Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction
One of NPR's Best Books of the Year
An Amazon Best History Book of the Month
"In the end, Straight’s book is about far more than a country of women. It’s an ode to the entire multiracial, transnational tribe she claims as her own . . . In fact, her words are for all those who now call her mother, aunt, cousin and sister, in the neighborhood where she has lived her entire life. And for all those who survived, so these women could live." —Kristal Brent Zook, The New York Times Book Review
"While Straight reflects on far more than her own upbringing and experiences growing up, she brings her trademark lyricism and a significant dose of humility to those segments of the book . . . Not all the women Straight introduces us to are mothers, but it seems fitting that her book's final chapter also is addressed to her daughters . . . Straight's gift to them—the story of where they come from and the amazing women who have shaped their lives—nicely doubles as a gift for us." —Ericka Taylor, NPR
"Straight’s skillful ability to take us from the intimacy of family history to the wider considerations of America’s legacy is a wonder. This is not only a story of women, but of immigration, police brutality and the history of slavery . . . Straight captures an American story in all its ugly complexity." —Crystal Hana Kim, The Washington Post
"Lauded fiction writer Straight turns to memoir in this innovative and emotional exploration of the women in her and her husband’s lives, addressed to her daughters so they can know the stories of who came before them." —Entertainment Weekly
"Certain books give off the sense that you won’t want them to end, so splendid the writing, so lyrical the stories. Such is the case with Southern California novelist Susan Straight’s new memoir, In the Country of Women . . . Her vibrant pages are filled with people of churned–together blood culled from scattered immigrants and native peoples, indomitable women and their babies. Yet they never succumb . . . Straight gives us permission to remember what went before with passion and attachment." —Janet Kinosian, Los Angeles Times
"Susan Straight wrote this family history for her three daughters—and we’re lucky that she shared it with the rest of us. Theirs is a saga full of independent, brave, tough women . . . This is the story of America, through the lens of one family." —Elena Nicolau, Refinery29
"A moving family saga celebrates generations of bold, brave, and determined women. Award–winning novelist Straight makes her nonfiction debut with an eloquent, absorbing memoir. Addressed to her three adult daughters, the narrative weaves together stories that transcend time, place, race, and ethnicity to vibrantly portray her children's rich ancestry . . . A radiant memoir imbued with palpable love." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"With stirring details and delving perceptions, Straight chronicles the repercussions, generation after generation, of enslavement, Jim Crow, and immigration, as well as rape, murder, grueling work, and single motherhood, while tracing the journeys of the women in her clan to Canada, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, and, finally, gritty, multicultural Riverside, California, Straight’s hometown. As Straight braids her three daughters into this deeply affecting saga, she maps her path to becoming a writer, encouraged by her mentor, James Baldwin, and profoundly inspired by her mother–in–law. Ultimately, this is a ravishing and revelatory celebration of womanhood, resilience, family, community, and America’s defining diversity." —Booklist (starred review)
“What a beautiful book! In the Country of Women must be the most populated, celebratory, filled–with–life memoir of our time. With her characteristic mix of compassion, warmth, humor, and acerbic insight, Susan Straight writes of her ‘massive black and mixed–race family’ and her ‘quirky, deeply embedded white family’—a memoir that is, though addressed to her three daughters, a valentine to virtually everyone whom the renowned author has known in the course of her vividly described life.” —Joyce Carol Oates
Novelist Straight (Between Heaven and Here) focuses on the lives of the women in her family in this moving memoir. The narrative is framed as a letter to Straight’s three daughters—Gaila, Delphine, and Rosette—whom Straight shares with her ex-husband Dwayne Sims, and honors the daughters’ rich ancestral past through stories of female relatives struggling to overcome violence, oppression, and hardship. Straight celebrates Jennie Stevenson, an aunt on the Sims side who, in the early 1900s, shot a man who cornered her, and Straight’s mother, a Swiss immigrant who left home after her stepmother tried to marry her off at 15 to a pig farmer. The author excels in chapters about raising her kids, and about finding her place in the Sims clan (Straight is white, Sims is African-American). She feels indebted to her mother-in-law, Alberta Sims, who showed her how to keep family and friends close (“she took my hand and led me to the kitchen.... Alberta cooked for the whole community”). In the touching final chapter, Straight reflects on the enduring power of memory: “All we women have to give you is memory.... What we felt we might keep to ourselves, unless someone wrote it down.” Straight passionately illuminates the hard journeys of women. (Aug.)
A moving family saga celebrates generations of bold, brave, and determined women.
Award-winning novelist Straight (Between Heaven and Here, 2012, etc.) makes her nonfiction debut with an eloquent, absorbing memoir. Addressed to her three adult daughters, the narrative weaves together stories that transcend time, place, race, and ethnicity to vibrantly portray her children's rich ancestry. Straight is white: Her mother grew up in the Swiss Alps; her father, in Colorado. The couple settled in Riverside, California, a hardscrabble community of a wide variety of mixed ethnicities, all "dreamers of the golden dream." When she was 14, she met Dwayne Sims, an African American high school classmate; years later, they married and eventually settled near their families. Straight taught English to refugees and at a city college; Dwayne worked at a juvenile correctional facility. Frugality was a way of life. When her youngest daughter was asked how the family fared, she replied, "Wait—what's below humble?" They had been poor, Straight admits, finding furniture on the street and living without air conditioning in temperatures over 100 degrees, but "the safety and tether and history" of their families was ample compensation. "The women who came before you, my daughters, were legends," writes the author, and their journeys—from Africa, Europe, and across the American continent—entailed convoluted "maps and threads" that culminated in her own girls, "the apex of the dream." Her daughters inherited not only their ancestors' "defined cheekbones and dimples and high-set hips," but, more crucially, their beauty, intelligence, and defiant independence. Among those many women, Dwayne's mother, Alberta, shines: "bemused and regal and slightly mischievous," a warmhearted woman who unreservedly welcomed her white daughter-in-law. Listening to family stories and mining ancestry.com, Straight recounts the peril and hope, forced migration and fierce escapes, "thousands of miles of hardship," that women endured. "All of American history," she tells her daughters, "is in your bones."
A radiant memoir imbued with palpable love.