Cover image of Impossible Motherhood

Summary

Irene Vilar was just a teenager, a pliant young college undergraduate in thrall to a fifty-year-old professor, when they embarked on a relationship that led to marriage—a union of impossible odds—and multiple abortions. Vilar knows that she is destined to be misunderstood, that many will see her nightmare as a story of abusing a right, of using abortion as a means of birth control. But it isn’t that. Her nightmare is part of an awful secret, and the real story is shrouded in shame, colonialism, self-mutilation, and a family legacy that features a heroic grandmother, a suicidal mother, and two heroin-addicted brothers. Hers is a story that touches on American exploitation and reproductive repression in Puerto Rico. It is a story that looks back on her traumatic childhood growing up in the shadow of her mother’s death and the footsteps of her famed grandmother, the political activist Lolita Lebrón. Vilar seamlessly weaves together past, present, and future, channeling a narrative that is at once dramatic and subtle.

Impossible Motherhood is a heartrending and ultimately triumphant testimonial of shame and servility as told by a writer looking back on her history of addiction. Abortion has never offered any honest person easy answers, and Vilar’s dark journey through self-inflicted wounds, compulsive patterns, and historical hauntings revisits the difficulties this country has with the subject and prompts an important, much-needed discussion—literary, political, social, and philosophical. Vilar’s is a powerful story of loss and mourning that bravely delves into selfhood, national identity, family responsibility, and finally motherhood itself.

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Cover image of The Ladies Gallery

Summary

A shred of black lace. A broken hand mirror. A spidery strip of false eyelash. These are the fragments left to Irene Vilar, granddaughter of Lolita Lebron, the revered political activist for Puerto Rican indepen dence who in 1954 sprayed the U.S. House of Representatives with gunfire, wounding several congressmen, and later served twenty-seven years in prison. In The Ladies’ Gallery, Vilar revisits the legacy of her grandmother and that of her anguished mother, who leapt to her death from a speeding car when Vilar was eight.

Eleven years after her mother’s death, Vilar awakens in a psychiatric hospital after her own suicide attempt at the age of eighteen and begins to face the devastating inheritance of abandonment and suicide passed down from her grandmother and mother. The familial pattern of self-destruction flung open the doors to her national inheritance and the search for identity. Alternating between Vilar’s notes from the ward and the unraveling of her family’s secrets, this lyrical and powerful memoir of three generations of Puerto Rican women is urgent, impassioned, and unforgettable.

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