“The things my mother did not see about herself, I did not see, either.”
This book was exactly what I’ve been looking for, and I didn’t realize this until I was done. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This is a memoir of mothers and daughters—and mothers as daughters—traced through four generations, from Paris to New York and back again.
We start out with an introduction to the growing relationship between mother and daughter. And I was swept away with memories.
“While other people joked bitterly about becoming their mothers, I longed to. I didn’t even understand how she had become herself.”
Though their relationship started out rocky, when Nadja Spiegelman suggest that she would like to write about her mother – about her coming of age – the boundaries between them fell, and fell suddenly.
“There was nothing I couldn’t ask. She answered me with a searching honesty rare even in the privacy of one’s own thoughts. She made time for me in her overcrowded life. We talked at our kitchen table, in her downstairs office, on the couch. We talked until early-morning light streamed through the skylight and the cars started honking again on Canal Street. We went away together, just the two of us, to a country cabin and talked for days. I graduated from college, I moved into my parents’ house, I moved out of my parents’ house, I took my first job and then my second. We talked for years.”
“One evening, she told me that there was no one else she could talk to this way. Not my father. Not her friends. By that point, she could reference any moment in her life with barely a hand gesture. I sometimes felt I knew her past so intimately that I could read her thoughts.
“But with you,” she said, “you’re so close. Like when you were a baby. I don’t . . . I can’t worry about how you’ll see me. You’re a part of me.”
I loved reading about their growing relationship.
I’ve been looking for the perfect mother-daughter book for months now – maybe even years – to really get me. And this was it. This was exactly what I was so desperate for.
There were just too many moments were I kept exclaiming, “YES, YES, YES, they understand.”
There was talk about feminism, the aftermaths of 9/11, close familial relationships, coming-of age, body image issues… and they all resonated with me.
Particularly the chapter about 9/11:
“The morning it happened, my parents had gone out to vote in the mayoral primary. They had just left our house; they were on our street. My mother saw a plane fly low overhead. She followed it with her eyes. She watched it leave a hole in the tower.
My mother counted the stories. The tower had been breached. The top might fall. She saw it in her mind’s eye, falling. She saw the radius around it, saw my school. My father had gone upstairs to check the news. My mother screamed his name in the street, wild with fear. Onlookers stared. She called his cell phone frantically until he came downstairs. She dragged him into the heart of the chaos that others were already fleeing. For nearly an hour, my parents searched the school building for me.
It is posed as a theoretical question, whether a mother would run into a burning building to save her child. It is not one that many people know the answer to.”
I think this was the first time I had read about someone being so near to the event.
I was so into their lives that I barely noticed time slip while flipping page after page… I think I found my new favorite genre: memoirs.
I was also absolutely pulled in whenever we were told more about Françoise’s life and her growing relationship with her daughter. I loved it because I always urge my mother to tell me details of her childhood and adolescence. I love discovering who my mother was as a little girl. It’s just too fascinating for me to not know.
This quote from Wild by Cheryl Strayed perfectly describes what I want to convey.
“All through my childhood and adolescence I’d asked and asked, making her describe those scenes and more, wanting to know who said what and how, what she’d felt inside while it was going on, where so-and-so stood and what time of day it was. ”
So when Nadja went sometimes years without knowing the continuation of a story, I was just… HOW ?? I always have to learn everything about an old memory.
And while reading I discovered that it’s always the things about family that I’m interested in. Reading about everything that went on in her mother’s life was really jarring. She went through so much shit, and it actually hurt me to see her hurt. It’s like everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, before arriving in America.
But through every event that was told so vividly, I learned a new kind of awe for mothers.
“Come here,” she said and pulled me into her arms. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry. My poor girl.”
“Why?” I said miserably. “Why should you be sorry?”
“Because,” she said, “I’m your mother. I’m supposed to protect you from all this.”
Determined to fully get to know her mother’s life story, Nadja decides to move to France for the next year and interview her mother’s mother. She wants to understand Josée more thoroughly to comprehend her family history.
Her grandmother’s memories contradicted her mother’s at nearly every turn, but beneath them lay a difficult history of her own.
“My mother had told me once that her life felt like literature to her. It was filled with resonances and symbolism. I had always felt similarly, and I wondered now if everyone did. The acts of omission and inclusion we made in our memories were creative acts, through which we authored our lives. ”
But the one thing I loved most was reading about Nadja discussing the supernatural with Josée.
“She told me about her past lives. She’d been a man in many of them, which, she said, explained a lot. In one, she had been stabbed in the back with a pitchfork by her cheating wife. She had bled out over three days in a cow’s trough, which was why she’d always hated hay. In one, Mélanie had been her sister, and this explained the affinity they had always had.”
“And she told me that she often felt Mina close by.
“I keep telling her to go up,” Josée said. “Go up, Maman, go up go up go up! Go do something else! Because there are many things you can do after you die, you know, you don’t have to stay here. You can be reincarnated. But she won’t go. It does make me happy, though, having her near. Every time I hear the squeal of brakes behind me, or I almost trip and catch myself, I say ‘Merci, Maman!’”
Like I said in previous reviews, this kind of stuff is my Achilles’ heel.
Also, after everything that happened I couldn’t stop thinking about how truly incredible Nadja’s mother is.
“I felt, as I often felt, the violence of my project. What right did I have to reach so deep into her past? I had asked my friends, women between twenty and thirty, if they had asked their mothers to tell them their lives in this way. Most said no. Most said they weren’t sure they’d want to know.”
I was extremely glad when Nadja decided to finish her project. And as I previously mentioned in my review, I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This was exactly my kind of family story. It was jarring, ravishing and felt like home inside my heart.
And I knew it became a favorite of mine when I decided to read even the acknowledgments just to prolong my time with this book. I actually felt homesick when I finished it.