Ma and Me
by Putsata Reang
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Pub Date 17 May 2022 | Archive Date Not set
"A nuanced mediation on love, identity, and belonging. This story of survival radiates with resilience and hope." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"This openhearted memoir . . . opens the door to include queer descendants of war survivors into the growing American library of love.” —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show
When Putsata Reang was eleven months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending twenty-three days on an overcrowded navy vessel before finding sanctuary at an American naval base in the Philippines. Holding what appeared to be a lifeless baby in her arms, Ma resisted the captain’s orders to throw her bundle overboard. Instead, on landing, Ma rushed her baby into the arms of American military nurses and doctors, who saved the child's life. “I had hope, just a little, you were still alive,” Ma would tell Put in an oft-repeated story that became family legend.
Over the years, Put lived to please Ma and make her proud, hustling to repay her life debt by becoming the consummate good Cambodian daughter, working steadfastly by Ma’s side in the berry fields each summer and eventually building a successful career as an award-winning journalist. But Put's adoration and efforts are no match for Ma's expectations. When she comes out to Ma in her twenties, it's just a phase. When she fails to bring home a Khmer boyfriend, it's because she's not trying hard enough. When, at the age of forty, Put tells Ma she is finally getting married—to a woman—it breaks their bond in two.
In her startling memoir, Reang explores the long legacy of inherited trauma and the crushing weight of cultural and filial duty. With rare clarity and lyric wisdom, Ma and Me is a stunning, deeply moving memoir about love, debt, and duty.
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Average rating from 21 members
Ma and Me is a stunning memoir that wrestles with the question of what we owe the people that gave us life.
Putsata Reang is barely one year old when her family has to flee Cambodia for America. She only survives the perilous journey because of the hope and determination of her mother who she in turn feels indebted to. It is this sense of filial duty to please her mother, to be a good Cambodian daughter, while exploring the opportunities she has in America that causes a rift between them from the moment Putsata comes out as gay, something that her mother cannot accept.
“I would realize that the day a Khmer girl is born is the day she comes into debt, purely by the fact of her existence. That she owes her parents for bringing her into the world, for raising her, and that the only way she can settle the score, or sang khun, is by getting married, when the authority over her is transferred from her parents to her husband”.
As much as Ma and Me is a memoir about forging your own path and the rift that that can cause, it is also an exploration of the trauma of war and how its horrors can trickle down several generations. Putsata often seeks opportunities to travel to Cambodia, and later works there as a journalist to reconcile her family’s past and present: “I needed to figure out what part of the guilt that comes with being an immigrant and a survivor belonged to me, and what belonged to my parents.”
Ma and Me may be a memoir of one person, chronicling one experience, but it asks universal questions about how we are shaped by our parents' past, and how difficult it can be to stay true to yourself even when it means disappointing the people you love. Hands down one of the best memoirs I have read this year and I am hoping that this gets all the buzz it deserves in 2022.
Thank you to Netgalley and FSG for the ARC in exchange for my honest review. I’m very grateful to Putsata for sharing her story and I’m excited for everyone to get their hands on this memoir soon.
I am not generally a big reader of memoirs or biographies of living people; however, I was drawn to this book because of an Around the World reading challenge I am in the middle of, since it would allow me to cross Cambodia off my list. Overall, I found Ma and Me an interesting read. My knowledge of Cambodia was minimal, so I was fascinated to learn more about the country's people, history and culture. I also got caught up in the tale of Put's relationship with her mother. The prose was easy reading yet drew you in, and I liked the style in which the story was presented. I finished the book interested to learn more about Cambodia, and I recommend it to readers interested in Asian culture and history and those who enjoy tales of family relationships and overcoming difficulties.
[book:Ma and Me: A Memoir|58772754] is a personal reckoning of so much: transnational identity, intergenerational trauma and survivor's guilt, queer love and shame, and really what we owe to those we love vs what we owe to ourselves. Putsata presents us with the incredible story of her mother's experience as a young woman first fleeing arranged marriage and then the Cambodian genocide, giving up so much of herself as the interminable immigrant experience wrests her choices from her control. Reang then recounts her upbringing in the US, close relationship with her mother and her suffocating expectations, and emotional exploration of her queerness and her identity as a Cambodian severed from her roots. as the best memoirs do, Ma and Me invites us to peer alongside Reang's life and learn not only of her personal life and relationships, but about a culture and diaspora experience.
regarding the structure, it has an interesting out of sync quality. Reang is a talented writer, and at times draws paragraphs directly from interviews with her mother, including parables, and in other times gives sweeping foreshadowing giving us glimpses of the future of their relationship, tying generations and continents with these references. I think it works, for the most part. we're given threads of phone calls and feelings that stretch and weave together over decades, and I can see how maybe it keeps the narrative going with little pieces of foreshadowing, but it also felt a little repetitive at points.
thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and to netgalley for an advanced copy.
