for you right now?

    I havent heard of the other two and both of them sound really interesting for completely different reasons. Thanks for blogging about them all today… how on earth do you have all this reading time am most jealous.

  2. November 19, 2009 3:13 pm

    You have got to stop doing this :D. I’ve now ended up adding Baby Catcher to my TBR pile. And I have at least one person in mind to give it to :). Thank you for the great review!

  3. November 19, 2009 3:14 pm

    Baby Catcher sounds awesome.

  4. November 19, 2009 3:18 pm

    Of all the Marjane Satrapi I’ve read, Persepolis was my least favorite. I liked the first volume better than the second, but both Chicken With Plums and Embroideries were better for me.

  5. aartichapati permalink
    November 19, 2009 3:38 pm

    I’ve never read Persepolis, but I watched the movie, and I also thought that was disjointed. At one point, they mentioned how old the girl was and I was SHOCKED because in my mind’s calculation, I was way, way off.

    Baby Catcher sounds fantastic. I will have to look for that one!

  6. November 19, 2009 3:50 pm

    I’ve added Baby Catcher to my never ending want to read it because Eva read it and thinks it’s great list ;-)

  7. November 19, 2009 5:27 pm

    Sorry Persepolis wasn’t better for you! I think it packed such a punch with me because (unlike you) I came into it not knowing very much at all about the Islamic Revolution. Baby Catcher looks great!

  8. November 19, 2009 5:46 pm

    I’m also planning on reading Persepolis for the Women Unbound challenge. I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels; the only one I’ve ever really been excited about was Maus. I’m still hopeful about Satrapi because, as you said, everybody and their brother loves her stuff.

    Oh, and Baby Catcher! This one looks great! I added it to my reading list. In another life I hope to be a midwife. That would be the bee’s knees :)

  9. November 19, 2009 5:59 pm

    I definitely really liked Persepolis, so I’m sorry that you didn’t. :( But I think it’s great that you’re willing to give the author another chance anyway!

    And I hadn’t heard of Baby Catcher, but now of course it’s on my wishlist! Thanks a lot… like I need more possibilities for the Women Unbound Challenge! ;)

  10. November 19, 2009 6:19 pm

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Persepolis more, Eva. I’m one of the three or four people on the planet who hasn’t read it yet. I’m still really looking forward to it though, and will probably get a lot more from it than you as I’ll be going into it with very little knowledge about the Iranian revolution or Iranian history in general.

    Baby Catcher does sound like a wonderful, wonderful book! But unfortunately not one for me. I know this probably sounds incredibly selfish. Of course, I’m always happy to hear about my friends’ pregnancies/labors. But honestly, I try not to subject myself to the stories of these beautiful, natural births. Sheesh…I sound so warped, don’t I? And before I started trying to get pregnant, I did love these stories. But knowing how beautiful and natural it’s “supposed” to be, leaves one in for a hell of letdown (understatement!) when nothing at all seems to go as its “supposed” to. When pregnancy is filled right from the start with complications, and hospitalizations, and nothing at all seems to go naturally. And labor doesn’t even get to be natural, but has to be induced 5 or 6 weeks early each time and there are tubes and wires and needles stuck seemingly everywhere in one’s body and there’s complete strangers, like neonatal resuscitation teams, etc., all around. Hmmm…do I sound bitter? You know, I’m just so incredibly grateful that I have three healthy, incredible munchkins…I really don’t want to be bitter about the path it took to get there. But it does make it hard to read about, if that makes any sense.

  11. November 19, 2009 8:12 pm

    I gave Baby Catcher to my roommate (who wants to be an OBGYN) for Winter Holiday last year and she loved it. I’m glad you did, too!

  12. November 19, 2009 8:24 pm

    Oh gosh I’m almost heartbroken that you didn’t love Persepolis! Have you watched the movie? The thing I loved about it was just the personal journey of Marjane, and it just happens to be in Iran. If you don’t love the first one you’d definitely dislike the second one, as the second one is even less about Iran and more about her coming of age, set in Europe.

  13. November 19, 2009 11:33 pm

    I haven’t read Persepolis yet. I will get to it eventually. The one that really sounds interesting to me is The Skin Between Us. I will definitely have to put it on my list.

    I checked out your “loot” from yesterday. Yowsa!! That’s a lot of great books. I’m looking forward to some awesome reviews!

