A good memoir is a true delight and I love it when I find one that catches me by surprise.
Memoirs, good memoirs, have the power to heal, to connect, to normalise, to reach out, to understand and to promote empathy.
When I picked up the ARC of Spiegelman’s I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This at work, I had no idea what to expect.
I didn’t know who she was or why she needed to write a memoir or how it was that she was deemed worthy enough to even be published.
However, I quickly learnt that her father is Art Spiegelman of Maus fame and that her mother is Françoise Mouly, art director of the New Yorker. Nadja, therefore, has a fascinating family story to tell.
And she can write.
From page one I was hooked by her style and what she had to say. Her fascination with memory and the different stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives spoke to me.
Pure memories are like dinosaur bones, one neuroscientist wrote, discrete fragments from which we compose the image of the dinosaur. They are only flashes.
The stories we use to create our sense of self – are also the ones over which we have most heavily embroidered. They have been altered by the moods and settings in which we have told them. They have been altered by what we needed them to mean each time.
Somewhere along the way, the episode had passed from memory to story to myth.
I’ve always been secretly envious and also slightly repulsed by people who have such intense, physical and passionate relationships with their mothers and grandmothers. As I read Nadja’s story though, I realised that even those of us with more distant, reserved relationships, we still have a lot of the same angsty issues going on within our family stories, it’s just there is nowhere for all that feeling to go.
Perhaps that’s what makes me feel envious as I read memoirs like this? People being able to express their emotions as they happen. It’s a much better way than bottling everything up.
Nadja’s bravery in asking the tough questions and tackling the heavy issues within her family was an inspiring act of love and trust that helped three generations to find a more peaceful and hopeful way forward.
20/20 Books of summer (winter)