A gritty memoir exploring gender politics and growing up mixed-race Chicana.
Gifted experimental writer Gurba (Painting Their Portraits in Winter, 2015, etc.) takes a hard look back at her adolescent and early college years in Southern California. A self-described “early-onset feminist,” the author is deeply invested in and intimately aware of the construction of identity. As she explores with wry humor the history of her attraction to women—“I grabbed a magazine and realized boobs were the best thing ever….I was eight but I knew what I wanted”—and how the unique blending of her mother’s Mexican heritage with her father’s Mexican-Polish roots framed her “Molack” (“Mexican” and “Polack”) worldview and influenced her studies at the University of California, she also tells the harrowing story of Sophia Castro Torres, another Chicana, whose fate was less kind. Early in the narrative, which unfolds in spare prose vignettes, Gurba writes, “guilt is a ghost,” and she admits that she is haunted by the memory of Sophia, a migrant worker who was raped and bludgeoned to death on a baseball diamond in Gurba’s hometown. The author not only feels compelled to bear witness to the horrific end of an innocent woman who supported herself picking strawberries and whose life was further erased by the media by being dubbed “a transient”; through the use of inverted chronology, she also slowly reveals her own struggles with PTSD—“the only mental illness you can give someone”—as a survivor of sexual assault by the same perpetrator who killed Sophia. Positioning herself as “the final girl,” the one in horror movies who “gets to live” but “understands that her job is to tell the story,” Gurba attempts to break down walls of indifference, whether through form or probing content.
With its icy wit, edgy wedding of lyricism and prose, and unflinching look at personal and public demons, Gurba’s introspective memoir is brave and significant.