About My Sisters

About My Sisters

by Debra Ginsberg
About My Sisters

About My Sisters

by Debra Ginsberg


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On the heels of her poignant and critically acclaimed memoirs, Waiting and Raising Blaze, Debra Ginsberg explores the unique connection she shares with her three sisters.

In About My Sisters, Ginsberg examines the special bond she shares with her three sisters, May, Lavander and Deja. As her hippie parents criss-crossed the globe, Debra, the oldest of five children, formed indelible bonds with her three sisters that last to this day. Separated by fifteen years among them, Debra and her sisters represent two different generations, each one of them having something to teach the other. Debra and Maya (the next oldest) became not only babysitters, but also playmates, problem solvers, teachers and surrogate mothers to the youngest two. And the shared experience of being the children of an unconventional, dope-smoking, non-career oriented, nomadic couple bonded them even more.

Structured around the course of one year, About My Sisters examines these bonds through the prism of the events of that year, revealing not only a "different" family, but also a unique and amazing relationship that has weathered many storms but never foundered. The four sisters (as well as their parents and brother) still live within ten miles of one another and share meals, holidays, joys, pains, and babysitting duties with an astounding frequency. This is a heart-warming, funny, and poignant look at a family that's much like the one we all wish we had..

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060522032
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 02/15/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

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. A graduate of Reed College, she is a contributor to NPR's All Things Considered and the San Diego Union-Tribune "Books" section.

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.

Table of Contents

1.Four Elements, One Pattern9
2.The Mariannas35
3.Departures and Arrivals59
4.Already Seen87
5.Mirror to Mirror113
6.Misters and Sisters143
7.About Our Brother175
9.Separate Realities229
10.Driving Forces251

Reading Group Guide


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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