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