Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Dragons, The Giant, the Women

  The Dragons, The Giant, the Women:  A Memoir
Author:  Wayétu Moore
Publication Information:  Graywolf Press. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1644450313 / 978-1644450314

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Mam."

Favorite Quote:  "I think, as women of color, especially women of color who come from some means, any means really, we tend to play down the unpleasant things we've experienced. To bury them ... Perfection or the desire for it, it becomes a mask ... a uniform. But there is something underneath. What's underneath makes us real."

Wayétu Moore was born in Liberia. She grew up in Spring, Texas. She studied in California, New York, and Washington, DC. She currently lives in Brooklyn. Her debut novel drew upon Liberian history and mythology. This book explores the same but through the lens of her own life.

The memoir seemingly comprises of three parts. The first is from the perspective of five year old Wayétu. Uprisings and war has broken out in Liberia. She, her sisters, and her father flee to a remote village. Her mother lives in America, although it is not clarified at this time how or why. The second section jumps forward to Wayétu as an adult in the United States. This segment traverses through time and tells of the US immigrant experience, particularly as a person of color. It also presents the challenges she faces in coming to terms with her own childhood and the scars of war. The third part unexpectedly jumps to the story of Wayétu's mother, how she came to be in the US, and what she went through to bring her family out of Liberia. In some ways, this section goes back to the beginning of the book and tells the other side of the story. The memoir is clearly not linear. It is a more literary description of an experience.

The first part is by far my favorite section. It depicts a child's innocence and the courage of the adults around her who manage not just to keep the family safe but also to maintain some semblance of a childhood. The incorporation of an almost fairly tale of the dragon, the giant who is her father, and the women - her mother and the women of the village - encapsulates the horrors of war. This section also introduces me to the history of Liberia, one of my main reasons for choosing to read this book. This part of the world and this history is one with which I am unfamiliar, and this book provides the introduction to learn more.

The second part introduces the experiences of immigration and of racism:
  • "Barely one year in and our new country let us know, every day, that we were different."
  • "I could be beautiful in a place and still not enough, not because of who I was or anything I had done, but because of something as simple, and somehow as grand in this new place, as the color of my skin."
The section seems somewhat scattered as it captures the struggle of an adult coming to terms with her own history, the traumas of childhood, and the reality of her adopted home. It is not easy to read, but, in its very telling, captures the emotion of being adrift and trying to determine where you belong.

The third section is surprising because the story completely shifts to her mother's. "When I tell them the story, I tell them that the only thing that made me stay was wanting my daughters to know that they could go after anything they wanted, that they could fly too." Her mother's story is essential for context and to complete the history. However, at that point, does this book shift from memoir to something else? Is this truly her mother's story of her mother's story as Wayétu herself understands it? Perhaps, the telling of it is essential to her coming to terms with the past. Perhaps, I will not understand, and that is okay.

A history I did not know and a story that once again documents the strength and resilience of individuals makes for a powerful read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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