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Ma and Me

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The memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the love and life debt she owes her mother. When Putsata Reang was 11 months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending 23 days on an overcrowded navy vessel before finding sanctuary at an American naval base in the Philippines. Holding what appeared to be a lifeless baby in her arms, Ma resisted The memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the love and life debt she owes her mother. When Putsata Reang was 11 months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending 23 days on an overcrowded navy vessel before finding sanctuary at an American naval base in the Philippines. Holding what appeared to be a lifeless baby in her arms, Ma resisted the captain's orders to throw her bundle overboard. Instead, on landing, Ma rushed her baby into the arms of American military nurses and doctors, who saved the child's life. "I had hope, just a little, you were still alive," Ma would tell Put in an oft-repeated story that became family legend. Over the years, Put lived to please Ma and make her proud, hustling to repay her life debt by becoming the consummate good Cambodian daughter, working steadfastly by Ma's side in the berry fields each summer and eventually building a successful career as an award-winning journalist. But Put's adoration and efforts are no match for Ma's expectations. When she comes out to Ma in her twenties, it's just a phase. When she fails to bring home a Khmer boyfriend, it's because she's not trying hard enough. When, at the age of forty, Put tells Ma she is finally getting married--to a woman--it breaks their bond in two. In her startling memoir, Reang explores the long legacy of inherited trauma and the crushing weight of cultural and filial duty. With rare clarity and lyric wisdom, Ma and Me is a stunning, deeply moving memoir about love, debt, and duty.


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The memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the love and life debt she owes her mother. When Putsata Reang was 11 months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending 23 days on an overcrowded navy vessel before finding sanctuary at an American naval base in the Philippines. Holding what appeared to be a lifeless baby in her arms, Ma resisted The memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the love and life debt she owes her mother. When Putsata Reang was 11 months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending 23 days on an overcrowded navy vessel before finding sanctuary at an American naval base in the Philippines. Holding what appeared to be a lifeless baby in her arms, Ma resisted the captain's orders to throw her bundle overboard. Instead, on landing, Ma rushed her baby into the arms of American military nurses and doctors, who saved the child's life. "I had hope, just a little, you were still alive," Ma would tell Put in an oft-repeated story that became family legend. Over the years, Put lived to please Ma and make her proud, hustling to repay her life debt by becoming the consummate good Cambodian daughter, working steadfastly by Ma's side in the berry fields each summer and eventually building a successful career as an award-winning journalist. But Put's adoration and efforts are no match for Ma's expectations. When she comes out to Ma in her twenties, it's just a phase. When she fails to bring home a Khmer boyfriend, it's because she's not trying hard enough. When, at the age of forty, Put tells Ma she is finally getting married--to a woman--it breaks their bond in two. In her startling memoir, Reang explores the long legacy of inherited trauma and the crushing weight of cultural and filial duty. With rare clarity and lyric wisdom, Ma and Me is a stunning, deeply moving memoir about love, debt, and duty.

30 review for Ma and Me

  1. 5 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    A fascinating, moving, and beautifully written memoir. Putsata Reang writes with compassion and nuance about her complicated relationship with her mother. Her family escaped Cambodia as the civil war came to a head in the 1970s, leaving just before the genocide began in full force. Put was only a year old and as their family drifted on a ship throughout Asia trying to find a place that would take them and others as refugees, baby Put appeared lifeless and barely ate for three weeks. The ship's ca A fascinating, moving, and beautifully written memoir. Putsata Reang writes with compassion and nuance about her complicated relationship with her mother. Her family escaped Cambodia as the civil war came to a head in the 1970s, leaving just before the genocide began in full force. Put was only a year old and as their family drifted on a ship throughout Asia trying to find a place that would take them and others as refugees, baby Put appeared lifeless and barely ate for three weeks. The ship's captain suggested her mother throw her overboard so as not to contaminate the overcrowded boat. Her mother, known as Ma throughout the memoir (pronounced in Khmer "Mak"), of course refused and managed to get Put medical care in the Philippines. She saved her baby's life. Put carries this debt with her her entire life; on top of the already heavy burden as a child of refugees who arrived in the US with nothing, not even knowing any English. She works hard for the first forty years of her life as a journalist in the US and abroad. She lives for a long time in her home country of Cambodia, making her mother proud by becoming fluent in Khmer again and embracing her Cambodian identity. But she can never be the perfect Cambodian daughter she wants to be: she's gay. As I said at the beginning, Reang brings so much compassion and nuance to telling her mother's and then her own story. Her mother grew up steeped in a sexist and homophobic culture that hurt her a lot too (notably, in an arranged marriage she did not agree to and which crushed her dreams of continuing her education and career). Severed from her home, Ma clings to traditional Khmer values and feels she has failed as a parent for having a gay kid. Reang holds space for the circumstances and feelings of her mother, while also honouring her own of anger, guilt, shame, defiance, and right to happiness. Apart from the fascinating story of her family's life leaving Cambodia and establishing themselves in rural Oregon, Put's life as a journalist who lived and worked around the world, including Cambodia, Thailand, and Afghanistan during the war in 2005 is equally fascinating. The interior journey of self actualization and discovery she goes on while she attenpts to run away from herself is also just as compelling. I will say I was eager for a bit more discussion about her identity and how she's using the word gay. I was a bit confused as to why she only used this label to describe herself (looking back on her childhood up to her adulthood). She writes a few times about meaningful relationships with men she had as an adult and at one point writes "Like me, [April] wasn't hung up on the gender of who she was involved with. She fell in love with the person." I couldn't help but think, the word that describes that is bisexual or pansexual not gay! Obviously people get to choose their own labels and I want to honour that. But also biphobia is real and it impacts what labels and identities people think are available to them and which are acceptable. I know Reang is bringing the same kind of nuance to her identity as she's applying to her mom and their relationship, I guess I just wanted a more explicit investigation. Some examples of the great writing are below! Reang's prose is sparse but powerful. The image of her mother casting her overboard as an adult for being gay made me cry. "To go to the country of your birth on these terms puts joy so adjacent to sadness that they mute each other's edge." "When you live in one country but belong to another, your feet fall hesitantly upon the earth." "You really came here (Afghanistan in 2005) to hide, letting a real war distract from the one raging inside you. You don't yet know how terrible an idea this is. You learn." "When you cannot wrap your daughter in the finest silks, you wrap her in your most elaborate stories." "Forty years after saving me, the hope we both clung to capsized. Ma had cast me overboard."

