The Cost of Our Lives by Linda González
Title: The Cost of Our Lives
Author: Linda González
Topics: Family secrets and growth
Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Publishing Year: 2018
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 4.5/5
The Cost of Our Lives is an incredible and necessary addition to a growing group of Latinx writers breaking the silence through personal narratives. González’s story as she explores the aftermath of the revelation of her father’s other family, personal and familial growth and an emotional journey of unearthing secrets in a deliberate efforts to heal is both deeply personal and at the same time widely relatable.
Summary: When Linda González is sixteen, her father’s son from México appears at the front door of her Southern California home. Before that moment, neither Linda nor her siblings knew their father had another child. Linda’s family portrait slowly shatters over the next years as she discovers her father had a wife and she had two sisters as well. She realizes her very existence is because her father abandoned his first family. With startling candor, Linda relates her parents’ separate journeys to Los Angeles and the life they created in the white suburbs.Additional family secrets unfold amid Linda’s attempts to silence the echoes of her cultural losses with political work and a lesbian identity. Her memoir is a powerful examination of how childhood identities can endure into adulthood, along with suffering that lingers decades after events have passed.
The book’s central narrative starts off with a bang on page one when González discovers that her father, an immigrant from Mexico, had another family back in his home country unbeknownst to her mother, her siblings and herself. This becomes the catalyst for a deeper exploration of family, tradition, expectations and selfhood and how these concepts change or hold overtime and when tested. She covers a large timeline from early child to adulthood with the first third or so mainly focused on her relationship with her father, the second third explores her own and her family’s emotional evolutions after his passing and the last third concludes with González’s efforts of reconstructing family ties and forging new ones.
This is a powerful story that takes you along on an emotional rollercoaster. González is an astute observer of human emotions and her abundant talent as a storyteller (and some awesome family pictures) bring these observations to life on the page. She manages to takes a very personal story makes it resonate with reader’s experiences. For example, she addresses how your views of your parents change as you grow older and coming to terms with realizing that they are not the infallible people you believed them to be as a child, coming to terms with emotional pain inflicted by the people that we love, growing up and exploring our identities and roles as siblings, daughters, partners and mothers, the curveballs that life brings and the choices we make to overcome them and heal. All of these and other difficult topics are handled with care and nuance in a way that feels warm and never preachy.
Although it is González’s family story that gives this book it’s heart, it is the underlying narrative style which I found to be particularly effective and which allows the content to shine. The narrative is mainly linear and chronological with some tangents and insertions. For example, an oral history of and interview she did with her mother, which dives deep into her mother’s childhood in Colombia and later her emigration to the US. Other times she addresses her children directly through the text. It is these tangential stories and González’s introspective and conversational tone make it feel like you are chatting with a close friend over a cafe con leche. She invites you with open arms to follow along and invest in her story personally.
What further adds to this air of familiarity are the many small details that González includes that made me smile and relate to her experiences. For example, she relates how as a girl she would immerse herself in a world of books like Agatha Christie's stories and the Nancy Drew series, partly as a book lover and partly seeking a respite from the tension around her which I related to very much. She mentions her father’s love of Don Quixote and her mother’s philosophy of “If it's not completely broken we're not getting a new one” all of which made me laugh in recognition. There were so many wonderful Mexican American tidbits which I’m sure readers will find delightful and which further add to the book’s personal and intimate feeling.
Ultimately this book is a breath of fresh air. It is an invitation to pause and reflect. It explores the and lays open the emotional and messy process of nurturing one’s identity sexually, creatively and culturally in a honest way that allows for healing and growth. This is an immensely difficult and often painful process for anyone to undergo let alone examine it and put it on a page as González has done. This is an especially brave and necessary books because it is written in a context and culture that often encourages keeping up appearances and secrecy over confrontation and openness. This book observes and breaks these cycles of secrecy in a radical way by documenting these secrets and offering them not only to her children for posterity but also to any and all readers than might find a little bit of themselves in these pages too.
Read if you like:
A read that breaks your hearts and then puts it back together again
Memoirs that read like chatting with an old friend
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review. All opinions are my own.