In the Country of Women: A Memoir

By Susan Straight

Available

Description

One of NPR's Best Books of the Year

"Straight's memoir is a lyric social history of her multiracial clan in Riverside that explores the bonds of love and survival that bind them, with a particular emphasis on the women's stories . . . The aftereffect of all these disparate stories juxtaposed in a single epic is remarkable. Its resonance lingers for days after reading." --San Francisco Chronicle

In the Country of Women is a valuable social history and a personal narrative that reads like a love song to America and indomitable women. In inland Southern California, near the desert and the Mexican border, Susan Straight, a self-proclaimed book nerd, and Dwayne Sims, an African American basketball player, started dating in high school. After college, they married and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Straight met her teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, who encouraged her to write. Once back in Riverside, at driveway barbecues and fish fries with the large, close-knit Sims family, Straight--and eventually her three daughters--heard for decades the stories of Dwayne's female ancestors. Some women escaped violence in post-slavery Tennessee, some escaped murder in Jim Crow Mississippi, and some fled abusive men. Straight's mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, is the descendant at the heart of this memoir. Susan's family, too, reflects the hardship and resilience of women pushing onward--from Switzerland, Canada, and the Colorado Rockies to California.

A Pakistani word, biraderi, is one Straight uses to define a complex system of kinship and clan--those who become your family. An entire community helped raise her daughters. Of her three girls, now grown and working in museums and the entertainment industry, Straight writes, "The daughters of our ancestors carry in their blood at least three continents. We are not about borders. We are about love and survival."

"Certain books give off the sense that you won't want them to end, so splendid the writing, so lyrical the stories. Such is the case with Southern California novelist Susan Straight's new memoir, In the Country of Women . . . Her vibrant pages are filled with people of churned-together blood culled from scattered immigrants and native peoples, indomitable women and their babies. Yet they never succumb . . . Straight gives us permission to remember what went before with passion and attachment." --Los Angeles Times

Product Details

Price: $26.00  $23.40
Publisher: Catapult
Published Date: August 06, 2019
Pages: 384
Dimensions: 6.4 X 1.5 X 9.1 inches | 1.6 pounds
ISBN: 9781948226226
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

SUSAN STRAIGHT has published eight novels, including Highwire Moon, Between Heaven and Here, and A Million Nightingales. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Magazine Award. She is the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edgar Award for Best Short Story, the O. Henry Prize, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Granta, McSweeney's, Black Clock, Harper's, and other journals. Her work has been translated into Spanish, German, French, Arabic, Turkish, Japanese, Romanian, Swedish, and Russian. She was born in Riverside, California, where she lives with her family.

Reviews

Praise for In the Country of Women

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year in Nonfiction
One of NPR's Best Books of the Year
An Amazon Best History Book of the Month
Kirkus Reviews, 1 of 8 New Book Club Picks
High Country News, One of This Season's Best Reads

"In the end, Straight's book is about far more than a country of women. It's an ode to the entire multiracial, transnational tribe she claims as her own . . . In fact, her words are for all those who now call her mother, aunt, cousin and sister, in the neighborhood where she has lived her entire life. And for all those who survived, so these women could live." --Kristal Brent Zook, The New York Times Book Review

"A novelist whose work has focused on mixed-race communities celebrates, with aching tenderness, the grit and generosity of a world atlas's worth of female relatives in her family and that of her husband." --The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"While Straight reflects on far more than her own upbringing and experiences growing up, she brings her trademark lyricism and a significant dose of humility to those segments of the book . . . Not all the women Straight introduces us to are mothers, but it seems fitting that her book's final chapter also is addressed to her daughters . . . Straight's gift to them--the story of where they come from and the amazing women who have shaped their lives--nicely doubles as a gift for us." --Ericka Taylor, NPR

"The voice here is intelligent and warm, loving and honest, respectful and unafraid to directly confront the complex reality of being a white woman writing about marginalized people of color . . . Straight's skillful ability to take us from the intimacy of family history to the wider considerations of America's legacy is a wonder. This is not only a story of women, but of immigration, police brutality and the history of slavery . . . Straight captures an American story in all its ugly complexity." --Crystal Hana Kim, The Washington Post

"Lauded fiction writer Straight turns to memoir in this innovative and emotional exploration of the women in her and her husband's lives, addressed to her daughters so they can know the stories of who came before them." --Entertainment Weekly

"A moving family saga celebrates generations of bold, brave, and determined women. Award-winning novelist Straight makes her nonfiction debut with an eloquent, absorbing memoir. Addressed to her three adult daughters, the narrative weaves together stories that transcend time, place, race, and ethnicity to vibrantly portray her children's rich ancestry . . . A radiant memoir imbued with palpable love." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With stirring details and delving perceptions, Straight chronicles the repercussions, generation after generation, of enslavement, Jim Crow, and immigration, as well as rape, murder, grueling work, and single motherhood, while tracing the journeys of the women in her clan to Canada, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, and, finally, gritty, multicultural Riverside, California, Straight's hometown. As Straight braids her three daughters into this deeply affecting saga, she maps her path to becoming a writer, encouraged by her mentor, James Baldwin, and profoundly inspired by her mother-in-law. Ultimately, this is a ravishing and revelatory celebration of womanhood, resilience, family, community, and America's defining diversity." --Booklist (starred review)

