The Birth of Venus

I picked up this memoir mostly because it had a great title: Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter. How interesting to have the title be a request–or perhaps a demand! In addition, which daughter did she want to be? Aphrodite? Artemis?

The answer is Venus, the goddess of beauty, which threw me off a little because Venus is a Roman goddess and Zeus comes from the Greeks. But that’s besides the point. Barbara Robinette Moss’s story details her childhood growing up impoverished in Alabama. After I read the summary of it on Amazon, I remembered other memoirs I have read about women with harsh childhoods. Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out Of Carolina to name a few (both are exceptionally good books too!)

But even though this was a memoir with a somewhat similar setup to Walls and Allison, Moss’s is story is uniquely her own. In the first chapter (which won the Faulkner Prize by the way), her mother tastes the old beans and corn and the children patiently wait a few hours with her to see if they are bad (there had been pesticide near them). Her mother and six brothers and sisters are starving and their father, an abusive alcoholic, has left for a few months without sending money.

Moss’s struggle growing up comes from her parents who are unable to carry steady jobs along with her malnutrition, which is never handled. As a result, she suffers from very crooked teeth and having a face without a prominent jaw line. Some of her stories of falling ill come as a shock–it’s amazing she survived!

A large part of the story revolves around her relationship to her dad, who has tendencies to waken his children at 3 in the morning so he can scream and hit them, yet there are still moments where Moss appreciates her father. Even when things become very dire in their large household, there are wonderful moments of joy. While I general, I hated her father what he made the children suffer, I could see how Moss wanted to show thefood qualities of her father as well, in her attempts not to completely demonize him.

I’m terribly saddened that Moss passed away in October 2009 from lung cancer. When someone writes a memoir, he or she opens up in a way that makes every reader feel intimate with whoever is making the pen move. It’s heartbreaking to know such a talented artist passed away so young, but at least her artwork and writings are still alive to move us!

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