In the Country of Women: A Memoir

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Catapult, Aug 6, 2019 - Family & Relationships - 384 pages
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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
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Dreesie - LibraryThing

I saw Susan Straight on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books, shortly before this book was released. It has been on my radar ever since, though I have not read any of her other books. I found it ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - froxgirl - LibraryThing

I'd read Straight's books I Been In Sorrow's Kitchen And Licked Out All The Pots (1992) and Blacker Than A Thousand Midnights (1994) and was always curious about her comfort and familiarity with ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

Homerica
2
The Country Squire
Hey
Driveway 1The First Love Letter
10
The Second Bullet
The Toast
Fruitful
Run the World
Wild Things
The Santa Ana River
Love Strands
Copyright

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About the author (2019)

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 is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. She was born in Riverside, where she lives with her family.

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