"Certain books give off the sense that you won't want them to end, so splendid the writing, so lyrical the stories. Such is the case with Southern California novelist Susan Straight's new memoir, In the Country of Women . . . Her vibrant pages are filled with people of churned-together blood culled from scattered immigrants and native peoples, indomitable women and their babies. Yet they never succumb . . . Straight gives us permission to remember what went before with passion and attachment." --Janet Kinosian, Los Angeles Times

"Addressed to the author's three daughters, this is a book that spirals outward, gathering and illuminating stories of ancestors, family and community. It's a book with more people in it than an encyclopedia . . . Its universe of people and stories is complex, layered and ultimately ravishing . . . A boldly woman-centric view of history, as large as migration and as small as the act of braiding a child's hair. It's a book about survival, motherhood, and love, and it's as big and messy and beautiful as all of these things." --Kate Tuttle, Newsday

"The book provides not only a richly detailed and intimate look at the life of the author and her family, who have lived in Riverside within the same 5-mile radius for decades, but brims with the stories of the six generations of immigrant and multiracial women--bonded by blood, marriage, and circumstance--that form her robust extended family and paved the way to Southern California for their descendants." --Jessica Weber, UC Riverside News

"Susan Straight wrote this family history for her three daughters--and we're lucky that she shared it with the rest of us. Theirs is a saga full of independent, brave, tough women . . . This is the story of America, through the lens of one family." --Elena Nicolau, Refinery29

"In the Country of Women is as much a memoir about the author's life (being mentored by James Baldwin, marrying a black man and raising three mixed-race daughters as a white woman) as it is a big-hearted tribute to the strength of women. Straight, writing to her daughters, explores the lives of the women on both sides of their family, who immigrated to America, fled the Jim Crow-era South, and more. Through her family's story, she tells the story of America." --Elizabeth Sile, Real Simple, One of the Best Books of the Year

"Straight is writing the heroine's journey rather than the hero's, focusing on characters whose hard-won odysseys are rarely recognized . . . Their stories aren't meandering lines but rather strands in a braid . . . The book is equally filled with beauty and constancy, thanks to Straight's carefully chosen memories and elegantly clear prose . . . In her hands, the girls are heroines like the Alcott or Austen characters they grew up with--or like the non-fiction ancestors whose stories Straight has preserved--young women who know where they came from, and what a big world they've inherited." --Rebekah Denn, The Christian Science Monitor

"Enchanting and fierce . . . Straight draws on her talents as a fiction writer to evoke the powerful women in her family's past, especially her mother-in-law, in a rich, global ancestry." --The National Book Review

"A moving memoir. The narrative is framed as a letter to Straight's three daughters--Gaila, Delphine, and Rosette--whom Straight shares with her ex-husband Dwayne Sims, and honors the daughters' rich ancestral past through stories of female relatives struggling to overcome violence, oppression, and hardship . . . Straight passionately illuminates the hard journeys of women." --Publishers Weekly

"A powerful account of six generations of family members who made unsung odysseys for love, a second chance, or an escape, interwoven with Straight's own story as well as those of her daughters." --Candice Yacano, The Orange County Register

"What a beautiful book! In the Country of Women must be the most populated, celebratory, filled-with-life memoir of our time. With her characteristic mix of compassion, warmth, humor, and acerbic insight, Susan Straight writes of her 'massive black and mixed-race family' and her 'quirky, deeply embedded white family'--a memoir that is, though addressed to her three daughters, a valentine to virtually everyone whom the renowned author has known in the course of her vividly described life. Unlike most contemporary memoirs, which focus upon singular, self-obsessed individuals, Susan Straight's is about an entire way of life, lived with great verve and passion: 'a strange California transcendentalism which never fit in with American upward mobility.'" --Joyce Carol Oates

"Susan Straight's In the Country of Women is an ancestral chronicle, a personal odyssey, and a love letter to the author's three adult daughters . . . Straight's family inheritance includes centuries of pain but also love." --Heather Scott Partington, Alta

"Susan Straight's In the Country of Women is an American epic about what the United States could be and in fact already is for so many people like those of her extended family. Straight's kin--by blood and by choice--embody the complicated, painful history of this country and its tremendous, hopeful diversity. This is an enriching, inspiring, and moving account of how a writer chose her family and her destiny." --Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer

"In the Country of Women is a masterpiece and a great read--heartfelt and soul-warming. A full life, cleanly, deeply, and beautifully told." --Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

"In the Country of Women is moving, fierce, and gorgeous. In a time of individualistic fragmentation and the tearing of the social fabric, Straight offers the contrary narrative, the essential need for community, its past and future, and celebrates her place in its weaving." --Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander

"In the Country of Women is the astonishingly beautiful story of a life and family history that could only happen in California, just as California is a place (and an idea--of expansion, light, color, a meeting of bloodlines and cultures) that could only happen in America." --Attica Locke, author of Bluebird, Bluebird