  2. 5 out of 5

    jenny✨

    heartachingly composed, with uncomplicated yet gorgeous prose, this is a memoir i will be thinking about for a long time to come. i already want to reread this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Pia Uhlenberg

    Ma and Me is a stunning memoir that wrestles with the question of what we owe the people that gave us life. Putsata Reang is barely one year old when her family has to flee Cambodia for America. She only survives the perilous journey because of the hope and determination of her mother who she in turn feels indebted to. It is this sense of filial duty to please her mother, to be a good Cambodian daughter, while exploring the opportunities she has in America that causes a rift between them from th Ma and Me is a stunning memoir that wrestles with the question of what we owe the people that gave us life. Putsata Reang is barely one year old when her family has to flee Cambodia for America. She only survives the perilous journey because of the hope and determination of her mother who she in turn feels indebted to. It is this sense of filial duty to please her mother, to be a good Cambodian daughter, while exploring the opportunities she has in America that causes a rift between them from the moment Putsata comes out as gay, something that her mother cannot accept. “I would realize that the day a Khmer girl is born is the day she comes into debt, purely by the fact of her existence. That she owes her parents for bringing her into the world, for raising her, and that the only way she can settle the score, or sang khun, is by getting married, when the authority over her is transferred from her parents to her husband”. As much as Ma and Me is a memoir about forging your own path and the rift that that can cause, it is also an exploration of the trauma of war and how its horrors can trickle down several generations. Putsata often seeks opportunities to travel to Cambodia, and later works there as a journalist to reconcile her family’s past and present: “I needed to figure out what part of the guilt that comes with being an immigrant and a survivor belonged to me, and what belonged to my parents.” Ma and Me may be a memoir of one person, chronicling one experience, but it asks universal questions about how we are shaped by our parents' past, and how difficult it can be to stay true to yourself even when it means disappointing the people you love. Hands down one of the best memoirs I have read this year and I am hoping that this gets all the buzz it deserves in 2022. Thank you to Netgalley and FSG for the ARC in exchange for my honest review. I’m very grateful to Putsata for sharing her story and I’m excited for everyone to get their hands on this memoir soon.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Schulman