Ma and Me is a quiet, but impressively impactful book. I saw this on my Netgalley and immediately had to request it. You don't get many books about Cambodia or by a Cambodian (Cambodian-American) author.
I had the privilege to live and work in Phnom Penh for 5 years and I had many local and expat friends, gay, bi and heterosexual. I was able to learn some of the language and immerse myself into the culture and listen to first hand stories about the genocide and war. Back then I lived very close to the Tuol Sleng museum.
Although I was a "barang" (foreigner) I was able to feel at home there thanks to the kindness and hospitality of the Khmer people.
The author manages to pull you into her cultural and identity struggle and I've experienced many things the author mentioned in her book. I sat in one of the tribunals for "Duch", I listened to my gay friend's struggle of acceptance with his family. Mental health problems are still not acknowledged, health care is only for the rich, many still to this day earn less than a dollar a day etc.
The novel is matter of fact and doesn't hide the ugly sides.
I can highly highly recommend this to anybody who's interested in Cambodia.
Thank you Netgalley for providing me with this gem of a book in exchange for an honest review.
I loved this memoir seeped in the survivor's guilt of immigration (made worse by the survivor's guilt of escaping Pol Pot's killing fields) and the legacies of a different culture while navigating your sense of self and where you are now. Reang actually does return to Cambodia which adds a few layers of complexity since she does try her best to fulfill all of the expectations upon her while also navigating her own sexual orientation and sense of shiftiness. I couldn't put it down.
An interesting memoir that addresses inherited and community trauma. The author was born in Cambodia but her family escaped when she was just a one-year old. She makes her first trip back when she is a teenager and becomes fascinated with the country.
The reader learns a lot of Cambodian culture and recent history. The author grew up to be a journalist and a writer and her memoir is written very well. It includes the pain of never living up to her mother's expectations and how hard that was on her. Many readers will identify and at the end of the book, you're left feeling that you have learned a lot about this culture and on my part, I'd like to learn more. So, was their upbringing a tragedy or success? Immigrant families face so many challenges. And, by the way, the author is gay and that plays no small part in her relationship with her mother. You can't go wrong with reading this book because it fascinates on every level.
If your parents fled a war, saving your life, but leaving all their family behind, do you owe them something? What if the thing that they really want from you, a marriage to a Khmer man is the only thing you cannot give them. How do you come out to a mother who has such expectations of you? These are the sorts of questions Putsata Reang reckons with in this incredible memoir about family, belonging and not-belonging.
When Reang’s family fled the Khmer Rouge, she was just a tiny baby, and nobody thought she would survive since she was so malnourished. As the baby of the family, she was very close to her mother, and felt extreme pressure to be everything she wanted - I mean, she did save her life. What follows is an evitable struggle between doing what is expected of her, and following her heart.
I’m not the child of refugees or immigrants, so I’ve never experienced this sort of situation, but I have an inkling that many LGBTQIA+ children to immigrant parents will see certain aspects of their own story reflected in Reang’s; the pressure to make your family proud while also forging your own path, a path that they might not necessarily agree with.
I have one issue with the book which I only realised after chatting with @lepass . Reang’s father is extremely abusive, not only to their mother, but also to other children such as their cousin, yet he barely gets a mention. I do feel like mother’s often take the brunt of their children’s anger, yet objectively, her father was much worse.
Definitely a memoir worth reading. Though, as I previously mentioned in my stories, I was pretty grossed out about the author asking her fiancée’s father for his blessing to marry her. Down with patriarchal gender norms please and thanks.
I read the first 3/4 of this book in one sitting, went to bed, woke up 5 hours later and finished the rest. It's really hard to put down. It is a profound memoir of a Cambodian-American mother and daughter. Putsata has lived an extraordinary life. Her story is both beautiful and sad. Some have said the book is repetitive, but I did not think so. There are recurring themes, such as trying to please her mother and feeling as though she doesn’t fully belong, but it ties all the stories of her life together. It’s just really good writing, not repetitive.
This book not only tells the story of an immigrant family and the complicated and layered relationship between mother and daughter, but it also gave me a chance to learn a lot about Cambodia, a country I admittedly knew very little about. I’m very grateful for that.
There is a parable in this book that I thought was the perfect explanation of Cambodian culture vs American culture. The rabbit and the snail. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “I know this! It’s the same as the rabbit and the tortoise!” But it is not. The snail called all of his friends and family to stand in for him along the trail, and this way, he won. The snails represent the collectivism of Cambodian culture and puts a lot into perspective from her mother’s point of view.
This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read, and I think it will be the memoir of the year. I’m excited for others to read it and to be able to discuss it with them. My only complaint is that I wish she had included more photographs. Looking forward to part two about the next 40 years, Putsata!
Thank you NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Absolutely fantastic book. I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting a deeper understanding of Asian immigrants, Asian American life, and impact of war on other countries.
