About My Sisters

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They are supporters and crities, keepers of secrets and childhood memories, and constant mirrors of each other's womanhood. In About My Sisters, Debra Ginsberg examines the mysterious, fascinating relationship between sisters as seen through the special bond she shares with her own three sisters, Maya, Lavander, and Deja. As their nomadic parents traversed the world in search of the perfect place to settle, Debra and her sisters formed deep and unbreakable ties that last to this day. Separated by fifteen years ...
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Overview

They are supporters and crities, keepers of secrets and childhood memories, and constant mirrors of each other's womanhood. In About My Sisters, Debra Ginsberg examines the mysterious, fascinating relationship between sisters as seen through the special bond she shares with her own three sisters, Maya, Lavander, and Deja. As their nomadic parents traversed the world in search of the perfect place to settle, Debra and her sisters formed deep and unbreakable ties that last to this day. Separated by fifteen years from first to last, Debra and her sisters came of age in different generations, each one learning from and teaching the others as they grew to be women. The shared experience of being part of an unusual, eclectic, but fiercely loving family connected them even more. About My Sisters examines these bonds through the prism of the events and passages over the course of one year. As the sisters celebrate birthdays, juggle boyfriends and careers, and gather for the holidays, they reveal their history, the depth of their relationship, and the roles of sisters everywhere as daughters, girlfriends, mothers, and aunts. Now in their twenties, thirties, and forties, the four sisters (as well as their parents and brother) still live within ten miles of one another and share meals, holidays, struggles, and joys on a regular basis. This is a heartfelt, funny, and touching look at a family that's much like the one we all wish we had.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ginsberg is on her way to becoming a professional memoirist: she's penned books on raising a child, her life as a waitress, and now, on her eccentric, close-knit family, focusing on sisterhood. With eloquence, deep feeling and altruism, Ginsberg (Waiting; Raising Blaze) depicts the life of her family through a year of celebrations and crises. Each event unleashes a cascade of memories that circle back, by the end of each chapter, to expose a particular facet of the four sisters' complicated relations with one another and the rest of the family. Ginsberg writes of her youngest sister D ja's ability to cure her driving phobia; Lavendar's talent for getting Ginsberg's son to act responsibly; the exalted position of her brother in a family of girls; the family's competitiveness; and her lifelong intimacy with her sister Maya, with whom she lives: "I never even put `sister' before her name when I talk about her. She is the part of me who is Maya." Ginsberg seems to be answering a math problem: with two parents, five grown children, one grandchild and a varying number of boyfriends, how many different combinations are possible? As parents, children and siblings group and regroup in the complex dance of family relationships, each individual's soul emerges. Quarrels often erupt during the family's frequent get-togethers, but never for a moment will readers doubt their loyalty to one another. Ginsberg's nonfiction is as entertaining as a novel, but its greatest achievement is showing how love is not an emotion but an action, living and growing. (Mar.) Forecast: Anyone remotely interested in family life-not just sisterhood-will be interested in Ginsberg's story. Those who read Raising Blaze will want to pick it up, too, since it satisfyingly rounds out the picture of the author's family that was hinted at in Blaze. It also leaves the door open for a sequel. HarperCollins plans NPR interviews and a seven-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her third memoir, Ginsberg (Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress; Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World) covers a year in the life of her extended family, centering on her relationships with her three younger sisters. Maya, Lavender, and Deja (15 years younger than Debra) all share the responsibility of bringing up Debra's special-needs son (the subject of Raising Blaze). While in this light the sisters may seem more intimate than most, the author insists that they share "generalities" that make them like most siblings. As readers follow the Ginsberg family (which also includes Debra's parents, brother, son, and various boyfriends) through gatherings and informal get-togethers, the author chronicles intimate moments, cooperation, confusion, misunderstandings, and quarrels. These incidents, in turn, lead to flashbacks of shared memories of growing up with hippie parents who moved from place to place. This witty, entertaining account of a loving, intergenerational, and eccentric family will appeal to those encountering Ginsberg for the first time as well as those already familiar with her writing. For all public libraries.-Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rich celebration of life with three sisters. In this clear-eyed but always loving description of her family, memoirist Ginsberg (Raising Blaze, 2002, etc.) explores the differing ways her siblings relate to each other, ways familiar to all who have sisters. Ginsberg lives in southern California, where she shares a home with her teenage son Blaze and her younger sister Maya. Her parents live close by, as do her two other sisters, Deja and Lavander, and only brother Bo. Ginsberg is the eldest, Deja the youngest, none is married, and Ginsberg is the only parent. The family gets together regularly for dinner and holidays, which are always lively, often contentious, but never nasty. Like an enlarged contingent of musketeers, they're there for one another-helping Ginsberg with babysitting, comforting their mother when her only sister dies, and loyally attending Deja's plays. They're also there to offer advice and sympathy when their various relationships with men don't work out. In separate chapters, the author describes her relationship with each sister as well as with Bo. She explores their varying interactions and recalls the family's past. Their free-spirited parents met in London in the early 1960s: her mother was from South Africa, her father from Brooklyn, and for many years the family moved often, from London to Brooklyn to South Africa to upstate New York and finally southern California. That kind of family experience unsurprisingly fostered tight-knit bonds. Ginsberg is closest to Maya and finds it most difficult to relate to Lavander, who pushes Ginsberg's buttons more effectively than anyone else in the family. Lavander is also the only sister not in the entertainmentbusiness-she's a realtor, while Ginsberg writes, Maya is a musician, and Debra an actor. Ginsberg particularly appreciates her sisters' roles as exceptional aunties to developmentally challenged son Blaze. Loving and candid, as the best family stories are. Author tour. Agent: Amy Rennert
Elle
“A big-hearted look at the ties that bind and the bonds that break and mend again.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060522025
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/2/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Debra Ginsberg is the author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress and Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World. A graduate of Reed College, she is a contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and the San Diego Union-Tribune "Books" section.