    At a time when there are more refugees than ever in history, and borders are places of violence and cruelty, two essential stories of our time converge in Ma and Me: Americanization's multi-generational costs, and the way this converges with lesbian life. Putsata Reang expands both literatures with this open-hearted memoir that grapples emotionally and historically with the profound consequences of displacement on future lives and relationships. A book that opens the door to include queer descen At a time when there are more refugees than ever in history, and borders are places of violence and cruelty, two essential stories of our time converge in Ma and Me: Americanization's multi-generational costs, and the way this converges with lesbian life. Putsata Reang expands both literatures with this open-hearted memoir that grapples emotionally and historically with the profound consequences of displacement on future lives and relationships. A book that opens the door to include queer descendants of war survivors into the growing American library of love.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    I read the first 3/4 of this book in one sitting, went to bed, woke up 5 hours later and finished the rest. It's really hard to put down. It is a profound memoir of a Cambodian-American mother and daughter. Putsata has lived an extraordinary life. Her story is both beautiful and sad. Some have said the book is repetitive, but I did not think so. There are recurring themes, such as trying to please her mother and feeling as though she doesn’t fully belong, but it ties all the stories of her life I read the first 3/4 of this book in one sitting, went to bed, woke up 5 hours later and finished the rest. It's really hard to put down. It is a profound memoir of a Cambodian-American mother and daughter. Putsata has lived an extraordinary life. Her story is both beautiful and sad. Some have said the book is repetitive, but I did not think so. There are recurring themes, such as trying to please her mother and feeling as though she doesn’t fully belong, but it ties all the stories of her life together. It’s just really good writing, not repetitive. This book not only tells the story of an immigrant family and the complicated and layered relationship between mother and daughter, but it also gave me a chance to learn a lot about Cambodia, a country I admittedly knew very little about. I’m very grateful for that. There is a parable in this book that I thought was the perfect explanation of Cambodian culture vs American culture. The rabbit and the snail. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “I know this! It’s the same as the rabbit and the tortoise!” But it is not. The snail called all of his friends and family to stand in for him along the trail, and this way, he won. The snails represent the collectivism of Cambodian culture and puts a lot into perspective from her mother’s point of view. This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read, and I think it will be the memoir of the year. I’m excited for others to read it and to be able to discuss it with them. My only complaint is that I wish she had included more photographs. Looking forward to part two about the next 40 years, Putsata! Thank you NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    As a daughter of immigrants, I feel as if I am constantly disappointing someone. My overwhelming feeling of failure is absolutely crippling at times. My family has made so many sacrifices for my sake. Do I spend my life in obligation? How can I justify living selfishly? Putsata Reang grapples with the quandary of inherited guilt in her memoir, Ma and Me. While on a boat fleeing Cambodia holding a sickly baby, a crew member warned Putsata’s mother that if the baby died, she would need to be throw As a daughter of immigrants, I feel as if I am constantly disappointing someone. My overwhelming feeling of failure is absolutely crippling at times. My family has made so many sacrifices for my sake. Do I spend my life in obligation? How can I justify living selfishly? Putsata Reang grapples with the quandary of inherited guilt in her memoir, Ma and Me. While on a boat fleeing Cambodia holding a sickly baby, a crew member warned Putsata’s mother that if the baby died, she would need to be thrown overboard, abandoned to the sea. Her mother did everything in her power to keep baby Putsata alive on that boat. And that family story repeated hundreds of times over the years became the albatross around Putsata’s neck, driving her to be the perfect Cambodian daughter to justify her mother’s sacrifice. At what cost? Ma and Me is a memoir that delicately navigates the author’s generational trauma and survivors’ guilt. It is a narrative about finding that impossible balance between inherited culture and transplanted culture. It is about being the only non-white family in town and losing that part of you in a desperate effort to assimiliate. It is about the filial guilt driving you toward perfect until you realize that one part of you, the most important part of you, represents the one thing your parents cannot and will not accept. Needless to say, I related in an almost unsettling way to Ma and Me. As the queer daughters of a Southeast Asian refugees, there were countless parallels between Putsata’s relationship with her mother and my relationship with my own mother. It honestly felt like I was listening to myself regale my own family history, a series of casual narratives with a warring undertone of resentment and guilt. I have found so much solace in memoirs lately. I have been able to live vicariously through others’ experiences, to forge connections between different iterations of generational trauma, and to better understand why I am the way I am. Ma and Me was an absolutely necessary perspective in my life, and I am so grateful to have read it. Thank you MCD for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. This comes out today (5/17)!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    *Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG) via NetGalley for the ARC* As a first generation Cambodian American I was beyond excited to read this book. I knew it was going to be insightful and poignant as I’ve previously read the author’s NYT article. As the title suggests, Ma and Me, centers on Reang and her mother’s relationship. First, as a baby fleeing from Cambodia, then as an adolescent growing up and toiling away on American soil, and finally as an adult, seeking out her own journey, trav *Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG) via NetGalley for the ARC* As a first generation Cambodian American I was beyond excited to read this book. I knew it was going to be insightful and poignant as I’ve previously read the author’s NYT article. As the title suggests, Ma and Me, centers on Reang and her mother’s relationship. First, as a baby fleeing from Cambodia, then as an adolescent growing up and toiling away on American soil, and finally as an adult, seeking out her own journey, traveling between past and present, country to country. Their lives are stubbornly intertwined, following analogous paths until Reang bravely comes out as gay to her culturally traditional mother and a rift tears their core foundation apart. Full of folklore and myths, as well as stories of her mom’s life as a youth in pre-war Cambodia, Reang’s memoir is beautifully brutal. The imagery she portrays is crisp and vivid. The horrors she recounts are gut-wrenching. Her mom’s stories presses a tender bruise that I’m sure all Cambodians carry. For any one who’s been affected by a war torn country, who might still live in a battlefield within the four walls of their home. Those who want to know their ancestors’ history, about the refugee experience, who’ve been denied access to those haunting memories that their elders deliberately placed on a high dusty shelf…you’ll find them here. Every chapter packs a punch. There’s hardly any levity until Reang finally finds peace within herself, having struggled with ptsd, conflicting racial/cultural/sexual identities, and familial piety. It truly was a devastating read, even more so as a fellow Cambodian, when you think about what unspeakable atrocities your own family went through. But I’m grateful to have read this and even more grateful for the representation. I think Reang’s memoir would be the perfect candidate for reading in schools that now require Asian American history curriculum or for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of Cambodian culture. Wishing Reang all the success as a writer/author and hopefully a positive update/sequel for her ma and her. 5/5 solid stars.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    Ma and Me: A Memoir is a personal reckoning of so much: transnational identity, intergenerational trauma and survivor's guilt, queer love and shame, and really what we owe to those we love vs what we owe to ourselves. Putsata presents us with the incredible story of her mother's experience as a young woman first fleeing arranged marriage and then the Cambodian genocide, giving up so much of herself as the interminable immigrant experience wrests her choices from her control. Reang then recounts Ma and Me: A Memoir is a personal reckoning of so much: transnational identity, intergenerational trauma and survivor's guilt, queer love and shame, and really what we owe to those we love vs what we owe to ourselves. Putsata presents us with the incredible story of her mother's experience as a young woman first fleeing arranged marriage and then the Cambodian genocide, giving up so much of herself as the interminable immigrant experience wrests her choices from her control. Reang then recounts her upbringing in the US, close relationship with her mother and her suffocating expectations, and emotional exploration of her queerness and her identity as a Cambodian severed from her roots. as the best memoirs do, Ma and Me invites us to peer alongside Reang's life and learn not only of her personal life and relationships, but about a culture and diaspora experience. regarding the structure, it has an interesting out of sync quality. Reang is a talented writer, and at times draws paragraphs directly from interviews with her mother, including parables, and in other times gives sweeping foreshadowing giving us glimpses of the future of their relationship, tying generations and continents with these references. I think it works, for the most part. we're given threads of phone calls and feelings that stretch and weave together over decades, and I can see how maybe it keeps the narrative going with little pieces of foreshadowing, but it also felt a little repetitive at points. thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and to netgalley for an advanced copy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Saligman

