Greetings from Brno, in the Czech Republic. We had quite a drive from quaint Cesky Krumlov to this eastern city about which I’ve been curious for some time. Our hotel, which is very highly rated in reviews, is located outside of the city center. It’s quite modern and comfortable, but surrounded by many apartment buildings. The hotel itself shares space with a gym/spa and an ophthalmologist’s office, but there is a Vinotek nearby. I look forward to seeing the city and doing some exploring over the next few days. We’ll be here until Sunday.
I just finished reading Rachel Louise Snyder’s book, Women We Buried, Women We Burned: A Memoir, which was published on May 23 of this year. I had not heard of Snyder before I downloaded her book. It was a suggested sell by Amazon, when I bought another book in August. I thought it looked like an interesting read, so I bought it without knowing much about it. And now that I’ve read it, I have to join in the chorus of overwhelmingly positive reviews Snyder has received for her incredible life story. I related to it on so many levels, and yet a lot of other details of her story left me completely shocked and amazed. More than once, I said “Wow” out loud. I am glad to be finished reading it, because I’ve been dying to write a review.
On to my thoughts…
Rachel Louise Snyder, the author of Women We Buried, Women We Burned, lost her mother to breast cancer when she was just eight years old. Her mother was just 30 years old when she was diagnosed with her illness, and she was dead just a few years later. Rachel and her brother, David, came home from school one day to find an ambulance parked at her house in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t unusual for Rachel to see an ambulance at the house, given how sick her mother had been for most of her young life. But usually, the ambulances had the lights going as they picked up her mom to take her to the hospital. This time, the lights weren’t on, and there was no sense of urgency. Rachel’s mother, Gail, had died.
Rachel’s dad, who was raised Christian, but had converted to Judaism to marry Gail, soon started dating again. Rachel and David also had some babysitters who took care of them when their father was working. Their father’s first girlfriends were pretty normal people who introduced Rachel to rock music and makeup. Unfortunately, no one came along early enough to help Rachel when it was time for her first training bra; that was left up to a hapless clerk at Kmart (dear God!).
After some time passed, Rachel’s dad met and married a fundamentalist Christian woman named Barb who lived in Illinois. The house in Pittsburgh was sold, and Gail’s furniture was brought to Illinois, where Barb arranged it in a rental house. Rachel was told that she must call Barb “Mom” and think of Barb’s son and daughter as her siblings. She was told she was now a Christian, and she and David were sent to Faith Center Christian Academy, a school run by their Aunt Janet and Uncle Jim. Kids in that school wore uniforms and learned silently, using Personal Accelerated Christian Education (PACE) booklets. Rachel struggled to learn this way, especially when it came to math and science.
When the Christian school closed after her eighth grade year, Rachel and David went to the local high school, where Rachel continued to struggle to succeed. Rachel’s dad became extremely rules focused, and he employed corporal punishment to get compliance from his children. He even used Rachel’s mother’s sorority paddle from college to deliver the punishments until one day, the paddle broke. Rachel became rebellious and apathetic about school. She used drugs and ran around with guys. One day, her father presented her and David, as well as Barb’s children, with suitcases. He told them to pack up and leave, even though Rachel and David were still minors.
Pretty soon, Rachel was trying to survive on minimum wage jobs. That was one thing Rachel had going for her… a very strong work ethic and the ability to learn quickly. She soon found herself in the company of a kind young man who told her she needed to go to college. That was when Rachel’s life began to turn around, and she went on an incredible journey that took her all the way around the world and to a professorship at American University (my husband’s, and my sister’s, alma mater… 😉 ). She teaches journalism and creative writing there.
Rachel’s story is long and a bit convoluted, but incredible…
There were so many times when I was reading this book that I was left shocked and amazed. I could relate to it on many levels. I didn’t have an upbringing as difficult as Rachel’s was. My mom is still alive, and neither of my parents were fundies. I was never kicked out of their house. I did okay in school, too. But we definitely had our problems. My issues were more with my dad than my mom. He always seemed to be ashamed of me, and he was a big fan of corporal punishment. Dad was also an alcoholic, and he took out a lot of his frustrations and problems on me. So, when Rachel wrote about how her dad treated her, I related.
I also related when Rachel found her way into the expat lifestyle. She found her way by starting with the Semester at Sea program through her college. It sparked a hunger to see and experience the world, which she did. She became a citizen of the world, even choosing to have her daughter in Thailand instead of the United States, the only country where her international health insurance policy would not work due to the high costs of medical care there!
But I think what was really profound for me was when it dawned on Rachel that she wasn’t responsible for the bad decisions her father and stepmother made when she was still a child! When Rachel became a mother, she realized that she didn’t want her daughter to be burdened by guilt the way she had been, asked to forget about her mother, adapt to a new religion in a new state, and finally, when she couldn’t conform, kicked out of the family home and mostly forced to fend for herself. To her credit, Rachel did maintain a distant relationship with her family. Barb’s older children and Rachel’s brother didn’t. There were two more sons with Barb and Rachel’s dad, and they also maintained relations, even though they all struggled through the legalistic approach their father took toward parenting.
Rachel’s father was also one to believe in right wing conspiracy theories, which made things much worse. Toward the end of Barb’s life, Rachel’s dad had lost a lot of money in get rich quick schemes, and his house went into foreclosure. When Barb got sick with cancer, he consulted quacks to help her. It’s a testament to Rachel’s decent– Christlike– demeanor that she found it in her heart to help them, in spite of everything.
I guess if I have to offer a criticism of this book, it’s that it’s pretty long, and Rachel’s story is incredible on many levels. I almost felt like it could have been two books. She went through several phases in her life that she explains in detail, and they take time, energy, and fortitude to read. I almost feel like some of it could have been edited out or slimmed down a bit. And yet, when I look at Rachel’s life as a whole, I’m amazed by it. I am similarly amazed by my own life, and how it’s turned out. In some ways, I feel a kindred spirit with Rachel, although she’s done better as a writer than I have. 😉
Anyway, if you have the inclination and the time to read Rachel Louise Snyder’s book, Women We Buried, Women We Burned, I would highly recommend it. It surprised me, in a good way, on so many levels. I’m impressed by her grit and gumption. She clawed her way into what could have been a very mediocre and troubled lifestyle. I applaud her for managing that, and for writing this book.
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