  14. November 20, 2009 6:50 am

    Persepolis has been on my list for a while, I have heard such good things about it. You are such a bad influence on my TBR, you feature heavily in my Friday Finds today. Bad Eva! LOL

  15. November 20, 2009 7:33 am

    ahhh i loved persepolis so i’m sad you didn’t like it too. i think it’s possible to read into the disjointed nature of the novel and say that it helps the reader understand how disjointed satrapi’s own life felt, being in the midst of the conflict in iran at such a young age. still, i’m happy you’re forging ahead. i’ve read embroideries and loved that one too—it’s funny and honest and a wonderful little book about women. enjoy! p.s. i just happened upon your blog very recently and i love it—thank you! :)

  16. November 20, 2009 10:52 am

    Even if you didn’t love it, I still might have tried to find Baby Catcher — that cover is awesome! But I’m glad it was good :)

  17. November 20, 2009 11:59 am

    SavidgeReads, that’s possible. :) I did like the book…I juve didn’t love it. And I have a chronic illness that’s been flaring up too much for me to work-that’s how I have reading time. lol

    Zee, yay! It’s soooo good. ;)

    Christy, I hope if you read it you enjoy it.

    Amanda, I’m glad to hear that-I hope I enjoy Embroideries more!

    Aarti, lol-the movie combines them both, right? I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt a bit confused.

    Dana, you crack me up!

    Jenny, that makes perfect sense. :) I think my expectations might have been too high as well.

    BookshelfMonstrosity, I lvoed Satrapi’s drawing style, so that’s a definite point in it’s favour. :)

    Heather, I did like it-I just didn’t love it. I”m not sure why I wrote the review so negatively-sorry about that! lol-Women Unbound is doing crazy things to my TBR list!

    Debi, I’m so sorry to hear about your birth experiences, and I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to read the book. Vincent definitely never ‘judges’ women who don’t have natural births at home, but she often judges the medical establishment and doctors who push them towards a hospitalised route. Big hugs to you.

    Lu, awesome!

    Mee, I’m sorry. I liked it, just didn’t love it! I think I just don’t like Marjane very much, and that’s why I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. I hope I love Embroideries just foryou. ;)

    Stephanie, I know-all of my loot is calling to me! lol I hope you enjoy The Skin Between Us. :D

    Vivienne, lol-I’m off to check out that link!

    Anne, thanks so much for commenting-I love new visitors! That’s a good point about the book’s disjointedness reflecting Satrapi’s life at that time. I can’t wait to try out Embroideries

    Kim, isn’t the cover awesome? It made me grin every time I picked it up.

  18. November 20, 2009 12:03 pm

    I stumbled upon Baby Catcher a while ago in a random little book store and I loved it too! I couldn’t put it down and I still pick it up sometimes and read parts of it over again.

  19. November 20, 2009 12:19 pm

    Amy, I wish I owned it, because it’s definitely a book that cries out for a reread! :)

  20. November 20, 2009 8:18 pm

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one that’s ever picked up a book that everyone else loved that I didn’t. I most recently felt that way about The Red Tent. It always makes me wonder if I’ve missed something.

  21. November 20, 2009 9:56 pm

    I actually didn’t Love Persepolis — I read them both at once and the second half was so disappointing. But I did enjoy it probably because I know nothing about the Iranian revolution. Lol. I have so much to learn!

    I love the idea of Baby Catcher and I think I”d love the book. I had a midwife for my son’s birth and it was such an incredibly wonderful, natural, non medical experience. It was, as you say, such a powerful reminder of the miracle that is a woman’s body.

  22. November 21, 2009 1:59 pm

    Lisa, I hear you-there are several really popular books I’ve either failed to love or actively disliked, lol. I read The Red Tent so long ago I can’t remember much about it.

    Rebecca, I’m glad I’m not the only non-Persepolis lover! I hope you enjoy Baby Catcher if you get to it. :D

  23. November 26, 2009 12:30 pm

    Eva,

    I couldn’t do The Skin Between Us justice either. I didn’t know I enjoyed memoirs until a few years ago. One of the things that struck me about this work was how Regusa’s appreciation for art, including film and literature informed both her perceptions and her descriptions. I read this more than a year ago and it is still fresh in my mind. I should add, being a foodie, I loved her descriptions of their meals and how her memories were intimately tied to food.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Linking your review for our Color Me Brown Links and actively promoting Women Unbound

  24. December 6, 2009 8:38 pm

    I wasn’t impressed with “The Complete Persepolis” (yes, I read both parts), but I went into it having studied the area, the history, and the religions. You are not alone! My review:
    http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/12/complete-persepolis-by-marjane-satrapi.html

Trackbacks

  1. Travel by Books: 2009 Wrap-Up « A Striped Armchair
  2. Library Loot (27 July 2010) « Olduvai Reads

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