Books

new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

A woman’s painful memoir of her dead parents; Mass. as the cradle of women’s rights

A picture of Anya Yurchyshyn’s parents from her memoir
A picture of Anya Yurchyshyn’s parents from her memoir

Discovering her parents, herself

“We can be haunted after someone dies with what we didn’t know,” says Anya Yurchyshyn over the phone a few days after the release of her searing memoir, “My Dead Parents’’ (Crown).

Yurchyshyn, who grew up in Boston, tells the story of a childhood with a cruel and volatile father and a damaged, distant mother and what she learns about them after their deaths, he in a car crash in the Ukraine in 1994, she in 2010 from “unabashed alcoholism.”

Cleaning out their home after her mother dies, Yurchyshyn admits in the opening pages that she “was eager to finally be rid of them.” She finds a box of their letters, which reveal a love she hadn’t known existed, as well as other revelations about what they’d suffered. So begins an excavation into their lives and hers.

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“It cracked me open at points,” she says of working on the book, and the process of sitting with her own pain, and theirs.

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The book is sharp and searching; descriptions of her mother’s drinking herself to death are stark and painful. The book grapples with the limits of what we can know of each other and is a potent look at the fraught, painful, and complicated relationship between parents and children, and the mysteries — revelatory, difficult — that can and cannot be solved and the ongoing nature of how we come to know the people closest to us, and ourselves.

“Our relationships can continue after people die,” Yurchyshyn says. “It’s an amazing and important part of being human.” Yurchyshyn will read and discuss the book on Wednesday, April 11 at 7 pm at Newtonville Books.

The history of the women’s movement in Massachusetts

Massachusetts was the birthplace of the women’s rights movement, argues Barbara F. Berenson in her new book, “Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Revolutionary Reformers’’ (History) out this week. In her accessible history, Berenson focuses her spotlight on Bay State women who catalyzed the effort to gain women’s right to vote on a local and national level, paying particular attention to Lucy Stone and her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell. Berenson, a senior attorney at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and author of “Boston and the Civil War’’ (History), reminds us that despite the state’s reputation as a liberal stronghold, Massachusetts was decidedly against women getting the vote, and it took eight decades for suffragists to achieve their goal. She also reminds us that the adoption of the 19th Amendment had significant limits: “[I]t did not secure the vote to women (and men) disenfranchised because of race. It did not lead to the abolition of other laws that perpetuated gender discrimination.” Yet it undeniably “transformed and democratized the nation,” enabling American women “to enter all future battles armed with the ballot.” The book makes a case for determination, perseverance, and patience to bring about necessary change.

‘Things to Do’ wins picture book prize

The Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature honoring the most distinguished picture book of the year went this year to Massachusetts resident Elaine Magliaro for her dreamy, rhyming debut, “Things to Do’’ (Chronicle), illustrated by Catia Chien. Magliaro is a retired elementary school teacher and former school librarian. She also taught a class on children’s literature at Boston University from 2002-2008. “Things to Do’’ anthropomorphizes everyday objects and events, including boots, an eraser, an acorn, dawn, a snail, scissors, and details the things they do in elegant, unexpected verse.

Coming out

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“Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History’’by Dorothy H. Crawford (Oxford)

“Cruel Futures’’ by Carmen Giménez Smith (City Lights)

“The Farm’’by Hector Abad, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean (Archipelago)

Pick of the week

Katherine Osborne at Letterpress Books in Portland, Maine, recommends “The Good People’’ by Hannah Kent (Little, Brown): “A chilling, wonderful Irish story of herbal magic, folk tales, superstition, and betrayal. These people are surviving on potatoes and faith; their lives are hard; and the controversy is beguiling. Based on true events in 19th century Ireland, this startling new novel by Hannah Kent tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue a child from a superstitious community.”

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.