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 ... vibrant pages are filled with people of churned-together blood culled from scattered immigrants and native peoples, indomitable women and their babies ... Despite our tendency to gaze to the future, with her words, Straight gives us permission to remember what went before with passion and attachment ... [a] beautiful book.
There are dozens of ancestors in this well-researched book. At times, too many ... We sense that she wants to give all of them their due. But in the process, the reader senses that two of the most important figures in her life—her mother and father—remain mysteriously shadowed, only half complete ... Straight writes with aching tenderness ... From the Sims side of the family, Straight painstakingly researches Henry Ely, a Cherokee who loved two slave sisters in antebellum Tennessee ... In the end, Straight’s book is about far more than a country of women. It’s an ode to the entire multiracial, transnational tribe she claims as her own.
Rather than focusing on a central theme or two of her own life, the author of eight novels, two children's books, and multiple short stories and essays is far more generous. Yes, In the Country of Women is her story — but it is also a chronicle honoring the strength and resilience of six generations of women ... overflows with love ... The warmth from these gatherings almost lifts off the page and invites the reader to pull up a chair ... While Straight reflects on far more than her own upbringing and experiences growing up, she brings her trademark lyricism and a significant dose of humility to those segments of the book.
As Straight examines their lives, a complex, multiracial and multicultural lineage unravels. Through these family stories, Straight also adeptly exposes the complicated realities of American history ... Through rich descriptions and careful research, Straight so vividly captures Fine’s long and difficult life, we feel the exhaustion in our bones ... In lucid prose, Straight weaves in stories of her childhood in Riverside, Calif., where she still lives ... The voice here is intelligent and warm, loving and honest, respectful and unafraid to directly confront the complex reality of being a white woman writing about marginalized people of color ... The weakness of In the Country of Women is its structure. Early chapters are devoted to the women of this vast and varied family, but then the focus loosens ... Straight’s skillful ability to take us from the intimacy of family history to the wider considerations of America’s legacy is a wonder.
The book is steeped in...history and sense of place in Riverside, California, populated with citrus groves and pepper trees and burning Santa Ana winds ... Turning the lens to [Straight's] own family and their ancestors, the stories are as rich and resonant as fiction ... Straight is writing the heroine’s journey rather than the hero’s, focusing on characters whose hard-won odysseys are rarely recognized ... Their history is heartrending ... Yet the book is equally filled with beauty and constancy, thanks to Straight’s carefully chosen memories and elegantly clear prose.
In an unusual decision, she doesn’t privilege her own narrative over her family members’ or vice versa. This fair-minded approach results in a certain structural messiness, but it’s more than compensated for by Straight’s shimmering, pictorial style and tender observations. She describes in moving detail the fear she felt when her husband, a tall corrections officer, was stopped and harassed by the police. She describes in equally moving terms the loving hours she spent caring for and braiding her daughters’ black hair. She preserves the stories of Sims’ ancestors as they’ve been told to her. And those stories are harrowing ... The aftereffect of all these disparate stories juxtaposed in a single epic is remarkable. Its resonance lingers for days after reading.
... a book that spirals outward, gathering and illuminating stories of ancestors, family and community. It’s a book with more people in it than an encyclopedia — so many it can be difficult to keep track of everyone — and its universe of people and stories is complex, layered and ultimately ravishing ... Writing these families’ stories, in the context of American history, politics and literary taste, is itself a radical act ... offers a corrective, providing a boldly woman-centric view of history, as large as migration and as small as the act of braiding a child’s hair. It’s a book about survival, motherhood, and love, and it’s as big and messy and beautiful as all of these things.
... a captivating mixture of family history and memoir ... With stirring details and delving perceptions, Straight chronicles the repercussions, generation after generation, of enslavement, Jim Crow, and immigration as well as rape, murder, grueling work, and single motherhood ... deeply affecting ... a ravishing and revelatory celebration of womanhood, resilience, family, community, and America’s defining diversity.
A moving family saga celebrates generations of bold, brave, and determined women ... eloquent, absorbing ... Listening to family stories and mining ancestry.com, Straight recounts the peril and hope, forced migration and fierce escapes, 'thousands of miles of hardship,' that women endured ... A radiant memoir imbued with palpable love.
... moving ... The author excels in chapters about raising her kids, and about finding her place in the Sims clan (Straight is white, Sims is African-American) ... Straight passionately illuminates the hard journeys of women.