In ALL THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY SING: WOMEN WRITE THE WORLD—ESSAYS ON EQUALITY, JUSTICE AND FREEDOM, edited by Deborah Santana, women use their personal narratives to unveil injustices in their societies and offer hope for a more just world.
Although the subtitle declares, “Women Write the World,” many of these essayists discover that before they can write a truly equitable world into existence, they must first rewrite themselves. Disengaging from the stories they’ve internalized about what a woman can and cannot do and be proves both burdensome and revolutionary. Phiroozeh Petigara, for one, contends with a Pakistani family that doesn’t believe writing is “an appropriate use of time for a young woman with viable ovaries.” She must make peace with the reality that liberation and isolation often go hand-in-hand.
Of course, women aren’t the only ones marginalized through narrative. Ugochi Egonu views with anger the humanitarian aid posters implying that “starving children are the only children Africa has to offer.” Art historian Terezita Romo asks why our art culture labels African masks “primitive” but Picasso’s masks “Art.” Mila Jam, writing about her transgender journey, says, “I felt shame because I was told to feel shame.” Sometimes, others’ stories about us appear inescapable.
As seems inevitable with a collection this large, the writing is occasionally uneven. A few essays would have benefited from closer editing, particularly one in which verb tenses alternate jarringly, and with 69 contributions of varying impact, the anthology feels a little bloated. But the writing quality, while it shimmers more often than not, isn’t really the point. More important is the voice this book gives to a group that’s spent much of history in silence.
While the essayists are culturally diverse, most of them fit into the category of cis-gender women of color living in America. Explicitly LGBTQ narratives are largely absent, Jam’s essay excepted. This isn’t a critique—no collection can speak for every woman—but the omission may disappoint some readers.
Ultimately, these intimate pieces are widely relatable. They depict women frustrated with the identities imposed on them, and their accounts of reclaiming control over their narratives are by turns distressing and inspiring. ALL THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY SING demands that we reexamine our own ingrained stories, and provides hope for a “rewritten” world.
~Amanda Penn for IndieReader