I have no siblings. I have been told, at various times, how lucky I am. Brothers are bullies. Sisters are snots. There’s forced sharing. I’m sure these things are true at some points. My response has always been, “I would have liked a sibling.” I don’t understand the relationships siblings have, which makes me sad. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a house with other children, experiencing most of the same things they do. This ignorance is what drew me to About My Sisters, a memoir about growing up with three younger sisters (and a younger brother). I really enjoyed the opportunity to look inside a family that I would consider large and take a glimpse at the inner workings thereof.
Debra Ginsberg, the author, is the eldest of her siblings. She was already an established author at this point, having written a book about her experiences as a waitress and a book about raising her son. She’s structured this book to follow the family through a year — February 2002 to January 2003. Each month has some sort of event going on or an important interaction between Debra and one of her sisters. I think the clever part of this way of telling her family’s story is that she takes the present-day interactions and then takes us back to an earlier time to explore a previous time when things were the same, or the opposite, or set her family up for today to happen the way it happened. I really liked this.
Ginsberg explores her relationship with Maya, a sister about two years younger and with whom she’s lived for most of her adult life, first. Maya is the person who made her feel complete when they were little, and still fills that role today.
Lavander, her nine-years-younger sister, is the one who pushes her buttons. Lavander is moody and temperamental, much more so than the other women, and she seems to have a knack for causing drama. Ginsberg and Lavander have the most troubled relationship out of all the sisters, and this brings out more negatively-toned introspection from Ginsberg than does her relationships with her two other sisters.
Déja, the youngest of the Ginsberg sisters, is sixteen years younger than Ginsberg herself. She’s still quite young, and has been treated more softly than the other children. It shows in her personality, which is also soft — to a point. This is the sister Ginsberg treated as if she were her own daughter, and the changing dynamic of their relationship is interesting to read about.
I have three small issues with About My Sisters. The first one is that Ginsberg is sometimes too self-reflective; her penchant toward examination is what makes the book good and valuable, but occasionally she bends delves too far into her own motivations and comes across as a bit self-centered, which I don’t think is a true depiction of her.
My second issue is the dialog. I realize that Ginsberg had to recreate what people said after the fact, which must have been difficult. Most of the time she does a fair job. There are some lines, however, that feel a little artificial. That may just be my inexperience with brothers and sisters, but I think someone with siblings would also find it a bit stilted at times.
My last issue is truly trivial. Ginsberg and her family are apparently into astrology and the like. She talks about it in the first chapter, then dumps it for the rest of the book. It’s almost as if she mentions her interest in the occult in order to shed people she thinks wouldn’t be sympathetic to her family’s story and her experience as the eldest sister in a big family, which is sad. I really liked what she had to say. I just also really dislike astrology and tend to have a negative view of those who believe in them.
Sisters are, and will always be, an unknown element to me. I think, though, that reading About My Sisters gave me more insight — some knowledge that I might be able to use if I have more than one child myself.