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Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

Review

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

You must read HUNGER by Roxane Gay.

It is not a simple book to extol, although I come away wanting to do just that. Gay ensures that someone like me comes away vehemently conscious of the privilege of their body, of what it is to move around the world in a body that conforms far more closely to societally accepted standards than hers does. I run the risk of sounding condescending or patronizing when I only deeply want to express how profoundly this book affected me: how it moved me and educated me. I came away humbled, and violently furious on her behalf. But it's not about me. It’s only about me in that I, and people who are shaped like myself, have a responsibility to make our world a kinder, more conscious and inclusive place. We must elevate the voices and narratives of people with marginalized and misunderstood bodies. That is our responsibility…that, and to listen.

I want to call this book excellent, heartbreaking, brilliant, clear, brave, unflinching and devastating. All of that is true, but it’s incomplete, so let me just say: You must read HUNGER by Roxane Gay.

Early on in the book, she writes: "What you need to know is that my life is split in two, cleaved not so neatly. There is the before and the after. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped."

"I want to live in a world where more people have read HUNGER by Roxane Gay.... This is a narrative of body, trauma, identity, becoming, belonging, creation. It reads like it needed to be written. And it needs to be read."

It seems a disservice to paraphrase, but that's the nature of a review. Roxane Gay was assaulted horrifically by a boy she knew and many she didn't at age 12. She began gaining weight to reclaim her body, and to transform it into something that would protect her from men, make her feel less desirable to their passions and, therefore, less vulnerable. Her trauma informs the book, because the book is about body, her body, and she and her body were changed by that trauma.

"I want to be understood," she says. She writes of surviving, but also of occupying the space of victimhood. She confronts that space. The consequences of that assault are deep and far-reaching. She took control of her body, but in some ways, perhaps, lost control of it that day. She is working to reclaim it.

People make assumptions about her weight. They perceive themselves superior to her because of it. I don't think anyone could look at her and know the truth. They talk of her health as if they know what's really plaguing her. They talk of the accommodations she needs in the space she occupies as if those accommodations are a personal affront to them, instead of the reality she has to live within. It's not that she's too big, but that our standards of womanhood and personhood are too narrow.

"My body is a cage," she writes, "but this is my cage and there are moments where I take pride in it."

You must read HUNGER by Roxane Gay. I want to live in a world where more people have read HUNGER by Roxane Gay. We need to be more conscious of what we carry and what others carry, and what we can do to other people. Gay is a prominent figure and has been tremendously forthcoming and brave to share so much of how she became who she is. We need to know that prominent activists, writers and scholars can carry this with them. We need to understand how trauma can endure. We need to understand how people can endure beyond it.

"But I am a lucky girl. I think most of my sad stories are behind me. There are things I will no longer tolerate. [...] These sad stories will always weigh on me, though that burden lessens the more I realize who I am and what I am worth."

This is a narrative of body, trauma, identity, becoming, belonging, creation. It reads like it needed to be written. And it needs to be read.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on June 15, 2017

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
by Roxane Gay

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2017
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062362593
  • ISBN-13: 9780062362599