A self-critical and heartfelt narrative of the author’s life in China and India and the impoverished women she employed as her nannies and servants.
For the majority of the wealthy, white, privileged women who employ these women, “help is affordable, help is cheap,” and learning further personal details about their servants and nannies seems to be an unnecessary headache. However, former Los Angeles Times reporter Stack (Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War, 2010), a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, has sought to sincerely empathize with and find similarities in their lives and her own life through an investigation of what she terms “women’s work.” The author divides her eye-opening book into three parts. In the first part, she thoroughly engages readers with the story of the birth of her first child, in China. These chapters are beautifully written, informative, and sometimes harrowing as she recounts the joy, fear, and exhaustion of becoming a mother. Her chronicle of how she found her way out of depression offers wisdom that new mothers will find supportive and enlightening. Throughout the book, Stack writes compassionately about her encounters with her nannies, Xiao Li (China), Pooja, and Mary (both from India), as well as her struggle with a “postmodern feminist breakdown.” The author demonstrates how her concepts of gender equality and sisterly connections ran head-on into her need to run her home and control her time. In the second part of the narrative, she relates her time in India and her second pregnancy. By that time, she had found it easier to relegate some household authority to her husband. In the final section, Stack discusses her decision to write about the women who worked for her and provides moving details of her relationships with them.
What women—and men—can learn from Stack’s story is that “women’s work,” in all of its complexity and construction, should not be only for women.