    This book contained such a beautifully told story. Despite being a memoir, it also was woven through with the types of themes and imagery (the berry juice, the idea of settling debt etc) you’d expect from a carefully crafted work of fiction, and I was impressed at how Reang was able to characterize her life in such a meaningful and powerful way. The way Reang characterizes her relationship is honest, mature, and full of love. A great read for anyone interested in Cambodian immigrant stories, mot This book contained such a beautifully told story. Despite being a memoir, it also was woven through with the types of themes and imagery (the berry juice, the idea of settling debt etc) you’d expect from a carefully crafted work of fiction, and I was impressed at how Reang was able to characterize her life in such a meaningful and powerful way. The way Reang characterizes her relationship is honest, mature, and full of love. A great read for anyone interested in Cambodian immigrant stories, mother daughter relationships, or LGBT coming of age.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Hayley ☾ (TheVillainousReader)

    While hard to read at times, this was absolutely stunning. RTC.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kaffeeklatsch and Books

    Ma and Me is a quiet, but impressively impactful book. I saw this on my Netgalley and immediately had to request it. You don't get many books about Cambodia or by a Cambodian (Cambodian-American) author. I had the privilege to live and work in Phnom Penh for 5 years and I had many local and expat friends, gay, bi and heterosexual. I was able to learn some of the language and immerse myself into the culture and listen to first hand stories about the genocide and war. Back then I lived very close t Ma and Me is a quiet, but impressively impactful book. I saw this on my Netgalley and immediately had to request it. You don't get many books about Cambodia or by a Cambodian (Cambodian-American) author. I had the privilege to live and work in Phnom Penh for 5 years and I had many local and expat friends, gay, bi and heterosexual. I was able to learn some of the language and immerse myself into the culture and listen to first hand stories about the genocide and war. Back then I lived very close to the Tuol Sleng museum. Although I was a "barang" (foreigner) I was able to feel at home there thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Khmer people. The author manages to pull you into her cultural and identity struggle and I've experienced many things the author mentioned in her book. I sat in one of the tribunals for "Duch", I listened to my gay friend's struggle of acceptance with his family. Mental health problems are still not acknowledged, health care is only for the rich, many still to this day earn less than a dollar a day etc. The novel is matter of fact and doesn't hide the ugly sides. I can highly highly recommend this to anybody who's interested in Cambodia. Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this gem of a book in exchange for an honest review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    I am not generally a big reader of memoirs or biographies of living people; however, I was drawn to this book because of an Around the World reading challenge I am in the middle of, since it would allow me to cross Cambodia off my list. Overall, I found Ma and Me an interesting read. My knowledge of Cambodia was minimal, so I was fascinated to learn more about the country's people, history and culture. I also got caught up in the tale of Put's relationship with her mother. The prose was easy rea I am not generally a big reader of memoirs or biographies of living people; however, I was drawn to this book because of an Around the World reading challenge I am in the middle of, since it would allow me to cross Cambodia off my list. Overall, I found Ma and Me an interesting read. My knowledge of Cambodia was minimal, so I was fascinated to learn more about the country's people, history and culture. I also got caught up in the tale of Put's relationship with her mother. The prose was easy reading yet drew you in, and I liked the style in which the story was presented. I finished the book interested to learn more about Cambodia, and I recommend it to readers interested in Asian culture and history and those who enjoy tales of family relationships and overcoming difficulties. I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alex Juarez

