Our Mother's Stories

A selection of memoirs featuring mother/child relationships.

In honor of Mother's Day next month, I've highlighted a sampling of mother memoirs.  Told from the point of view of birth mothers and adopted mothers, sons and daughters, these books capture mother/child relationships in all their complexity.    All book summaries are from the publisher's descriptions.

Are You My Mothe?     My Dear Boy     Tiger Babies Strike Backh     The Color of Love

Why be Normal When You Could Be Happy?     Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother     Paula     Across Many Mountains

The Color of Water     Some Assembly Required     The Lost Daughter     The Wealth of My Mother's Wisdom

Are you my mother? : a comic drama / Alison Bechdel  
Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf.  It's a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel's own (serially monogamous) adult love life. 

My dear boy : Carrie Hughes's letters to Langston Hughes, 1926-1938 / edited by Carmaletta M. Williams and John Edgar Tidwell 
The more than 120 heretofore unexamined letters presented here are a veritable treasure trove of insights into the relationship between mother Carrie and her renowned son, Langston.

Tiger babies strike back : how I was raised by a tiger mom but could not be turned to the dark side / Kim Wong Keltner  
An answer to Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, author Kim Wong Keltner's Tiger Babies Strike Back takes the control-freak beast by the tail with a humorous and honest look at the issues facing women today - Chinese American and otherwise. 

The color of love : a mother's choice in the Jim Crow South / Gene Cheek   
Through plain yet descriptive language seasoned with wry, biting adjectives, Cheek ably conveys the sights, sounds and feelings of his surroundings.   His musings are funny and hopeful, and Cheek shapes his childhood voice to suit stories of his tense relationship with his violent, alcoholic father; his mother's endless tolerance and denial; and his admiration for his maternal grandmother, who taught him to be "full of love, not hate." 

Why be happy when you could be normal? / Jeanette Winterson
This memoir is the story of how a painful past, which Winterston thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother.  It is also a book about other people's literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.

Message from an unknown Chinese mother : stories of loss and love / Xinran ; translated from Chinese by Nicky Harman      
Xinran has gained entrance into the most pained, secret chambers of the heart of Chinese mothers - students, successful businesswomen, midwives, peasants - who whether as a consequence of the single-child policy, destructive age-old traditions, or hideous economic necessity, have given up their daughters.

Paula / Isabel Allende ; translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden  
When Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious child.  In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, and the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers.

Across many mountains : a Tibetan family's epic journey from oppression to freedom / Yangzom Brauen ; translated by Katy Derbyshire  
A power, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao's Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy himalayas toward freedom.

The color of water : a Black man's tribute to his white mother / James McBride
The son of a black minister and a woman who would not admit she was white, James McBride grew up in "orchestrated chaos" with his eleven siblings in the poor, all-black projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn.  "Mommy," a fiercely protective woman with "dark eyes full of pep and fire," herded her brood to Manhattan's free cultural events, sent them off on buses to the best (and mainly Jewish) schools, demanded good grades, and commanded respect.  As a young man, McBride saw his mother as a source of embarrassment, worry, and confusion - and reached thirty before he began to discover the truth about her early life and long-buried pain.

Anne Lamott enters a new and unexpected chapter in her own life: grandmotherhood.  Stunned to learn that her son, Sam, is about to become a father at nineteen, Lamott begins a journal about the first year of her grandson's life.

The lost daughter / Mary Williams
As she grew up in 1970s California, role models for Mary Williams were few and far between; her father was often in prison, her older sister was a teenage prostitute, and her hot-tempered mother struggled to raise six children alone.  For all Mary knew, she was heading down a similar path.  But her life changed when she met Jane Fonda at summer camp in 1978.  Fonda grew attached to the bright girl and eventually invited her to become part of her family, becoming the mother Mary never knew she had.

The wealth of my mother's wisdom : the lessons that made my life rich / Terrence Jenkins
Inspirational, funny, current, and down-to-earth, this book offers advice for a new generation.  With stories, lessons, and advice from one of the top young names in Hollywood, along with input from some of his famous friends like Kevin Hart, Ludacris, T.J., Trey Songz, and Laz Alonso, Terrence J offers a positive, powerful message: with a strong family bond, the possibilities are endless.



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