... finely-wrought and eloquent ... The book is visceral, bodily, and throbs with pain and trauma — sexual abuse by a family member, cancer, the phantom-limb ache of an outsider in a foreign land, and later, as an outsider in the homeland ... In less skilled hands, it all might be too much to bear, but Philippines-born Talusan brings us along in spare, specific, sense-rich detail, and reveals, along the way, the power to be found in giving a name to the unnamable, in giving language to subjects and experiences that defy it. Therein, Talusan shows, one can find the possibility of healing what’s happened in the past, as well as moving into the future with gratitude, wisdom, and strength.
Much of Grace Talusan’s memoir will be familiar to any reader of immigrant narratives. But what renders the book memorable is the author’s unstinting self-portrait. We see Talusan clearly in the present, warts and all, precisely through the stark, lucid representations of herself in the past ... Talusan chronicles that fraught passage from one world, one body, to another, marking with sensitivity how an American life can be both burden and benediction.
... doesn’t track a one-way march to triumph from adversity; Talusan’s essays loop in on themselves, as she retrieves old memories and finds unexpected points of connection ... Talusan describes such experiences with unadorned prose that conveys a startling specificity ... Talusan has the instincts of a storyteller, teasing out her narrative through images and allusion. She writes about her father with tenderness and empathy.
... pulls Filipino American memoir to the forefront of Asian American conscience with heartbreaking prose, taking on the impact of immigration, sexual abuse, medical trauma, and the diaspora via the documentation of—and a meditation on—brownness and her body. With conversational lucidity and subtle, direct prose, Talusan unveils an account of suffering—the short-and long-term impacts of unaddressed mental health needs, becoming a citizen, systematic racism, cancer, fertility, and filial piety. Confessional yet unapologetic, The Body Papers shows the lengths to which a writer will go to trace her lineage and find her identity, even if it means crossing oceans to unknown places. She modernizes the Philippine diaspora by peppering Tagalog vernacular in her prose and grounding the essays with medical records, immigration papers, and personal photos ... In this unvarnished, graceful memoir, Grace Talusan delves into the most intimate to tell us unforgettable stories from her body. The Body Papers is a double-ringed narrative where immigration is more than regional displacement, family is both destructive and restorative, and trauma presents and re-presents itself in a number of ways across her lifetime. This astonishingly brave work breathes life into a past that most would hope to forget. Talusan, however, does something different. She offers a meditative tour of immigration, trauma, and family. The Body Papers beats a different drum of triumph and sings a rare song of honesty; the book is an understated marvel that continues to sound even after the story is finished.