    A beautiful, powerful memoir about motherhood and daughterhood, of war and survival, and queerness and cultural expectations. Putsata recounts a childhood in Oregon having narrowly fled the war in Cambodia. Growing up as an outsider in America, and later an outsider back in Cambodia. A memoir that fans of Crying in H Mart or Native Country of the Heart will love for the complications about how mothers are often the roots to our identities, and yet our toughest critics.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Audrey (Warped Shelves)

    This review is based on an ARC of Ma and Me which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD). I will never like giving low ratings to memoirs; I feel supremely disrespectful as if I am saying that the author's life story is boring or unworthy of the time spent reading about it. That said, this saga of a memoir is written in quite a monotonous voice, making a story that could have been told in half the pages grow tedious. Much of the book felt repetitive to This review is based on an ARC of Ma and Me which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD). I will never like giving low ratings to memoirs; I feel supremely disrespectful as if I am saying that the author's life story is boring or unworthy of the time spent reading about it. That said, this saga of a memoir is written in quite a monotonous voice, making a story that could have been told in half the pages grow tedious. Much of the book felt repetitive to the point where I ended up skimming--a lot--to get through it. In the end, sorry to say, I was not moved by the story. Sure, the author and I are fathoms apart in more ways than one, but at the end of the day we are both still human and want to love and be loved, and despite this major similarity I felt no connection. I get a definite sense of "trying too hard" when thinking back on this book. Reang stated that this narrative is twenty-some years in the making--I believe it. All these thoughts and feelings and events strung across the years, then quickly tied up into one underwhelming package. Upon finishing this read I was more glad to be done with the book than to have read it. TL;DR Ma and Me was not my cup of tea. POPSUGAR 2022 Reading Challenge: A book with a tiger on the cover or "tiger" in the title

