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Change Me into Zeus's Daughter

Moss, Barbara Robinette

Published by Scribner, U.S.A., 2000
ISBN 10: 074320218X / ISBN 13: 9780743202183
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Bibliographic Details


Title: Change Me into Zeus's Daughter

Publisher: Scribner, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: As New

Dust Jacket Condition: As New

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

Description:

1st edition/1st printing in as new, unread condition. Signed by the author on the title page. No condition problems. Mylar covered. Bookseller Inventory # 000307

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Book ratings provided by GoodReads:
4.02 avg rating
(2,054 ratings)

Synopsis: A haunting and triumphant story of a difficult and keenly felt life, "Change Me into Zeus's Daughter" is a remarkable literary memoir of resilience, redemption, and growing up in the South. Barbara Robinette Moss was the fourth in a family of eight children raised in the red-clay hills of Alabama. Their wild-eyed, alcoholic father was a charismatic and irrationally proud man who, when sober, captured his children's timid awe, but when (more often) drunk, roused them from bed for severe punishment or bizarre all-night poker games. Their mother was their angel: erudite and stalwart -- her only sin her inability to leave her husband for the sake of the children.

Unlike the rest of her family, Barbara bore the scars of this abuse and neglect on the outside as well as the inside. As a result of childhood malnutrition and a complete lack of medical and dental care, the bones in her face grew abnormally ("like a thin pine tree"), and she ended up with what she calls "a twisted, mummy face." Barbara's memoir brings us deep into not only the world of Southern poverty and alcoholic child abuse but also the consciousness of one who is physically frail and awkward, relating how one girl's debilitating sense of her own physical appearance is ultimately saved by her faith in the transformative powers of artistic beauty: painting and writing.

From early on and with little encouragement from the world, Barbara embodied the fiery determination to change her fate and achieve a life defined by beauty. At age seven, she announced to the world that she would become an artist -- and so she did. Nightly, she prayed to become attractive, to be changed into "Zeus's daughter," the goddess of beauty, and when her prayers weren't answered, she did it herself, raising the money for years of braces followed by facial surgery. Growing up "so ugly," she felt the family's disgrace all the more acutely, but the result has been a keenly developed appreciation for beauty -- physical and artistic -- the evidence of which can be seen in her writing.

Despite the deprivation, the lingering image from this memoir is not of self-pity but of the incredible bond between these eight siblings: the raucous, childish fun they had together, the making-do, and the total devotion to their desperate mother, who absorbed most of the father's blows for them and who plied them with art and poetry in place of balanced meals. Gracefully and intelligently woven in layers of flashback, the persistent strength of Barbara Moss's memoir is itself a testament to the nearly lifesaving appreciation for literature that was her mother's greatest gift to her children.

Review: In the tradition of Bastard Out of Carolina and Angela's Ashes, Change Me into Zeus's Daughter chronicles a child's coming of age in an abusive and dirt-poor environment. With the gripping narrative drive of both of those bestselling books, Barbara Robinette Moss's candid yet lyrical account takes hold of our hearts and doesn't let go until the final page. Her story juxtaposes heart-rending adversity with the playful chaos of eight siblings growing up in the 1960s South, with its creeping kudzu and soybean fields, its forthright and sometimes peculiar inhabitants, and its boiling racial tensions.

The hardships related here are both familiar and unique: the Christmas presents exchanged for drink money, the failed businesses, the decrepit shacks that served as temporary homes, the disturbing early-morning discipline. Under the tyrannical rule of a father who "inflicted pain recreationally, both physical and emotional," the only bright spot in Moss's childhood was her mother, Dorris. Slavishly devoted to her husband ("she seemed to crave him as much as he craved alcohol"), Dorris held the family together by absorbing most of the abuse. But in the end she lacked the courage to leave him, and her children had to act as their own protectors. As if poverty and her father's mistreatment weren't enough of a burden, Moss also had to contend with a face disfigured by malnutrition. As a result, she sought refuge in whatever elusive beauty she could find: the poetry her mother taught as a substitute for material things; the fertile, red Alabama soil; the love of her baby sister Janet. Her urge to create beauty and her longing to embody it culminate in surgery that transforms her face but brings with it a crisis of identity.

In her outpouring of memories, Moss occasionally gets lost in her tale, embedding flashback within flashback. More problematic is the portrayal of her father: he's relentlessly cruel until a near-fatal beating, after which he begins to briefly connect with his children. For us, it's too late, and we can only react to his death with a sigh of relief. But these minor quibbles are just that. Moss's extraordinary memoir enthralls us from its alarming introduction--in which Dorris feeds her starving children a meal of potentially poisonous seeds--to its poignant conclusion. --Lisa Costantino

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