We’re kick-starting 2018 with a stand-out memoir from Nadja Spiegleman. You may not know who Nadja is yet, but you likely will have heard of her father, Art, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus (Pantheon, 1991). You may have heard of her mother too; Francoise Mouly is the art director at the New Yorker. In I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This, published by Text, Nadja weaves an intense and poignant family history that explores the difficult relationship she has with her mother, and what it feels like to grow up with such a severe family history (Maus recalls her paternal Grandfather’s experience of the Holocaust).
Nadja remembers her driven, high-powered French mother as being fiercely loving when she and her brother were small children. But by the time Nadja grew older, Mouly became explosively angry and their relationship grew increasingly tense. Eager to understand, and to find out more about Mouly’s background, Nadja interviews her mother – a project Mouly took to with surprising enthusiasm. Through these interviews, we find out about Mouly’s strained relationship with her own mother, and see how each generation reshapes the past and passes along inherited trauma to the next.
The narrative is engaging and universally relatable in that it blurs the boundary between truth and memory. Through different retellings of events by different family members, we see how memory is an unreliable narrator when it comes to recording the past. In terms of her own life, Nadja writes with searing clarity about body shaming (namely that her mother put her through), sexual abuse and self-harm. And then she writes about charming childhood memories, such as a lemon cake her mother made. Nadja writes beautifully and her voice is hopeful and intelligent; we can sense how the past has shaped her as both a person and a writer.
When I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This was first released in late 2016 it pulled in excellent praise:
“Spiegelman braids the past with the present… At the core of these culled recollections is less a tally of pain and grievances than a testament to survival.” – The Guardian
“Nadja Spiegelman has written a richly detailed memoir about the contradictory life narratives that connect and divide four generations of women on her mother’s side.” – New York Times
“Passionate, penetrating… Spiegelman nimbly interrogates the workings of memory itself – its shifting shape and unreliability, its fictional character.” – Siri Hustvedt
“Spiegelman’s narrative complicates, blurs, and questions the line between the self and the other – that basic fault-line of all autobiographical writing – as perhaps only a story about mothers can.” – Elif Batuman
Readers will approach I’m Supposed to Protect You as a candid exploration of mother/daughter relationships, a topic often written about but rarely with as much verve and clarity. The book is also a timely look at the pressures that have been put upon women over the generations. It’s a dazzling, unforgettable work that deserves all the praise it is expected to pull in when published in paperback on 25 January.
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This is published on 25 January by Text Publishing Company (9781911231110, £9.99, Paperback)