The best way to decide if A House of my Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros is a book you’d like to read is to listen to her lovely interview on this episode of Nerdette Podcast. If it left you wishing for more time listening to Sandra’s funny, easygoing conversation and her wonderful stories, you’ll enjoy A House of My Own.
A House of My Own is a collection of Sandra Cisneros’s non-fiction writing, spanning across a variety of years, mediums, and subjects. Some were published as introductions to her novels, or the work of others. Some were published in journals, newspapers, or magazines. Some were given as lectures. They cover so many topics, but there’s a theme threading its way through the work: one of a writer shaping her life and career through experiences lived richly, and of the necessity of having a home to herself: a shelter and sanctuary, a “refuge as spiritual as a monastery.” We learn more about her childhood – the youngest of seven children (and the only daughter) growing up in a poor family. It’s not a surprise that she longed for independence and a place to call her own. She needed the yin & yang balance of a vibrant, full life and a quiet place to nourish her soul and explore the outer world in her writing. This collection captures that balance and lets us live a while in that creatively inspired world.
I loved so many of the pieces in this collection, but here are three of my favorites.
1. Her moving speech for an International Women’s Day rally in 1993 about her friend Jasna, a woman missing in Sarajevo during the Yugoslav war. It’s filled with descriptions of her friend’s life in Sarajevo and a desperate plea for help from a person whose only weapon is her pen.
“A woman is there. She’s my friend, take my word for it. That city, those streets, those houses. Where I washed rugs and scrubbed floors and gave away puppies and had coffee in the open cafés on Titograd Street. Look, what I’m trying to say is my friend is missing. This is a city where cherry trees blossomed the summer I was there, if you go to the American library on the banks of the Miljacka River, there is a copy of T. S. Eliot’s poems with one page stained with a cherry that fell from a tree while I was reading it, I’ll show you the page. I picked walnuts for the cake you made in a summer that was ripe and abundant with fruit and peace and hope, the upcoming Olympics on the horizon. […]
I demand you go right in there. I demand you give me a sword mightier than this useless pen of mine. I demand you arrive in Sarajevo. I’ll take you to ulica Gorica, I’m afraid, but I’ll take you. Spirits of all you deceased relatives and friends, my ancestors, my compatriots, fellow human beings, I demand, I ask, I beg you.
In the name of civilization. In the name of humanity. In the name of compassion. In the name of respectability. In the name of mankind. Bring that woman out of there.”
2. Her eloquent response to a women who wants to ban The House on Mango Street from school libraries:
“I trust that my books will only take flight in the minds of those who need these stories. Those too young or not needing my particular dose of medicine will be bored, and that’s how it works best, in my opinion.
May you find the right books to fall in love with and be transformed by, and may those books that don’t meet your needs be placed gently back on the bookshelf. I wish you well in your journey of self-discovery.”
3. The way she writes about love and loss, in particular this heartfelt passage about losing her father:
“Whenever anyone discusses death they talk about the inevitable loss, but no one ever mentions the inevitable gain. How when you lose a loved one, you suddenly have a spirit ally, an energy on the other side that is with you always, that is with you just by calling their name. I know my father watches over me in a much more thorough way than he ever could when he was alive. When he was living, I had to telephone long distance to check up on how he was doing, and if he wasn’t watching one of his endless telenovelas, he’d talk to me. Now I simply summon him in my thoughts. Papá. Instantly I feel his presence surround and calm me.”
I listened to this one on audiobook – Sandra Cisneros narrates it herself, and she brings so much spirit and life into her written words. But I longed to meditate a little more on some of the pieces – the audiobook moved a little faster than I would have liked to experience the writing. I ended up also checking out a print copy from the library, so I could reflect back on some of my favorite sections. I’m glad I did because the print edition is filled with wonderful color photographs that helped to bring even more of her personality into the collection.
Author photo by Alan Goldfarb.