Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir
by Natasha Trethewey 
Read by Natasha Trethewey 
Published July 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers 

Publisher's Summary: At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. 

With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985. 

My Thoughts: I had read some reviews of this book before I listened to it. They invariably talked about the slow build of the book. That's not the experience I had. Trethewey opens with a dream she had of her mother that quite literally made me gasp and, for me, that feeling never entirely left me. 

Trethewey was born in Mississippi in 1966, the daughter of a black mother and a white, Canadian father. Being black in the south in that time was difficult enough as it was; being the child of a marriage which was still illegal in so many states. That marriage slowly fell apart. In 1972, Trethewey's mother married the man who would eventually terrorize and murder her. Trethewey writes achingly about what it was like to grow up in the segregated South and then with a man who tormented her and who she saw abuse her mother. Eventually her mother left her stepfather and even had him imprisoned for a time. It wasn't enough. 

In the second half of the book, there is a long passage that includes transcriptions of recorded phone calls between Trethewey's mother and stepfather. As matter-of-a-fact as they read, they are chilling and heartbreaking. I can't imagine having to listen to them as a young person who has lost her mother so tragically. I can't imagine losing my mother in any way as a 19-year-old, let alone so violently. It's hard for me now to separate my thoughts about this book as I listened to it from the feelings I have about it in light of my own mother's passing. It's easier for me to understand now why it took Trethewey decades to come to terms with the loss of her mother. I don't know how to live my life without my mother, but I had her for sixty years, she was there for me through the biggest events of my life, to show me how to navigate life in all stages. Trethewey had none of that; she was younger than my daughter when she lost her mother. 

As much as this book is a heartbreaking memoir, it is an indictment of the way we deal with mental health and domestic abuse in this country. Very little has changed in the thirty-five years since Trethewey's mother was murdered. How many more women have died in this way since then? How many more children have been left motherless? 

Source: checked out from my local library

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