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In the Country of Women: A Memoir

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A singular and deeply personal memoir told through the tapestry of three generations of women in one sprawling, multiracial, multiethnic, extended family. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts and nieces tackle head-on the searing realities of gender, race and class oppressions, but emerge in their stories as heroines, each of an often-perilous odyssey. It is a book animated by its gorgeous prose and an encompassing and generous love.

One of NPR's Best Books of the Year

“Straight’s memoir is a lyric social history of her multiracial clan in Riverside that explores the bonds of love and survival that bind them, with a particular emphasis on the women’s stories . . . The aftereffect of all these disparate stories juxtaposed in a single epic is remarkable. Its resonance lingers for days after reading.” —San Francisco Chronicle

In the Country of Women is a valuable social history and a personal narrative that reads like a love song to America and indomitable women. In inland Southern California, near the desert and the Mexican border, Susan Straight, a self–proclaimed book nerd, and Dwayne Sims, an African American basketball player, started dating in high school. After college, they married and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Straight met her teacher and mentor, James Baldwin, who encouraged her to write. Once back in Riverside, at driveway barbecues and fish fries with the large, close–knit Sims family, Straight—and eventually her three daughters—heard for decades the stories of Dwayne’s female ancestors. Some women escaped violence in post–slavery Tennessee, some escaped murder in Jim Crow Mississippi, and some fled abusive men. Straight’s mother–in–law, Alberta Sims, is the descendant at the heart of this memoir. Susan’s family, too, reflects the hardship and resilience of women pushing onward—from Switzerland, Canada, and the Colorado Rockies to California.

A Pakistani word, biraderi, is one Straight uses to define a complex system of kinship and clan—those who become your family. An entire community helped raise her daughters. Of her three girls, now grown and working in museums and the entertainment industry, Straight writes, “The daughters of our ancestors carry in their blood at least three continents. We are not about borders. We are about love and survival.”

“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.” ––Los Angeles Times

ISBN-13: 9781948226226

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Catapult

Publication Date: 08-06-2019

Pages: 384

Product Dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

SUSAN STRAIGHT has published eight novels, including Highwire Moon, Between Heaven and Here, and A Million Nightingales. She has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the National Magazine Award. She is the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edgar Award for Best Short Story, the O. Henry Prize, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her stories and essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Granta, McSweeney’s, Black Clock, Harper’s, and other journals. Her work has been translated into Spanish, German, French, Arabic, Turkish, Japanese, Romanian, Swedish, and Russian. She is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. She was born in Riverside, where she lives with her family.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Homerica 3

Part I

1 Little House in the Thistles Glen Avon, California, 1963 19

2 The First Bullet Fine, Near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 1876 35

3 The Dance Ruby Triboulet, Colorado Prairie, 1921 43

4 The Country Squire Riverside, California, 1973 54

5 Nurse-in-Charge Rosa Leu, Aeschlen, Switzerland, 1944 71

6 Hey Now Riverside, California, March 1974 80

7 Olympia-One Can Could Get You Pregnant, Riverside, California, June 1974 83

8 Daisy Belle Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1915 90

9 Driveway #1-The First Love Letter Riverside, California, May 1976 101

Part II

10 Castas 111

11 Mulato Riverside and Los Angeles, California, 1979 114

12 The Second Bullet Jennie Stevenson, Outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, Early 1900s 127

13 Fruitful 131

14 The Toast, Riverside, California, 1983 137

15 Fruitful #2 Riverside, California, 1989 152

Part III

16 Run the World Riverside, California, 1989 163

17 Wild Things Riverside, California, 1995 174

18 Pig Rubidoux and Riverside, California, 1997 (South Carolina, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia) 177

19 The Santa Ana River 185

20 A Secondhand Lonely Riverside, California, 1998 187

21 Dew Point-A Pack of Four Riverside, California, Endless 190

22 Love Strands Riverside, California, 2000 203

23 Crosses and Missions California, 1998, 2000, 2004 211

24 Coach-Driveway #2 Riverside, California, 2004 217

25 The Batmobile Riverside, California, 2005 224

26 The Yard Couch Riverside, California, 2008 229

27 Grizzly Riverside, California (Tulsa, Oklahoma; Fraser, Colorado) 236

28 Nine 240

29 Al Green-Driveway #1, The Second Love Letter Riverside, California 248

30 Travels with My Ex in the Time of Revenue Orange County, California, 2009 253

Part IV

31 Switzerland, Loveland, Cuddyland Always, January 12, 1950, Always 269

32 Bring Me Your Smartest Girl Riverside, California, 2008; Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1925 283

33 Kin-White House #1 Los Angeles, California, 2009 (Tulsa, Oklahoma; Riverside, California) 290

34 A Place of Style and Refuge-White House #2 Riverside, California, December 2011 300

35 Letter to My Nephew-Our Dungeon Shook (After James Baldwin) Riverside, California, 2012 311

36 American Human Not Interested 322

37 Braid/Züpfe Los Angeles, California, 2017 325

38 Ancestry Riverside and Santa Barbara, California; Ibadan, Nigeria, 2018 333

39 Saphina Tennessee, 1870 347

40 The Work of Women-Evaporation and Memory, White House #3 Riverside, California, 2018 351

Acknowledgments 361