House of Fire, by Elizabeth di Grazia ISBN 9781682010280
Five out of five stars
If this were a work of fiction, I would have disliked it due to the multiplicity of complex plot lines. However, the fact that it is an autobiography that does not descend to self-pity makes it an amazing story.
The first main plotline is that the author is one of a lesbian couple (both professionals) that are adopting two Guatemalan children, a boy and a girl. While they went through a marriage ceremony, it was before same sex marriage was legal, so the ceremony had no legal standing. This raises issues with the Guatemalan authorities due to their dislike of same-sex couples adopting (it is illegal) and legal problems regarding the responsibility status of the children in the United States. With no legal protection to their relationship, there are problems regarding simple actions such as authorizing medical procedures.
The second major plotline is more routine, how their lives change with two displaced children in the home, how do they pay the bills and which one gets to be the stay at home mom. Fortunately, while this is important in the flow of the story, very little time is spent on it. Another story about the difficulties of child-rearing would not be of great interest.
The third and most significant of the plotlines is the recounting of the author growing up in an incestuous family. Starting at the age of nine, she was raped on a regular basis by her brothers until she moved out. Both her parents were aware of the sex, there were two pregnancies, one that ended in an abortion and the other in the child being adopted out. Neither one of the parents seemed to consider the sex between siblings to be beyond the norms, unless they had to do something, their response was to pretend it did not exist.
The story is told in spurts, there will be a section on the present and then some event will trigger a flashback to an event in her youth. As is the case with so many such stories, the incest was no real secret, whether in the extended family or even among the local health professionals and school officials. The author recalls questions being asked where there is very little ambiguity as to the point. During one of her pregnancies, the doctor openly asks her if one of her brothers is the father. Back then there was no such thing as mandatory reporting.
The use of the flashback tactic in the telling of this story is really the only way that it could be told. People with such experiences have flashbacks all the time, sometimes minor but often too powerful to ignore. It is a disturbing story, but one that is far more common than many think. One of my female high school friends that lived nearby was a member of a family where the incest went back three generations.
This book was made available for free for review purposes