The story of two boys both named Wes Moore who grew up in poverty in Baltimore. One goes on to become a contributing member of society and the other e...moreThe story of two boys both named Wes Moore who grew up in poverty in Baltimore. One goes on to become a contributing member of society and the other ends up serving life in prison for murder. The successful Wes Moore wrote this book, and while his premise is that he could have just as easily been the other Wes Moore, it is fairly obvious from the life stories he presents that he had resources -- the most critical of which was a stable family unit willing to sacrifice for his future -- that gave him the opportunity to succeed while the other Wes Moore was basically doomed from birth due to circumstances beyond his control that only a very extraordinary individual could have overcome.(less)
Juliana van Olphen-Fehr begins her memoir in 1976 with the birth of her first child and ends it in 1989 with the birth of her third and final child al...moreJuliana van Olphen-Fehr begins her memoir in 1976 with the birth of her first child and ends it in 1989 with the birth of her third and final child although she does give an update in the preface in the late 1990's when she had left private practice and taken a position as the coordinator of a nurse-midwifery program. She chronicles her home birth practice and details her experience as a nursing student, nurse, and nurse-midwife. A similar story is A Midwife's Story by Penny Armstrong.
A couple of caveats. Caveat #1: Much of the author's experience takes place prior to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act going into effect. EMTALA requires all hospitals that accept federal funds to have a doctor deliver any woman's baby who walks into the hospital in active labor no matter what. It can be the doctor on duty in the emergency and not an ob-gyn, but the hospitals are not legally allowed to refuse care to a woman in active labor. So, the problem Van Ophlen-Fehr faces of having doctors refuse to come to the hospital and deliver her patients' babies if they are transfered to the hospital has been completely eliminated. Caveat #2: The author is a certified nurse-midwife (CNM), meaning she earned a bachelor of science in nursing and then a master of science in midwifery, as opposed to certified practical/professional midwife (CPM,) also known as a direct-entry midwife, who has a bachelor of science in midwifery or a lay midwife who has no formal medical training and learned through apprenticeship. This distinction is important because, as a general rule, the more medical a midwife's educational background, the quicker and more aggressive she will be to insist on the necessity of medical intervention. Nurse-midwives are often negatively nicknamed "med-wives" because their protocols can align very closely with those of hospital and obstetricians. For example, in the book van Olphen-Fehr will hospital transfer just to be on the side despite the fact that nearly every time she is horrified about how savagely her patients are then treated. She refuses to attend breech births outside a hospital, and in one instance she nearly refuses to attend a mother at home whose labor begin at 37 weeks because she was earlier than her due date. Caveat #3: How van Olphen-Fehr witnesses women treated in the hospital will make you very angry and perhaps literally sick.
The author Christa Parravani gave a fabulous interview about this book on NPR. Unfortunately, the actual book didn't live up to her description of it....moreThe author Christa Parravani gave a fabulous interview about this book on NPR. Unfortunately, the actual book didn't live up to her description of it. Her sister Cara's sexual assault and ensuing drug addiction ending in an overdose and the author's own grief at the death of her identical twin are heart wrenching for the reader, but that's it. The author paints her twin and herself as self-aborbed, self-entitled, self-indulgent, needy, incredibly dysfunctional, inconsiderate, volatile, and immature. Repeatedly, the author voices the attitudes I have feelings; therefore, everything I say is valid and You refuse to believe everything I think is right, so I hate. There is an art in memoir of making oneself likeable while discussing the gritty, not pretty details of one's life and how one treated the people in one's lives badly and unfairly. Neither twin is the slightest bit likeable.
Time and distance hasn't given the author any objectivity, or at least she never expresses any. This book lacks the self-awareness and clarity found in memoirs like Lit: A Memoir and It's So Easy: And Other lies. Some examples: the author is astounded that her first marriage failed primarily due to her infidelity. She actually thinks that because her sleeping with other people was just a form of self-abuse that she was using to mask her grief over her sister's death, her husband shouldn't have taken it personally and left her. Shouldn't she be able to see in hindsight that he had a legitimate grievance instead of sticking to the defense 'you leaving me for my numerous affairs is no different than you leaving me because I got cancer'? And she also blames her first husband for failing to and not caring enough to "save" her sister. Why couldn't she admit that although she felt this way at the time, her sister wasn't in a place to get clean/sober and someone whom she bullied and disliked certainly wouldn't have been capable of saving her if her twin couldn't?
The author makes a lot of generalizations about identical twins throughout the memoir, and even gets a medical fact wrong (identical twins don't always share a placenta or a embryonic sac; it depends upon when the egg splits), but she and her sister don't have a normal identical twin relationship. Christa's twin Cara despite having a husband and separate household of her own showed up on Christa's honeymoon. That is not normal. Identical twins with normal healthy relationships and independent identities don't gatecrash their twin's honeymoon or show up unannounced at their house whenever they want or buy their twin an engagement ring when they get engaged. The Parravani sisters have an extremely codependent and dysfunctional relationship, which they might have had due to their abusive childhood if they'd just been sisters, but being twins it went to the extreme.
The ending is very Hollywood. The author meets the man of her dreams and is healed by their marriage and the birth of their child at which she hallucinates that her twin is present. (less)
The Measure of a Man is extremely articulate and introspective. This entire memoir centers around Poitier's father's teaching that the true measure of...moreThe Measure of a Man is extremely articulate and introspective. This entire memoir centers around Poitier's father's teaching that the true measure of a man is how well he provides for his children. Sidney Poitier reads his own autobiography with his signature eloquent voice. He tells the story of early life on Cat Island in the Bahamas, his journey to the United States, and the arch of his Hollywood career. Most amusing is how Poitier drops in profanity without breaking his sage-like tone.(less)
Before reading this book I had known that Alexandre Dumas's father had been the son of a French marquis and a Haitian slave who had been brought back...moreBefore reading this book I had known that Alexandre Dumas's father had been the son of a French marquis and a Haitian slave who had been brought back to France and raised to be a gentleman, but I figured that he passed his time as a member of the idle nobility. I had no idea he had been a French revolutionary as well as a general.
While it is dry in places especially where the author leaves Thomas Alexandre Dumas's story to provide historical context, and the author interrupts the narrative to tell about his experiences researching this book, overall this is a good biography that gives a voice to this forgotten crusader of universal human rights.
I am a great admirer of Jeanette Winterson's early work especially Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, and the descriptions of her childhood she gave in i...more I am a great admirer of Jeanette Winterson's early work especially Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, and the descriptions of her childhood she gave in interviews and lectures were just fascinating, so I was thrilled when I learned that she had written a memoir. She said that she had grown up in a house containing only five books, three of which were the Bible, a Bible concordance, and the Morte D'Arthur, and I couldn't wait to find out the names of the other two. (Unfortunately, that didn't make it instead this memoir, but her mother's edict "The problem with a Book is that you never know what's in it until it's too late" appears several times.)
The writing is smooth and beautiful albeit fragmentary and peppered with insights. It is definitely worth a read especially for fans of Winterson's works.
While I enjoyed it, I sadly can't give it five stars. Winterson glossed a lot of events that I wished she would have described in detail. She also seemed to lack self awareness. This memoir contains a lot of apologia, and Winterson analyzes her own motivations as if she is a character in a book where causation is much less complicated and A will clearly cause B. She also did a lot of generalizing about adoption and children who are adopted. As a writer, she should know that there is power in the specific but no credibility in a generalization. Her insistence on how adoption is an unhealable psychic wound for adopted children is both heartbreaking and frightening. It would certainly encourage any couple struggling with infertility to invest in in-vitro fertilization treatments rather than adoption. (less)