Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer

Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer

Shortlisted for The 2020 Barbellion Prize

Summary:

In 1958, amongst the children born with spina bifida is Riva Lehrer. At the time, most such children are not expected to survive. Her parents and doctors are determined to ‘fix’ her, sending the message over and over again that she is broken. That she will never have a job, a romantic relationship, or an independent life. Enduring countless medical interventions, Riva tries her best to be a good girl and a good patient in the quest to be cured.

Everything changes when, as an adult, Riva is invited to join a group of artists, writers, and performers who are building Disability Culture. Their work is daring, edgy, funny, and dark-it rejects tropes that define disabled people as pathetic, frightening, or worthless. They insist that disability is an opportunity for creativity and resistance. Emboldened, Riva asks if she can paint their portraits-inventing an intimate and collaborative process that will transform the way she sees herself, others, and the world. Each portrait story begins to transform the myths she’s been told her whole life about her body, her sexuality, and other measures of normal.

Written with the vivid, cinematic prose of a visual artist, and the love and playfulness that defines all of Riva’s work, Golem Girl is an extraordinary story of tenacity and creativity. With the author’s magnificent portraits featured throughout, this memoir invites us to stretch ourselves toward a world where bodies flow between all possible forms of what it is to be human.

My Review:

Riva Lehrer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1958 and Riva was born with spina bifida. Many children born with spina bifida during this time were not expected to live. Golem Girl (Virago) is an extraordinary memoir of a life lived and destined to be different.

The first thing that struck me was the title and I had to go and look up the meaning of Golem and it is an artificial creature made of clay that turns into a real person by magic.

Riva Lehrer is a successful writer and artist; the list of awards and achievements is long as is the list of exhibits for her work. In Golem Girl, Riva talks of her early life and through the many surgical procedures she had to go through. Riva’s mother would do whatever it took to get the correct medical advice and treatment but despite everything it was tortuous for Riva. Being told she would never be loved or desired is devastating to a young person.  

As the book moved into its second part Riva talks about finding her true self and a career and being excepted for who she really is in society. Riva was going to make an impression on the world as an artist and writer and she has done that with gusto. Throughout the book there are photographs from her early years through to the artistic work where she uses her gift to express her life and how it changed as time went on.

As Golem Girl draws to a close, we see that Riva looks at the disability culture as she becomes an activist on this front as the decades moved on. Throughout Riva writes with incredible honesty and humour.

If you have an interest in disability culture, this is a book I would recommend. Golem Girl has been shortlisted for The 2020 Barbellion Prize with the winner being announced on 12th February 2021.

You can read more about Riva Lehrer via her website:  Riva Lehrer

Follow news of The Barbellion Prize: The Barbellion Prize

448 Pages.

I am extremely grateful to Cat Mitchell, Virago and the Barbellion Prize review copy of Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer.

Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer is published by Virago and was published on 8th December 2020 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

THE BARBELLION PRIZE

The Barbellion Prize was founded and dedicated further the voices of ill and disabled writers. This is a prize awarded each year to an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness or disability.

The award recognises work submitted for fiction, memoir, biography, poetry or critical non-fiction and can be from around the world in English or translation and can be published work from a publisher or self-published.

Further information about the prize can be found via their website: The Barbellion Prize

You can follow progress of the Barbellion Prize via Twitter: @BarbellionPrize and Instagram: @barbellionprize

The prize is named after the English diarist W.N.P. Barbellion who wrote about living with multiple sclerosis until his death in 1919.

The shortlist for the 2020 Barbellion Prize was announced:

Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer (Published by Virago)

The Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills (published by Fourth Estate)

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer (Published by Penned in the Margins)

Kika & Me by Amit Patel (Published by Pan Macmillan)

The winner of the 2020 Barbellion Prize will be announced on 12th February.

Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills

Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills

Summary:

My life had been suspended, as though I had inhaled and was still waiting to let out that gasp of breath. I set aside my dreams for a future time when life might be normal again. But that night, on my mother’s birthday, as I sat and watched the sky turn from blue to black, I wondered for the first time if it ever would …

There were holes in Sam Mills’s life when she was growing up – times when her dad was just absent, for reasons she didn’t understand. As she grew older, she began to make up stories about the periods when he wasn’t around: that he’d been abducted, spirited away and held captive by a mysterious tribe who lived at the bottom of the garden. The truth – that he suffers from a rare form of paranoid schizophrenia, and was hospitalised intermittently – slowly came into focus, and that focus became pin-sharp in 2012, when Sam’s mother died and Sam was left as his primary carer.

In this powerful, poignant memoir Sam triangulates her own experience with the stories of two other carers, one she admires and one, on some days, she fears she might become: Leonard Woolf, husband to Virginia and F Scott Fitzgerald, husband to Zelda, and a man whose personality made him ill-equipped – in a great many ways – to be a carer for his troubled wife.

A mesmerising blend of literary biography and memoir The Fragments of My Father is a compelling and moving account of what it means to be a carer.

