In the tradition of Bastard Out of Carolina and Angela's Ashes, Change Me into Zeus's Daughter chronicles a child's coming of age in an abusive and dirt-poor environment. With the gripping narrative drive of both of those bestselling books, Barbara Robinette Moss's candid yet lyrical account takes hold of our hearts and doesn't let go until the final page. Her story juxtaposes heart-rending adversity with the playful chaos of eight siblings growing up in the 1960s South, with its creeping kudzu and soybean fields, its forthright and sometimes peculiar inhabitants, and its boiling racial tensions.
The hardships related here are both familiar and unique: the Christmas presents exchanged for drink money, the failed businesses, the decrepit shacks that served as temporary homes, the disturbing early-morning discipline. Under the tyrannical rule of a father who "inflicted pain recreationally, both physical and emotional," the only bright spot in Moss's childhood was her mother, Dorris. Slavishly devoted to her husband ("she seemed to crave him as much as he craved alcohol"), Dorris held the family together by absorbing most of the abuse. But in the end she lacked the courage to leave him, and her children had to act as their own protectors. As if poverty and her father's mistreatment weren't enough of a burden, Moss also had to contend with a face disfigured by malnutrition. As a result, she sought refuge in whatever elusive beauty she could find: the poetry her mother taught as a substitute for material things; the fertile, red Alabama soil; the love of her baby sister Janet. Her urge to create beauty and her longing to embody it culminate in surgery that transforms her face but brings with it a crisis of identity.
In her outpouring of memories, Moss occasionally gets lost in her tale, embedding flashback within flashback. More problematic is the portrayal of her father: he's relentlessly cruel until a near-fatal beating, after which he begins to briefly connect with his children. For us, it's too late, and we can only react to his death with a sigh of relief. But these minor quibbles are just that. Moss's extraordinary memoir enthralls us from its alarming introduction--in which Dorris feeds her starving children a meal of potentially poisonous seeds--to its poignant conclusion.
I thought this was an excellent memoir up to page 264. At that point she went from being in high school to being married, getting divorced, with a child on the way. I can't help but wonder what happened between these chapters.Felt like a large chunk was left out.
It is considered a memoir of the south but to me it was one of triumph of any abusive, disfunctional rural family and how a young woman comes to understand the beauty she holds within despite what her world around her shows and tells her.
A wonderful read: a memoir of a girl who grew up in the South with incredible obstacles (alcoholic father, poverty, abuse) yet told her story in a way that made you relate to her ... and her determination to change her life makes it all worth it. I read this cover-to-cover one night...couldn't put it down.