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Read an Excerpt

About My Sisters
Chapter OneFour Elements, One PatternMarch

Maya stands in our kitchen wielding a spatula.

"I'm making dinner," she says. This brief sentence of hers tells me much more than it would seem. It doesn't just mean that she is whipping up something for the two of us. If that were the case, she'd ask me, "What do you feel like eating?" and then we'd go around for twenty minutes with neither one of us able to decide what culinary ethnicity we'd prefer:

"What about Greek? You want Greek?"

"Too much garlic. How about Chinese?"

"Too much work. Pasta?"

"Boring. Want to have Thai for a change?"

"I can't eat Thai, too much peanut sauce in everything."

And then, ultimately, we'd grow weary of the debate to the point where nothing seemed worth eating and settle for a couple of frozen pizzas, or toast (my default meal), or prepackaged stir-fry (hers).

But when she says, "I'm making dinner," it means she's already decided; that we will be having penne with fresh julienned vegetables, or orzo with feta and tomatoes, or tofu Milanese with roasted corn and mashed potatoes. It also means that we will be having a big family gathering. Just how big remains to be determined. Our parents will be here for certain. Our brother probably won't show up. Our other two sisters probably will. And there is always the possibility that various significant others might appear. Everybody will arrive at a different time, despite the fact that Maya has designated a specific hour for the meal. There will almost definitely be an argument about that. There may be other arguments as well. There might be a couple of scenes ormore than one furious exit. There might be a lively debate over whatever turns out to be the topic of the day and it might even be amicable, but it certainly won't be calm and quiet. Calm and quiet is not something my family does when they're all together. However, the exact tenor of the meal will be determined by who shows up this time and by what well-established patterns we choose to tread. And my sisters and I are adept — no, brilliant — at maintaining our patterns of behavior.

I am trying to remember when it was, exactly, that Maya started making these dinners or how our house got to be the designated destination of almost every family gathering. It may have been about fifteen years ago when our family owned Peppy's, a little pizza parlor in Oregon, and Maya became the chief cook (in reality the only person who could actually make a pizza). But I think her position as family chef has its origins much earlier. Although I had my turns with crescent rolls and apple pies when we were growing up, Maya was the one who really developed an affinity for and understanding of pastry and cakes. Where I found cooking for large groups of people (our family, in other words) overwhelming, Maya was always able to put together a big meal with whatever was in the house. I got very tired of using the same ingredients in the same way (there's nothing more depressing to me than a pot of boiling potatoes), but Maya was always able to replicate her dishes effortlessly. For Maya, cooking was not only easy but a source of pride. I always preferred to clean up afterward.

