Losing My Sister: A Memoir
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Losing My Sister: A Memoir

by Judy Goldman

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“Family stories grow to be bigger than the experiences themselves,” writes Judy Goldman in her memoir, Losing My Sister. “They become home to us, tell us who we are, who we want to be. Over the years, they take on more and more embellishments and adornments until they eclipse the actual memory. They become our past—just as a snapshot will,


“Family stories grow to be bigger than the experiences themselves,” writes Judy Goldman in her memoir, Losing My Sister. “They become home to us, tell us who we are, who we want to be. Over the years, they take on more and more embellishments and adornments until they eclipse the actual memory. They become our past—just as a snapshot will, at first, enhance a memory, then replace it.”

As she remembers it now, Goldman’s was an idyllic childhood, charmed even, filled with parental love and sisterly confidences. Growing up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Judy and her older sister, Brenda, did everything together. Though it was clear from an early age that their personalities were very different (Judy was the “sweet” one, Brenda, the "strong" one), they continued to be fairly inseparable into adulthood.

But the love between sisters is complex. Though Judy and Brenda remained close, Goldman recalls struggling to break free of her prescribed role as the agreeable little sister and to assert herself even as she built her own life and started a family.

The sisters’ relationship became further strained by the illnesses and deaths of their parents, and later, by the discovery that each had tumors in their breasts—Judy’s benign, Brenda’s malignant. The two sisters came back together shortly before the possibility of permanent loss became very real.

In her uniquely lyrical and poignant style, Goldman deftly navigates past events and present emotions, drawing readers in as she explores the joys and sorrows of family, friendship, and sisterhood.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist and poet Goldman (Early Leaving) beautifully renders the complexity of sibling relationships with candidness, tenderness, and sorrow in her chronicle of the immense and troubled love she has for her older sister. Growing up, Brenda was strong, smart, and no-nonsense, while Judy was the “sweet” one who admired and sought approval from Brenda, always thinking of her as more important. “Jews don’t have a Coat of Arms, but if my family did, it would say Sisters Matter,” she writes. In adulthood, they live close to each other, but a blowup leads to years of barely speaking, the result of a longstanding dynamic in which Brenda, burdened with a temper, wants Judy to be more like her and instead of praise, offers anger while Judy stays silent. Only after their parents die within two years of one another do they heal their rift. They’re careful with one another, retreating when problems arise. Decades later, when Judy publishes a novel, her sister is critical rather than congratulatory, and a different fight begins, this one more troubling because Brenda has cancer. Eighteen months pass before they make up, giving them only days of their renewed bond before Brenda’s health takes a turn. In the end, Goldman’s book speaks to the human ability to forgive and attain a measure of peace amid loss. Agent: Amy Rennert, Amy Rennert Agency. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In the opening pages of this memoir, novelist Goldman (Early Leaving) describes finding a mass in her breast at nearly the same time that her sister, Brenda, discovered a growth in her own. However, this isn't a story about breast cancer. Instead, Goldman skillfully maneuvers her memoir into complex terrain, exploring what she calls "the complicated alliance of love and will" between herself and Brenda. Goldman tracks her relationship with Brenda from childhood through the agonizing experiences of their parents' diagnoses of Alzheimer's (mother) and colon cancer (father) and their slow declines. Goldman describes how the sisters' bond weakens and strengthens, an ebb and flow of intimacy. The memoir studies loss in its many forms—death, estrangement, an obligatory connection between formerly inseparable siblings. While the events themselves are heartrending, the memoir ultimately addresses the cathartic discovery that loss and losing can relax familial roles previously perceived as absolutes. VERDICT A sensitive look at the intricacies and evolution of sisterhood and family during prolonged encounters with serious illnesses as well as the love and tensions that characterize sibling relationships. Recommended.—Rachael Dreyer, American Heritage Ctr., Laramie, WY
Kirkus Reviews
A chronicle of the relationship between two sisters struggling to "solve the mystery of individuality and connection." Goldman (Early Leaving, 2008, etc.) begins in 1992, with the discovery of a "mass" in her breast. When she called her sister, Brenda, the next day, Brenda told her that she felt "calcifications" in her breast. Their biopsies occurred one day apart; the author's diagnosis was benign, but her sister's was malignant. For Goldman, the cancer encapsulated their respective images: she sweet and prim (like her mother), her sister tougher (like their father.) She explains that as the younger sibling, she followed her sister's lead; in turn, her sister was protective. Goldman then skips back to 1974, when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Two years later, her father suffered a recurrence of colon cancer. The stress of the situation contributed to a serious rift between the sisters, a breach of intimacy that they struggled to repair during the ensuing years. Goldman's parents had played an important part in helping them maintain their close bond as sisters. With them gone, writes the author, she experienced a belated rebellion against her sister. In an unsuccessful attempt to repair their apparently broken relationship, the sisters even tried couples' therapy. After their mother's death, they reconciled for a while, but the cycle repeated itself. Although her sister's fatal illness brought them close again, Goldman was left bereft but determined to claim her independence. An occasionally poignant but mostly dismal memoir of loss and its many manifestations.
Author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir - Jenny Lawson
This book is poignant and heartbreaking but also inspirational. It made me hug my family a little bit closer.
Author of Chang and Eng and Half a Life and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award - Darin Strauss
Judy Goldman’s Losing My Sister is big, wise, heart-squeezing. It puts to words what I’d thought inarticulable—an act not unlike giving flesh to a shadow. This book will help a lot of people—people who are hurting for excellent prose, and also people who are just hurting.
New York Times best-selling author of Picture of You - Caroline Leavitt
A moving, gracefully told story of memory, sisters, and the way that love can bridge tragedy.
Author of The Knitting Circle and the memoir Comfort: A Journey through Grief - Ann Hood
Judy Goldman navigates the bumpy, fierce love that she shares with her sister with equal parts passion and compassion. A memorable story of love and loss.
Author of Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir - Sue William Silverman
In this finely wrought and moving memoir, Goldman explores in exquisite detail the small and large acts of love between sisters—and, indeed, among all family members. She is able to guide us through the complex emotions of death, loss, and intimacy because her own heart, as well as her writing, is as big and profound as the word love.

Product Details

Blair, John F. Publisher
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Judy Goldman is the author of two novels, Early Leaving and The Slow Way Back, and two books of poetry. Her work has been published in Real Simple magazine, and in many literary journals—including Kenyon Review, Southern Review, Ohio Review, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, and Prairie Schooner—as well as in numerous anthologies. Her commentaries have aired on public radio and she teaches at writers’ conferences throughout the country. She received the Fortner Writer and Community Award for "outstanding generosity to other writers and the larger community." She’s also the recipient of the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, the Mary Ruffin Poole Award for First Fiction, the Gerald Cable Poetry Prize, the Roanoke-Chowan Prize for Poetry, the Oscar Arnold Young Prize for Poetry, and the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for Poetry. The Slow Way Back was shortlisted for the Southeastern Independent Bookseller Alliance’s Novel of the Year. Judy lives with her husband in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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