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I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This: A Memoir


I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This: A Memoir

I’M SUPPOSED TO PROTECT YOU FROM ALL THIS by Nadja Spiegelman is not merely a memoir, but a braided narrative about a love that spans generations, that love existing between mothers and their daughters. The story speaks of fractured relationships, and how oftentimes healing the past means confronting those you love the most and listening to their stories with the risk of being burned.

At the onset of the narrative, we are introduced to Nadja's parents: her father, Art Spiegelman, is the mastermind behind the graphic novel MAUS, and her mother, Françoise Mouly, is the art editor for The New Yorker and founder of TOON Books. In the face of her parents’ accomplishments, we readers hope that Nadja’s work can stand on its own --- and it does. Her story and the words that give us access to it are vividly poetic. The book is a work of art, its overall theme expressing that individuals can be the authors of their own lives, and how loving your mother doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree with her version of events or the way she treated you.

Nadja’s own mother is the star of this breakout memoir, even if she is not the narrator. Through Nadja’s words, we are brought to Paris during Françoise’s youth, learning that her parents had wanted a boy, and thus had dressed her like one. Her father was new money, a plastic surgeon and quite the Casanova. Both had affairs, the extent of their deceit running deep.

"I’M SUPPOSED TO PROTECT YOU FROM ALL THIS is a memoir so well told that we are left wondering if we hadn’t lived it in the first place."

At a young age, Françoise delves into an all-consuming relationship. She is pressured into having an abortion by her father, Paul, who feels that her boyfriend is unworthy. Paul is also the man who had asked Françoise to sleep next to him while he lay naked, and the man who had touched Nadja in places meant to be private.

The narrative speaks about breaking free and finding yourself, which Françoise did, in New York City. We readers are given front row seats, allowing us to witness this young woman’s fortitude. Françoise finds herself in the YMCA downtown. Hardly knowing how to put a sentence together in English, she does not leave until given a place to sleep, even if it means being locked inside of a room so that no boys can see her.

Nadja explains her mother’s tribulations with authenticity and beautiful prose. She is a wonderful narrator, giving us details concerning her own life that are interwoven with her mother’s, and later her grandmother’s, twisting the story in unexpected but also fulfilling ways for the reader. Sometimes it is difficult to define when one narrative ends and the other begins, similar to the memories of these women, making their connection all the more powerful.

Françoise is raped after returning to Paris, by an older man whom she knows. She later tells her daughter that women should not become consumed with being victims. She was able to survive by maintaining control of her life. In the narrative, Françoise expresses that her own mother, Josée, had been conceived by rape, a fact that her mother does not know. This is a turning point in the story, as we uncover a common thread. Many of the women in Nadja’s memoir have been abused, whether physically or emotionally, and had survived. They are survivors.

It is uncovered that Françoise swallowed sleeping pills as a young woman. Had it not been for Josée hearing the sound of her daughter’s soul reaching out during the day, she may not have been saved. Josée, the woman with whom Nadja eventually grows close and moves to Paris for --- maybe to write a memoir, but also to better understand her family and place the pieces of its fragmented history together --- becomes a central character towards the end of the book. Through her stories, we understand how memories can vastly change between mother and daughter, these different experiences straining relationships.

In the end, it is revealed that Josée had possibly pushed Françoise and her boyfriend together to hide her own affair with the young man’s father, her daughter’s abortion being a distractor. Françoise cries on Nadja’s shoulder because of the revelation, bringing them closer. Through facing heartbreak, these women grow stronger, knowing that they can handle anything. Still, the following day, Françoise attends to her mother, knowing that love triumphs over ideas of what a mother is supposed to be based on society's standards that not even society lives by.

I’M SUPPOSED TO PROTECT YOU FROM ALL THIS is a memoir so well told that we are left wondering if we hadn’t lived it in the first place. Readers might complete the book, hoping that one day they can have such intimate conversations with their own mothers, uncovering the mysteries that shaped her, helping them better understand these complicated familial relationships and the way they influence us, for better or worse. In the case of Nadja Spiegelman’s book, we are left feeling that, for these women, it is for the best.

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on August 18, 2016

I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This: A Memoir
by Nadja Spiegelman

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0399573070
  • ISBN-13: 9780399573071