Jennifer's Reviews > The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries

The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir-autobiography, non-fiction

Okay, let's come right out and say that there were a few parts where I had to mentally separate the author as the author from the author as my sister, to sort of ignore that this is my childhood she's alluding to here, my hometown, me. But those parts were mercifully small. (I will go back and process those parts later, though I'm not sure Jessa would want me to.)

Anyway, biased or not, I thought it was marvelous. Especially the Berlin chapter, which (despite there being an actual introduction) introduces the theme, the concept, the purpose of the rest of the book. At a loss in Berlin, Jessa turns to her old friend William James, who also fled to Berlin for a good part of his life, also at a time when he was struggling to find a purpose, a calling, a standard for success. James, like all the dead ladies in this book, fled his home country, choosing a new land and new culture to call his own (to varying degrees of permanence). As Jessa travels from place to place, she communes with someone who has gone before her, someone who has also shucked off the standards, the expectations, the bindings of home, and built a new life of their own choosing some place new.

As she does so, she draws lines, both obvious and unexpected, between her own struggles for meaning, the personal struggles of her dead ladies, and more universal struggles, like the artist vs. the censor, adult children struggling with the expectations of their parents, women choosing whether to exploit, struggle with, or subvert the roles made available to them in a patriarchal society.

A marvelous book that should be more widely read.
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Reading Progress

July 18, 2015 – Shelved
July 18, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
September 22, 2015 – Started Reading
September 22, 2015 – Shelved as: memoir-autobiography
September 22, 2015 – Shelved as: non-fiction
September 22, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Great title as well. For so many reasons.


Jennifer I really think that you should read it. The section on Rebecca West in particular made me think of you.


message 3: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee I will read it, definitely. Rebecca West: few write sentences like that! I'm keen to read this take on her...

So, a hopefully non-impertinent question: when your sister was heading off to Berlin (and thereafter) after burning her Chicago life, what were your thoughts? Did you keep an incessant dialogue with her through the genesis and fruition of the book? It must be a strange and amazing experience to read this in light of all that - and to then give it five, I can't imagine how you felt closing the book! Has she seen your ***** yet?


Jennifer I don't know if she has seen my review yet, but I did send her an email telling her that I loved it. My relationship with my sister has always been complicated (aren't all family relationships?), and was probably at a peak when she was nearby in Chicago. We had kind of a misunderstanding/crossed wires/falling out right before she left the country, so we were mostly estranged most of the time she was traveling and writing this book. We saw each other a few times, talked a few times, but not really in depth. So most of this book, I was hearing about things the first time. There were a few places I had to separate Jessa the author from Jessa my sister, and tell myself I would come back and process those things as a sister later, which was weird.


message 5: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Thanks for being so forthcoming, it was a cheeky question really! Very interesting stuff. That'll make the reading experience EVEN MORE complicated...but I'm sure she was thrilled with your response.

Yeah, I've got similar stuff percolating in my family, oh boy - I completely understand.


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