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Partikian

    "Your father, he's difficult," she said. "I just put up with it. Married no fun." --Page 102. Putsata Reang’s Ma and Me is a difficult read, but not in the manner that one might think. Chronicling the inherited effects of a genocide, or—in this case—a cultural suicide, since the Cambodian “genocide” involved a culture of Cambodians killing other Cambodians (i.e. not a “genocide” in the strict sense of the word), makes for horrifying reading where a reader must persist and continue turning pages d "Your father, he's difficult," she said. "I just put up with it. Married no fun." --Page 102. Putsata Reang’s Ma and Me is a difficult read, but not in the manner that one might think. Chronicling the inherited effects of a genocide, or—in this case—a cultural suicide, since the Cambodian “genocide” involved a culture of Cambodians killing other Cambodians (i.e. not a “genocide” in the strict sense of the word), makes for horrifying reading where a reader must persist and continue turning pages despite depictions of atrocious acts of cruelty. In Ma and Me the reader must overcome an overwhelming sense of tedium; the book is almost entirely devoid of any humor or ability to poke fun at oneself or one’s family, or even acknowledge one’s good luck. There is just a sullen slog of stultifying existence seen through the eyes of an assimilated Cambodian refugee with the good fortune to grow up in rural Oregon and attend an excellent college after which she is propelled, albeit through her own smarts and striving, into a successful career as an international journalist. While this may seem engrossing, the prose is soporific, and the conflicts related (e.g. coming out as a lesbian) so mundane as to hardly be warrant a reader’s exasperated yawn. I kept waiting for this book to begin in earnest, yet my only reward was a virtual mountain of earnestness. While memoir writing is all the rage, especially among women, most memoir writers have an angle or voice that emphasizes the humorous absurdity of life. Even with a subject like genocide or growing up comfortably in a nation while being wracked with guilt over what happened to one’s ancestors, e.g. Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate where the premise is a young author discovering atrocities suffered by his ancestors that his parents deliberately never mentioned. In the case of Balakian, it is done with eloquence and outrage after solving a mysterious puzzle. In Ma and Me there is a chapter where the author sees The Killing Fields with her parents and there not being a family discussion afterwards, but the theme is only developed in that the family silence is deafening. And while Reang's novel is not about the genocide per se, but about the relationship between the mother and daughter, the genocide is a looming presence. Other memoirs emphasize growing up in an insular family where the memoirist thinks normal what is profoundly unnormal, e.g. Tara Westover’s Educated. Then there are the firsthand accounts of the Cambodian genocide, like Loung Ung’s unforgettable and fabulous First They Killed My Father where the story is so gripping and compelling that the reader can’t stop turning pages although he or she knows that the writer survived because. . .she wrote the book. In the case of First They Killed My Father, an American reader may easily experience a profound sense of shame at being American complicit in past crimes committed by the US government. In Ma and Me, I, an educated straight white American male, on occasion, actually felt jealous of the author’s American life in suburban/rural Oregon; while she related it as a hardship, it seemed paradise to someone who grew up in a huge cement city. There is no shame in picking berries and the work can be more rewarding—say—than flipping burgers at a McDonald’s; Putsata Reang, in this memoir, doesn't describe other characters or her own generation with much empathy, empathy encompassing issues that many other Americans or hyphenated Americans of her age might feel. While the book is about the author’s relationship with her mother, the other family members--excluding the parents-- are often underdeveloped and come across as ciphers, mere foreign sounding names on a page. Throughout the memoir, there is an overwhelming sense of the author's status as a Cambodian refugee with parents quite literally off the boat. As the author comes of age, there is her grappling with her sexuality and having to persuade her mother of her attraction to women, in spite of her mother's persistent conniving to marry her to a good Khmer man. This could make for compelling reading, but is that enough? The author had the good fortune to come out in the most liberal mecca in the USA, the Pacific Northwest, which dilutes the conflict. I picked up this book being fascinated by the Cambodian Genocide for decades. And, as an ex-resident of Seattle and ex-community college English teacher, I have come across Cambodian children of the diaspora. I am always interested in their perspectives. To be fair, Ma and Me is educational in describing the lives of a Cambodian refugee family and the assimilation issues they face. For those who are unaware of the second-class status of Cambodian women and issues of shame and assimilating into a new culture the books presents a plethora of examples and instances. However, after forcing my way to finish Ma and Me, I regret having chosen it before Anthony Veasna So’s collection of Cambodian-American short stories Afterparties. Ma and Me leaves me wishing for more humor* in describing the horrific and the absurd. While the memoir culminates with a happy marriage and reconciliation of the narrator with her mother, the path towards those seemingly inevitable and obvious events simply isn't engaging enough without much inclusion of joy or laughter. Of course, major themes in the novel include survivor guilt, undiagnosed PTSD, and their effects on the narrator, all of which make the above difficult to achieve; the inevitable effect, though, is prose that reads more like a case study on resilience and anhedonia, which does not lead to a compelling voice. *There is one humorous moment when the mother, newly arrived, sets off the smoke alarm cooking chicken while the father scampers around in a panic looking for the source of the "Deet, deet, deet."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    A richly remembered and painstakingly transcribed life of a young Cambodian-born Khmer woman coming to terms with a childhood and young adulthood confused by the essence of her mother's belief system: a good Khmer daughter owes unending and unquestioning filial obedience and devotion while suppressing her own longterm goals and desires that run contrary to the above, however sensible and true. As Ms. Reang's mother begrudgingly (and surprisingly late in life) relives for her daughter the harrowi A richly remembered and painstakingly transcribed life of a young Cambodian-born Khmer woman coming to terms with a childhood and young adulthood confused by the essence of her mother's belief system: a good Khmer daughter owes unending and unquestioning filial obedience and devotion while suppressing her own longterm goals and desires that run contrary to the above, however sensible and true. As Ms. Reang's mother begrudgingly (and surprisingly late in life) relives for her daughter the harrowing life-or-death journey by sea with sickly infant Putsata away from the throes of the Khmer Rouge towards a safer life in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. for their whole family, she wants praise from her daughter less than she wants the hefty price of Putsata making every life decision by virtue of her mother's ironclad idea of what a proud Khmer mom can brag about: her child's prestigious, even if loveless, marriage and a household full of overachieving kids. For Putsata, on the trajectory of becoming a globetrotting journalist and coming to terms with living out her lesbian soul, this legacy becomes far too stifling and unachievable, and the distance between the two--both literal and figurative--widens with each year, causing her escalating feelings of guilt and failure. Putsata also carries resentment from the trips she took back to the homeland with her mom as a teen and young adult, where she witnesses her mother handing out handfuls of money to countless relatives, cash that was earned by the sweat of Putsata's brow, and that of her numerous siblings, spending endless sweltering summer days from a distressingly early age picking fruits and vegetables unceasingly on neighboring Oregon farms while suffering the social and psychological repercussions of barely-above-subsistence living for their own family. Through it all, Ms. Reang is an extremely sympathetic narrator: earnest and honest, reflective without a shadow of braggadocio, remorseful but determined. Each episode from her life is colorfully detailed: always thoughtful, often self-deprecating, and sometimes lightened with humor, where warranted. We root energetically for this eminently likable protagonist to come to complete reconciliation and mutual appreciation with her mother in the very near future.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susanne