Maya and I moved in together in 1987 and our house (or apartment — there have been five different places since then) gradually became the place to go whenever there was a meal attached to a birthday, a celebration, Sunday brunch, Mother's Day, a New Year's Eve party, or anything that could be seen as an occasion. For a while, we were all eating a meal together at least once a week. There was a period, too, when dinner at our house became the testing ground for new friends and lovers. The theory behind this being that it is less threatening to introduce someone to your whole family when it's your sister's house as opposed to your parents. And between the two of us, we've got a couple of important bases covered. Maya cooks, providing nourishment, and I do the astrological birth charts and subsequent interpretations for the potential mates. I can always tell that there's a new romantic interest in the offing when one of my sisters (or my brother, for that matter) calls me up and says, "Hey, can you run a quick chart for me?"

When a friend or lover becomes a long-term relationship, Maya will even fix up a to-go container if that person can't quite make it to dinner, but sends a message that he just loves Maya's cooking so much and is so sorry that he can't be there in person and will miss it so much ... And the Tupperware comes out. Like I said, it's a source of pride for her.

"Who's coming?" I ask her now. I need to be prepared.

"Everybody, I think."

"What do you mean, everybody?"

"Lavander, Déja, Mom, Dad ... "

Well, that covers the parents and the sisters at least. "What about Bo?" I ask, referring to our brother, who doesn't attend these gatherings regularly.

"He's coming, too."

"Really? And Danny?" Danny, Déja's boyfriend, has lately been a fixture at these family dinners.

"Yes, Danny's coming, too."

Full house, I think, and am mentally adjusting when another thought crosses.

"Tony's not coming, is he?"

Maya says nothing just long enough for me to know that Tony, Lavander's current boyfriend, might actually be attending. "I don't know," she says, finally.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" I ask her. "Didn't we all decide that it was a bad idea to have that guy over for dinner? Or anywhere, for that matter?"

About My Sisters
. Copyright © by Debra Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
1. Four Elements, One Pattern 9
2. The Mariannas 35
3. Departures and Arrivals 59
4. Already Seen 87
5. Mirror to Mirror 113
6. Misters and Sisters 143
7. About Our Brother 175
8. Aunties 203
9. Separate Realities 229
10. Driving Forces 251
11. Presence 275
Epilogue 293
Acknowledgments 301
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First Chapter

About My Sisters

Chapter One

Four Elements, One Pattern

March

Maya stands in our kitchen wielding a spatula.

"I'm making dinner," she says. This brief sentence of hers tells me much more than it would seem. It doesn't just mean that she is whipping up something for the two of us. If that were the case, she'd ask me, "What do you feel like eating?" and then we'd go around for twenty minutes with neither one of us able to decide what culinary ethnicity we'd prefer:

"What about Greek? You want Greek?"

"Too much garlic. How about Chinese?"

"Too much work. Pasta?"

"Boring. Want to have Thai for a change?"

"I can't eat Thai, too much peanut sauce in everything."

And then, ultimately, we'd grow weary of the debate to the point where nothing seemed worth eating and settle for a couple of frozen pizzas, or toast (my default meal), or prepackaged stir-fry (hers).

But when she says, "I'm making dinner," it means she's already decided; that we will be having penne with fresh julienned vegetables, or orzo with feta and tomatoes, or tofu Milanese with roasted corn and mashed potatoes. It also means that we will be having a big family gathering. Just how big remains to be determined. Our parents will be here for certain. Our brother probably won't show up. Our other two sisters probably will. And there is always the possibility that various significant others might appear. Everybody will arrive at a different time, despite the fact that Maya has designated a specific hour for the meal. There will almost definitely be an argument about that. There may be other arguments as well. There might be a couple of scenes or more than one furious exit. There might be a lively debate over whatever turns out to be the topic of the day and it might even be amicable, but it certainly won't be calm and quiet. Calm and quiet is not something my family does when they're all together. However, the exact tenor of the meal will be determined by who shows up this time and by what well-established patterns we choose to tread. And my sisters and I are adept -- no, brilliant -- at maintaining our patterns of behavior.

