Synopses & Reviews
Winner of The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Grace Talusan’s memoir The Body Papers bravely explores her experiences with sexual abuse, depression, cancer, and life as a Filipino immigrant, supplemented with government documents, medical records, and family photos.
Born in the Philippines, young Grace Talusan moves with her family to a New England suburb in the 1970s. At school, she confronts racism as one of the few kids with a brown face. At home, the confusion is worse: her grandfather’s nightly visits to her room leave her hurt and terrified, and she learns to build a protective wall of silence that maps onto the larger silence practiced by her Catholic Filipino family. Talusan learns as a teenager that her family’s legal status in the country has always hung by a thread — for a time, they were “illegal.” Family, she’s told, must be put first.
The abuse and trauma Talusan suffers as a child affects all her relationships, her mental health, and her relationship with her own body. Later, she learns that her family history is threaded with violence and abuse. And she discovers another devastating family thread: cancer. In her thirties, Talusan must decide whether to undergo preventive surgeries to remove her breasts and ovaries. Despite all this, she finds love, and success as a teacher. On a fellowship, Talusan and her husband return to the Philippines, where she revisits her family’s ancestral home and tries to reclaim a lost piece of herself.
Not every family legacy is destructive. From her parents, Talusan has learned to tell stories in order to continue. The generosity of spirit and literary acuity of this debut memoir are a testament to her determination and resilience. In excavating and documenting such abuse and trauma, Talusan gives voice to unspeakable experience, and shines a light of hope into the darkness.
“There is so much to admire in this brave and fierce and deeply intimate memoir. By taking such an unsentimental and plainspoken approach to her material, Talusan simply demands that the reader pay attention. The Body Papers is told in thematic sequences in which the author and the family come continually to light, in flashes that get brighter as we read, and by the end we see everyone in their full humanity and comprehend the depths of both despair and love at their core. As a child of immigrants, I found much to relate to in the family dynamics — alternately laughing and shuddering with recognition.” Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men
“Grace Talusan writes eloquently about the most unsayable things: the deep gravitational pull of family, the complexity of navigating identity as an immigrant, and the ways we move forward even as we carry our traumas with us. Equal parts compassion and confession, The Body Papers is a stunning work by a powerful new writer who — like the best memoirists — transcends the personal to speak on a universal level.” Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere
About the Author
Grace Talusan was born in the Philippines and raised in New England. She graduated from Tufts University and the MFA Program in Writing at UC Irvine. She is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines and an Artist Fellowship Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Talusan teaches at Grub Street and Tufts.