A Filipino-American writer’s debut memoir about how she overcame a personal history fraught with racism, sexual trauma, mental illness, and cancer.
When Talusan (English/Tufts Univ.) and her student-parents moved from Manila to Chicago in the mid-1970s, they never dreamed they would eventually settle in Boston and live a traditional version of the American dream. Her father, Totoy, went on to enjoy a successful medical career, and the family joined the middle class; however, success was both fragile and costly. When Totoy’s student visa expired, the family lived for almost a decade in the shadow of possible deportation. In school, teachers mistook Talusan for Chinese and misrepresented her Filipino heritage. Yet the author thrived, both in the classroom and at home. Then a pedophilic paternal grandfather, whom the author later learned had done “monstrous things to three generations of his family,” began to live on and off with the family. Sexually abused from ages 7 to 13, the author suffered severe trauma that manifested in mysterious skin ailments and, later, insomnia, night terrors, nightmares, dissociation, and suicidal depression. Despite the learning difficulties her inner turmoil caused, she still managed to graduate from Tufts University. During college, Talusan learned that three maternal aunts had been diagnosed with breast cancer while another had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When she reached her mid-30s and was considering starting a family of her own with a husband she adored, the author voluntarily chose to have a double mastectomy. Later on, she opted for an oophorectomy that ended her dreams of motherhood. A return to the Philippines followed. Once in Manila, the author began a new quest to recover those lost parts of herself that had haunted her “like the insistent ache of a phantom limb.” Moving and eloquent, Talusan’s book is a testament not only to one woman’s fierce will to live, but also to the healing power of speaking the unspeakable.
A candidly courageous memoir.