A Filipino-American’s story deals with racism, sexual abuse
Grace Talusan’s memoir, “The Body Papers,” started with essays — “short pieces, and images of memory,” she said — but grew to include letters, other documents, and photographs, many taken by Talusan’s photographer husband. The images add a variety of different perspectives to the author’s story of growing up in the Boston suburbs as a Filipino-American immigrant.
In “The Body Papers,” Talusan writes about racism, family secrets, and bodily trauma, including her experience being sexually abused by her grandfather as a child. Telling her story, she said, took courage. “It took me 20 years. I’ve been writing aspects of this story for 20 years. I only felt ready now to publish it, and it was still scary,” she said. It helped that sexual abuse has become part of the cultural conversation. “The Me Too movement – all those women speaking up on social media and on the Internet and in person – that made a difference,” Talusan said. “I felt more comfortable being able to publish this book because other people had spoken up first.”
Painful topics can make memoir difficult for family members to accept, but Talusan said hers has been supportive. “I was very nervous, having my family read my book, but it’s actually been a gift,” she said. “It’s given me the opportunity to have these conversations with my mother, with my siblings, that would not be possible had they not sat for the hours it took for them to read my book.”
Talusan, who returned to Boston as an adult and has taught at Grub Street for the past several years, said fellow Filipino-Americans have responded warmly to her book. “I’m aware of when books by Filipino-Americans come out because it’s so rare,” she said. “We don’t see our stories and our lives reflected very often. And people are hungry for it.”
Grace Talusan will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at Brookline Booksmith.
Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at email@example.com.