I am trying to remember when it was, exactly, that Maya started making these dinners or how our house got to be the designated destination of almost every family gathering. It may have been about fifteen years ago when our family owned Peppy's, a little pizza parlor in Oregon, and Maya became the chief cook (in reality the only person who could actually make a pizza). But I think her position as family chef has its origins much earlier. Although I had my turns with crescent rolls and apple pies when we were growing up, Maya was the one who really developed an affinity for and understanding of pastry and cakes. Where I found cooking for large groups of people (our family, in other words) overwhelming, Maya was always able to put together a big meal with whatever was in the house. I got very tired of using the same ingredients in the same way (there's nothing more depressing to me than a pot of boiling potatoes), but Maya was always able to replicate her dishes effortlessly. For Maya, cooking was not only easy but a source of pride. I always preferred to clean up afterward.

Maya and I moved in together in 1987 and our house (or apartment -- there have been five different places since then) gradually became the place to go whenever there was a meal attached to a birthday, a celebration, Sunday brunch, Mother's Day, a New Year's Eve party, or anything that could be seen as an occasion. For a while, we were all eating a meal together at least once a week. There was a period, too, when dinner at our house became the testing ground for new friends and lovers. The theory behind this being that it is less threatening to introduce someone to your whole family when it's your sister's house as opposed to your parents. And between the two of us, we've got a couple of important bases covered. Maya cooks, providing nourishment, and I do the astrological birth charts and subsequent interpretations for the potential mates. I can always tell that there's a new romantic interest in the offing when one of my sisters (or my brother, for that matter) calls me up and says, "Hey, can you run a quick chart for me?"

When a friend or lover becomes a long-term relationship, Maya will even fix up a to-go container if that person can't quite make it to dinner, but sends a message that he just loves Maya's cooking so much and is so sorry that he can't be there in person and will miss it so much ... And the Tupperware comes out. Like I said, it's a source of pride for her.

"Who's coming?" I ask her now. I need to be prepared.

"Everybody, I think."

"What do you mean, everybody?"

"Lavander, Déja, Mom, Dad ... "

Well, that covers the parents and the sisters at least. "What about Bo?" I ask, referring to our brother, who doesn't attend these gatherings regularly.

"He's coming, too."

"Really? And Danny?" Danny, Déja's boyfriend, has lately been a fixture at these family dinners.

"Yes, Danny's coming, too."

Full house, I think, and am mentally adjusting when another thought crosses.

"Tony's not coming, is he?"

Maya says nothing just long enough for me to know that Tony, Lavander's current boyfriend, might actually be attending. "I don't know," she says, finally.

"What do you mean, you don't know?" I ask her. "Didn't we all decide that it was a bad idea to have that guy over for dinner? Or anywhere, for that matter?"

About My Sisters. Copyright © by Debra Ginsberg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

In About My Sisters, Debra Ginsberg examines the bonds of sisterhood through her relationships with her three sisters; Maya, Lavander, and Deja. As their unconventional parents crisscrossed the world in search of the perfect place to live, Debra and her sisters developed a unique intimacy as girls that they maintain today as women. Written in the same candid voice that captivated readers in her first two books, About My Sisters is an absorbing and heartfelt view into the complex ties of sisterhood.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Why do you think the author structured the book so each chapter corresponds with a month of the year?
  2. How does the relationship the author has with her sisters differ from your relationships with your siblings, or from those of other sisters you know?
  3. How much is this a truly a "sister" story, and how much a larger "family" story, or really a "memoir" in the traditional sense?
  4. The sisters' brother, Bo, makes only cameo appearances, but he's clearly adored by his sisters, and at the same time, given his space. How do you think a man with sisters grows up differently from one who has only brothers, or is any only child?

About the Author

Debra Ginsberg is the author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress and Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World, both of which have been adopted as texts for creative non-fiction classes and for professional reference. A graduate of Reed College, she is a contributor to NPR's 'All Things Considered' and the San Diego Union-Tribune books section.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2008

    Not really a memoir

    In a family with five children, you'd think more would have happened. But the situations Ginsberg relives here are inconsequential. I was hoping for a retelling of antecdotes, but it reads more like an essay for the benefit of her family than for the average reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2004

    There should be a sister's day

    This is a wonderful book about the very special relationship that is a sister. My sisters and I live lives very different than Ms. Ginsberg's, yet the issues of being sisters resonates with sisters everywhere. I was left wanting to know more. Having sisters is like a song that always has another verse. DO Lavander and Tony find happiness?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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