Jessica's Reviews > Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond

Dear Senator by Essie Mae Washington-Williams
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's review
Apr 10, 2011

it was ok
Read from April 10 to 18, 2011

2.5 stars I wanted to give this more stars, because I wanted to like it more. Maybe I was expecting too much, or maybe I was just put off by the writing, but it just didn't resonate with me the way I thought it would.

I think I was expecting more honesty, frustration, anger, disappointment - emotion - than what the reader gets. It couldn't have been easy for her, having her world turned upside-down one lazy afternoon, and then watching it get flipped inside out when she's told her father is white. But, the thing is - there's no emotion in the telling.

Essie-Mae grew up in a turbulent environment. She talks about her first encounter with prejudice, her realization that her friendships with the white kids would forever be altered, and her seemingly unreachable dreams of becoming a career woman. But there was no fire in any of these stories.

She says she was "disgusted" after hearing about what happened to Zack Walker, and "curious" when she found out about Carrie Butler. The only reason I know that is because it's written, "I felt even more disgusted..." and "...curious beyond the bounds of discreet behavior."

I don't think I'm explaining my beef with this book very well. I think the best way I could describe it would be like this:

Essie-May spent so many pages of this book telling the reader how disappointed she was that Thurmond never took her out for dinner, never asked after her mother, never inquired about her husband and children - things you'd expect of a father. It's always written that way, something like, "I was disappointed that he called them 'your children', instead of 'my grandchildren'." Paragraphs and paragraphs were devoted to how Strom Thurmond never acted like the absent father he was.

Yet, when her husband, the great love of her life, passed away, the reader got one paragraph, and sentences like, "poor, poor Julius" and "What a tragedy." That's what I'm talking about. Her husband passes and she drops a "what a tragedy" on the reader. I didn't know whether to laugh or be offended for Julius.

I found I couldn't believe that she never got upset with Thurmond, and that she didn't see his continual monetary support as "hush money", even just a little. I can't believe that someone as idealistic as her, as impassioned about people and family would have sat on the sidelines, not judging Thurmond's political antics, especially when he opened fire on her people.

Anyway, the most enjoyable parts were her perspective into the changing world, how these events changed her life. Maybe she's just feeling super benevolent because Thurmond's no longer with us, and because she's finally being recognized as one of his children. At any rate, this wasn't nearly as good a read as I had hoped it'd be, but at least it wasn't flat-out terrible.

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07/23 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Brian (new)

Brian Hey Jessica, I haven't read this book, but I have a couple of thoughts. Maybe her emotions are hardened from a hard life. In the wake of the disaster in Japan people marveled at how "together" the Japanese people seemed. Also in reading diaries by Rachael's ancestors who traveled by wagon across the plains there are literally two sentences about the death of their 13 year old son to diphtheria. I think in today's society we expect everyone to wear their emotions on their sleeves and not everyone is cut from that cloth. At least I hope it was a good story.

Talk to you soon,

Jessica It kind of was, mostly wasn't. I don't think that was it, though. She was plenty open about her disappointment due to being left out of her father's life, and her fear of how her husband would react to the truth of her heritage. I don't know, it's hard to explain. I did read some of the other reviews of this book to see if it was just me, and I saw some others with similar thoughts. I wasn't looking for heart-on-the-sleeve emotion, I was hoping for some honesty. I felt like she glossed over her feelings because of the years that had passed and her sudden inheritance. Kind of hard to explain...

Stacy I agree Jessica, I'm about 3/4 finished and it' seems like its a chapter out of a middle school history book. Like you said I expected more...

Nandi Crawford You said that she didn't question her father on his views on civil rights, but in actuality in the book, she talks about it and questions him point blank on it as well. as to whether he didn't want her to speak to the press, he told her that the decision was up to her and her alone. plus her husband didn't care for Thurmond and didn't have much to say for him either. But I notice when the husband died, Thurmond spoke kindly on him as being one of the first to go to the black state law school at the time.

Jessica Hi Nandi. I'm confused - you're calling me out for saying something in my review that just isn't there. I just re-read the entire review (it's been over a year since I wrote it, after all), and I never wrote anything about Essie Mae not questioning her father on his civil rights views. In fact, the words "civil rights" never once show up in my text. Are you sure you posted this comment on the correct review?

Nandi Crawford I didn't call you out by name per se, bit After reading the review it looked as though the author never questioned Thurmond on his views. On second review, I didn't see that though I felt I did and I apologize for that

Jessica Hi Nandi - no worries at all!

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