OUR BABIES, OURSELVES

HOW BIOLOGY AND CULTURE SHAPE THE WAY WE PARENT

A look at the not-so-new idea that how babies eat, sleep, and cry is determined by the culture into which they are born—including a subtext that the ever-evolving parenting mode in the US may still not be all that baby-friendly. Small (Anthropology/Cornell; What’s Love Got to Do With It?, 1995) is an expert on primate behavior and a convert to the infant science of ethnopediatrics, which brings together medical, developmental, and social science researchers to study babies not as unformed adults but as beings in their own right. To start off, Small reviews the evolutionary data, exploring why human infants have such a long period of dependency and how the intimate bond is created that primes adults to nurture their offspring over such a long period. The child-rearing practices of the African !Kung San and Gusii and the South American Ache groups, modern Japanese, and contemporary Americans are compared. The range is wide—the San mothers, for instance, are inseparable from their babies, carrying and nursing them “on demand” until they are four or five years old. Americans separate from their babies immediately, installing them in a separate bed or room, even before mother and child leave the hospital. These varied styles reflect the varied goals of the adult culture, the San emphasizing cooperation, the US individuality. Chapters are also devoted to crying, breast feeding, and sleep—including speculation that babies who sleep with a parent may be less at risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Small clearly approves frequent, if not continuous, bodily contact between child and parent, but emphasizes that successful parenting is a series of trade-offs. What works in one culture may fail in another. No breakthrough research here, but neatly packaged information that elicits new respect for babies and their ability to survive and thrive, whether in the Kalahari or in Chicago.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-48257-4

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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