    Thank you to the author, Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This is a beautifully written memoir from a Cambodian woman whose family fled the country when she was one year old. As the youngest child, she only survived due to the determination of her mother, and this in turn causes her to feel indebted toward her mother - quite apart from the cultural expectations of both parents as to what a "good" Khmer daughter should be. They settle in a part Thank you to the author, Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This is a beautifully written memoir from a Cambodian woman whose family fled the country when she was one year old. As the youngest child, she only survived due to the determination of her mother, and this in turn causes her to feel indebted toward her mother - quite apart from the cultural expectations of both parents as to what a "good" Khmer daughter should be. They settle in a part of the US where she and her family are the only non-Caucasians in the larger community, and it's clear that adjusting was difficult for both parents and children. The author returns to Cambodia for the first time as a teenager, and is confronted with the scale of the horrors her family escaped from, and the sense of obligation that her parents feel toward those that they left behind. The author studies and becomes a journalist, and accepts postings in Cambodia, as well as other geopolitical hotspots - and then comes to terms with her sexuality, and comes out to her mother as gay. Writing this review, it feels impossible that all these various facets could be woven into one book - but this book works wonderfully. Issues of identity, cultural obligations and expectations at odds with the real life situation, hope and shame, sexuality, reconciliation - and the history of Cambodia, and the trauma that the Khmer Rouge wrought - are woven together into a compelling life story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ellie at BookBucket

    I knew the bare bones of Cambodian history and nothing about Cambodian Khmer culture. This was all explained so well that I felt immersed in Put's story and family. The relationship between Put and Ma was one grounded in Ma's history. Female Khmer children were expected to marry and bring a dowry to her parents, and then be subservient and devoted to her husband and family. Added to this expectation of Put was the fact that her mother had fought so hard to keep her alive and Ma expected unequivo I knew the bare bones of Cambodian history and nothing about Cambodian Khmer culture. This was all explained so well that I felt immersed in Put's story and family. The relationship between Put and Ma was one grounded in Ma's history. Female Khmer children were expected to marry and bring a dowry to her parents, and then be subservient and devoted to her husband and family. Added to this expectation of Put was the fact that her mother had fought so hard to keep her alive and Ma expected unequivocal loyalty in return. Put's refusal to settle down and marry young, followed by her insistence on being independant and successful in her career was difficult for Ma to understand, let alone accept. Put's revelation that she was gay drove a further huge wedge in their previously close bond. Put is honest about her feelings of guilt and failure to be the daughter her mother expected her to be. Ma is a force to be reckoned with and Put's decision to at last forge her own way in life was extremely brave, knowing that the relationship with Ma might never be healed. This is a beautiful account of what it means to be Cambodian in America, to be viewed as a foreign Cambodian in Cambodia, and what it means to not follow the traditional paths set out in Khmer culture. I loved the contrast in demeanours in the wedding photos at the back. I stayed up very late to finish this memoir because I couldn't put it down.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    An interesting memoir that addresses inherited and community trauma. The author was born in Cambodia but her family escaped when she was just a one-year old. She makes her first trip back when she is a teenager and becomes fascinated with the country. The reader learns a lot of Cambodian culture and recent history. The author grew up to be a journalist and a writer and her memoir is written very well. It includes the pain of never living up to her mother's expectations and how hard that was on he An interesting memoir that addresses inherited and community trauma. The author was born in Cambodia but her family escaped when she was just a one-year old. She makes her first trip back when she is a teenager and becomes fascinated with the country. The reader learns a lot of Cambodian culture and recent history. The author grew up to be a journalist and a writer and her memoir is written very well. It includes the pain of never living up to her mother's expectations and how hard that was on her. Many readers will identify and at the end of the book, you're left feeling that you have learned a lot about this culture and on my part, I'd like to learn more. So, was their upbringing a tragedy or success? Immigrant families face so many challenges. And, by the way, the author is gay and that plays no small part in her relationship with her mother. You can't go wrong with reading this book because it fascinates on every level.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    This is beautifully written memoir about a Cambodian family, trauma, identity, and reconciliation. Reang defied expectations when she survived her family's exodus from Cambodia and again after many years of conformity, she came out. She skillfully weaves in the history of Cambodia but more importantly the impact of the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodia people. Her father's trouble adjusting to life in the US and their difficult early years here is all wrapped in her relationship with her mother. Her m This is beautifully written memoir about a Cambodian family, trauma, identity, and reconciliation. Reang defied expectations when she survived her family's exodus from Cambodia and again after many years of conformity, she came out. She skillfully weaves in the history of Cambodia but more importantly the impact of the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodia people. Her father's trouble adjusting to life in the US and their difficult early years here is all wrapped in her relationship with her mother. Her mother expects so much and she never lets up, despite Reang's achievements. Hardest is her mother's unwillingness to accept her for herself. It's important to note that Reang doesn't come off as bitter. She's questioning but she's not bitter. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. It's a fascinating read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Wood

