All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.
Well, we made it to part three of this review! Many thanks to all those who read through all three sections. I debated a lot on the wisdom of continuing my habit of reviewing separate contributions as well as the entire book, but each author put so much work into their piece, I felt it was appropriate to say at least a bit about each selection.
My overall thoughts on the book:
I enjoyed the way this book had multiple essays on each topic with several points of view. For example, both positive, negative, and mixed opinions on immigration were given. Even though most of the essays touched on the same universal themes (such as birth, death, relationships, illness, beauty, etc.), there were also some quirky standouts that kept things interesting.
For example, just looking at a piece, Invisibility, an obvious contrast with Doppelganger Dreams which is also about a Korean-American adoptee, although Abrahamson’s parents seemed to make more effort around her birth culture. Either or both of these pieces could also be connected with Beloved Halmoni, which is about a woman raised with a strong connection to her Korean grandmother. Returning to Invisibility, her experience of unseen disability could also be compared and contrasted with Emma McElvaney Talbott’s more visible loss a few chapters previous, or any of the other experiences of disability. Intersectionality is a common thread in nearly all of these stories, and the beauty and variety of the essays make it a useful place for discussion.
A number of the pieces were very short, but many were a substantial length. It didn’t feel like the essays or sections were stretched or compressed to an abnormal length. I don’t envy the editor though – so many touched on different topics that choosing the sections and order must have been difficult! It was also amazing to read a book completely produced by a team that was entirely women of color – this truly shows in the nuanced presentations and the editing.
I should briefly note that this is an adult book. Although individual essays are perfectly fine for use with young people, others touch on death, rape, domestic violence, illness, poverty, abortion, and other adult topics. Some have an academic tone which young readers are less likely to enjoy. A college class could get a lot out of this text, but I probably wouldn’t use it as a whole with younger students.
The strongest essays dealt with a universal topic or common experience (motherhood, belonging, divorce, employment, space, language) within the author’s own specific cultural context. Reading 5-10 of these in a row was a new but enjoyable experience for me. The variety of pieces was marvelous.
Another strong aspect of this book is that the pieces aren’t just by writers. As an avid reader, I love to read writers. But this book drew on all kinds of artists, from musicians to curators to nail artists. It also moved beyond artists to activists, students, businesswomen, teachers, retirees, and just plain people with interesting stories to tell. This variety brought a freshness and a wider range of viewpoints, but the selections still had high-quality writing.
The short pieces in this book are like potato chips – you can’t read just one. There is something in this book for everyone to connect with and something to challenge everyone. Highly recommended.
[Although I wrote the majority of this review way back in 2018 when this book was published, it feels particularly apt for 2020 also. As our world has drastically changed and my family and friends are seriously ill, dying, or being buried, I’ve had surprisingly little time for reading and reflection. This book was one I turned to in spring as a reread of a short essay format nonfiction was all I could handle at the time.
[I would especially recommend it for those who are having trouble focusing on longer breaks OR those who are looking for more reading material, as most of the authors in this anthology have other works of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry to explore. Best wishes to all my readers, and many thanks to the publisher for sending me this book, even though it did take me several years and a pandemic to post a complete review of it.]