My Review:

I am extremely grateful to have been asked to review the shortlisted books on The 2020 Barbellion Prize shortlist. The Fragments of My Father (Fourth Estate) by Sam Mills is an extremely beautifully written memoir about caring for her father. Inside there are some very wise words and about her own life suspended as she cares for a loved one.

Sam Mills by profession is an author and is also the co-founder and MD of indie publisher Dodo Ink. When her mother died in 2012 Sam became the carer for her father, who was suffering from a rare form of schizophrenia. This meant putting her life plans on hold while she became carer with the financial implications that go with being a carer for a loved one as well as the challenges of this illness.

Through Fragments of My Father we see Sam’s own personal journey, but also she tells us of others who have become the primary carer and as Sam is an author she shares stories of Leonard Woolf the husband of Virginia Woolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald husband of Zelda who also became carers themselves.

As a primary carer what many do not realise is the loneliness that goes with being a carer and at times being cut off from the outside world as well as the lack of financial support, Sam does make the case that the government needs to step up to help those who have become primary carers.

For anyone who has been in a similar position this poignant memoir will be like a supporting arm around you. Sam’s writing about caring for her father is brave but beautiful.

Fragments of My Father is profound and important, as Sam points out that she was not sure about writing this, I like many are pleased she did.

416 Pages.

I am extremely grateful to Cat Mitchell, Fourth Estate and the Barbellion Prize review copy of Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills

Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills

is published by Fourth Estate and was published on 9th July 2020 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer

The Barbellion Prize – Shortlisted

Summary:

A young woman spends a month taking the waters at a thermal water-based rehabilitation facility in Budapest. On her return to London, she attempts to continue her recovery using an £80 inflatable blue bathtub. The tub becomes a metaphor for the intrusion of disability; a trip hazard in the middle of an unsuitable room, slowly deflating and in constant danger of falling apart. Sanatorium moves through contrasting spaces bathtub to thermal pool, land to water, day to night interlacing memoir, poetry and meditations on the body to create a mesmerising, mercurial debut. ‘There is a dreamlike quality to Abi Palmer’s exquisite Sanatorium. In lucid, gorgeous prose, she tells the story of a body, of illness and of navigating the complicated wellness industry, but ultimately this is a book about what it means to be alive. A striking, experimental debut that will stay with me.’ Sinéad Gleeson

My Review:

Author Abi Palmer is the narrator of her first book Sanatorium (Penned in the Margins). Shortlisted for 2020 The Barbellion Prize and is written in short paragraphs of her experiences of spending a month in a water based rehabilitation programme based in Hungary.

Throughout Sanatorium you get to understand just how important water and floating is to our narrator and there is a dreamlike prose to the narration. When Abi is in the water the sense of pain dissipates as she floats in the water. Abi is in so much pain from the conditions that she suffers from being in the water is an escape.

It is 2017 and the trip to the sanatorium is funded by a research programme and the month she spends here, on return to her home in the UK she decides to buy herself a plastic tub for her home so she can float and ease the pain.

As the writing is in small paragraphs the reader will notice at the top of each page the location that moves from Budapest to London and Chertsey (Surrey). At times the prose is poetic with the use of drawings.

Abi is in so much pain that she cannot walk for too long unaided, the descriptions are vivid and descriptive about living with a chronic illness and learning too trust your body even if your body does not want to work.

This was never meant to be a straightforward memoir which makes Sanatorium so unique and but also important in the way that Abi writes about her life living with chronic pain, there is no self-pity here from Abi but just the beautiful way she writes. At times funny and also sad.

We all know what it is like to slide into a warm bath at the end of a hard day. Just stop for a minute and think what getting into a warm pool is like for someone like Abi living in constant pain and illness.

I read Sanatorium in one sitting and in my own view a strong candidate to win The 2020 Barbellion Prize.

222 Pages.

@abipalmer_bot

@PennedintheM

#TheBarbellionPrize

I am extremely grateful to Cat Mitchell, Penned in the Margins and the Barbellion Prize review copy of Sanatorium by Abi Palmer.

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer is published by Penned in the Margins and was published on 20th April 2020 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org

The Barbellion Prize

The Barbellion Prize was founded and dedicated further the voices of ill and disabled writers. This is a prize awarded each year to an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness or disability.

The award recognises work submitted for fiction, memoir, biography, poetry or critical non-fiction and can be from around the world in English or translation and can be published work from a publisher or self-published.

Further information about the prize can be found via their website: The Barbellion Prize

You can follow progress of the Barbellion Prize via Twitter: @BarbellionPrize and Instagram: @barbellionprize

The prize is named after the English diarist W.N.P. Barbellion who wrote about living with multiple sclerosis until his death in 1919.

The shortlist for the 2020 Barbellion Prize was announced:

Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer (Published by Virago)

The Fragments of my Father: A memoir of madness, love and being a carer by Sam Mills (published by Fourth Estate)

Sanatorium by Abi Palmer (Published by Penned in the Margins)

Kika & Me by Amit Patel (Published by Pan Macmillan)

The winner of the 2020 Barbellion Prize will be announced on 12th February

The Journal of a Disapointed Man by W. N. P. Barbellion (Penguin Classics)