    Putsata Reang tells her story of escaping war-torn Cambodia in the mid-sixties during the reign of terror of the Khmer (pronounced come-eye) Rouge at the time of the Vietnam War. Sadly, her family escaped on an overcrowded ship, leaving many of their relatives behind. In her heart-wrenching story, she tells of her mother's refusal to throw her lifeless baby (Putsata) overboard at the persistent urging of the ship captain. Her parents helped surviving relatives escape, and their entire family lab Putsata Reang tells her story of escaping war-torn Cambodia in the mid-sixties during the reign of terror of the Khmer (pronounced come-eye) Rouge at the time of the Vietnam War. Sadly, her family escaped on an overcrowded ship, leaving many of their relatives behind. In her heart-wrenching story, she tells of her mother's refusal to throw her lifeless baby (Putsata) overboard at the persistent urging of the ship captain. Her parents helped surviving relatives escape, and their entire family labored in the fields, saving their money to distribute to the relatives left behind. However, the extremely close bond with her mother was ultimately shattered by her mother's refusal to accept her being gay. The well-told narrative vividly relates the horrors in Cambodia and Putsata's struggle with life in America as a gay Khmer immigrant.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Beth Anne

    This might be the best memoir I have ever read. Reang brings a journalist’s eye to understanding the history, trauma, and lived experiences of her and her mom couple with a deep emotional, empathetic, and compassionate curiosity to their lives. Not only is Reang’s adult life fascinating but her childhood caught me by surprise. Her exploration of cultural complexities, family structures, and finding individuality is both a universal journey and a reflection of her amazing life. I cannot recommend This might be the best memoir I have ever read. Reang brings a journalist’s eye to understanding the history, trauma, and lived experiences of her and her mom couple with a deep emotional, empathetic, and compassionate curiosity to their lives. Not only is Reang’s adult life fascinating but her childhood caught me by surprise. Her exploration of cultural complexities, family structures, and finding individuality is both a universal journey and a reflection of her amazing life. I cannot recommend this book enough!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    This is difficult to rate, given that I usually rate given the level of enjoyment I felt while reading, but this is not necessarily the most joyful book. However, it is surprisingly easy read considering how heavy and painful so much of the content is. I honestly could not put it down. Riveting and important. Really glad I read this.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sovannah

    I’m not sure I have the right words to say how much I enjoyed Reang’s story and grateful I am that this book was written as a young queer Khmer American (with a mother wound.) it was deeply moving and now having finished reading it, it’s one of those stories I feel like I need to pause and meditate on

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Jett

    What a thoughtful and fascinating memoir! Reang explores her struggles with cultural and sexual identity. I loved following her insights throughout her unique experiences as a refugee, a queer woman, and an international journalist.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Crane

    Yesssssssss, great read!! The author had a really interesting mix of journalistic reporting and personal storytelling in her writing style. I could feel the love between her and her mother, even though it was fraught.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jill Prouty

    If you liked Crying in H Mart, you will LOVE this memoir! Beautifully written.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

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  29. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Beautifully written memoir that is hard to put down. I laughed and cried while reading this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    The audiobook recording of this memoir was read by the author, which adds to the intimate tone of the book. You would expect a memoir to feel intimate anyway, but Putsata Reang telling us her own story with her own voice gives this book the feel of a conversation between friends. This memoir spans generations and continents. The struggle to maintain both independence and filial duty, to honor the past and forge a future; that tension is expressed with tenderness and honesty. Putsata Reang is a w The audiobook recording of this memoir was read by the author, which adds to the intimate tone of the book. You would expect a memoir to feel intimate anyway, but Putsata Reang telling us her own story with her own voice gives this book the feel of a conversation between friends. This memoir spans generations and continents. The struggle to maintain both independence and filial duty, to honor the past and forge a future; that tension is expressed with tenderness and honesty. Putsata Reang is a wonderful author, and hearing her story has whetted my appetite for more of her writing. Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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