This is beautifully written memoir about a Cambodian family, trauma, identity, and reconciliation. Reang defied expectations when she survived her family's exodus from Cambodia and again after many years of conformity, she came out. She skillfully weaves in the history of Cambodia but more importantly the impact of the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodia people. Her father's trouble adjusting to life in the US and their difficult early years here is all wrapped in her relationship with her mother. Her mother expects so much and she never lets up, despite Reang's achievements. Hardest is her mother's unwillingness to accept her for herself. It's important to note that Reang doesn't come off as bitter. She's questioning but she's not bitter. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. It's a fascinating read.
Thank you to the author, Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This is a beautifully written memoir from a Cambodian woman whose family fled the country when she was one year old. As the youngest child, she only survived due to the determination of her mother, and this in turn causes her to feel indebted toward her mother - quite apart from the cultural expectations of both parents as to what a "good" Khmer daughter should be. They settle in a part of the US where she and her family are the only non-Caucasians in the larger community, and it's clear that adjusting was difficult for both parents and children. The author returns to Cambodia for the first time as a teenager, and is confronted with the scale of the horrors her family escaped from, and the sense of obligation that her parents feel toward those that they left behind. The author studies and becomes a journalist, and accepts postings in Cambodia, as well as other geopolitical hotspots - and then comes to terms with her sexuality, and comes out to her mother as gay.
Writing this review, it feels impossible that all these various facets could be woven into one book - but this book works wonderfully. Issues of identity, cultural obligations and expectations at odds with the real life situation, hope and shame, sexuality, reconciliation - and the history of Cambodia, and the trauma that the Khmer Rouge wrought - are woven together into a compelling life story.
*Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG) via NetGalley for the ARC*
As a first generation Cambodian American I was beyond excited to read this book. I knew it was going to be insightful and poignant as I’ve previously read the author’s NYT article.
As the title suggests, Ma and Me, centers on Reang and her mother’s relationship. First, as a baby fleeing from Cambodia, then as an adolescent growing up and toiling away on American soil, and finally as an adult, seeking out her own journey, traveling between past and present, country to country. Their lives are stubbornly intertwined, following analogous paths until Reang bravely comes out as gay to her culturally traditional mother and a rift tears their core foundation apart.
Full of folklore and myths, as well as stories of her mom’s life as a youth in pre-war Cambodia, Reang’s memoir is beautifully brutal. The imagery she portrays is crisp and vivid. The horrors she recounts are gut-wrenching. Her mom’s stories presses a tender bruise that I’m sure all Cambodians carry. For any one who’s been affected by a war torn country, who might still live in a battlefield within the four walls of their home. Those who want to know their ancestors’ history, about the refugee experience, who’ve been denied access to those haunting memories that their elders deliberately placed on a high dusty shelf…you’ll find them here. Every chapter packs a punch. There’s hardly any levity until Reang finally finds peace within herself, having struggled with ptsd, conflicting racial/cultural/sexual identities, and familial piety.
It truly was a devastating read, even more so as a fellow Cambodian, when you think about what unspeakable atrocities your own family went through. But I’m grateful to have read this and even more grateful for the representation. I think Reang’s memoir would be the perfect candidate for reading in schools that now require Asian American history curriculum or for anyone who wants to have a better understanding of Cambodian culture. Wishing Reang all the success as a writer/author and hopefully a positive update/sequel for her ma and her. 5/5 solid stars.
One of the most compelling memoirs I've read in a while. Reang is an international journalist, a Khmer daughter, and a gay woman. But how do you live your life when your life is your debt?
I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this initially as I felt the first few chapters jumped around between different places and people and eras before I'd had a chance to familiarise myself with them, so I kept having to stop and figure out whether I was reading about Ma or Ma's mother. But once I'd got past those first chapters I couldn't put this beautiful memoir down.
I knew the bare bones of Cambodian history and nothing about Cambodian Khmer culture. This was all explained so well that I felt immersed in Put's story and family. The relationship between Put and Ma was one grounded in Ma's history. Female Khmer children were expected to marry and bring a dowry to her parents, and then be subservient and devoted to her husband and family. Added to this expectation of Put was the fact that her mother had fought so hard to keep her alive and Ma expected unequivocal loyalty in return. Put's refusal to settle down and marry young, followed by her insistence on being independant and successful in her career was difficult for Ma to understand, let alone accept. Put's revelation that she was gay drove a further huge wedge in their previously close bond.
Put is honest about her feelings of guilt and failure to be the daughter her mother expected her to be. Ma is a force to be reckoned with and Put's decision to at last forge her own way in life was extremely brave, knowing that the relationship with Ma might never be healed.
This is a beautiful account of what it means to be Cambodian in America, to be viewed as a foreign Cambodian in Cambodia, and what it means to not follow the traditional paths set out in Khmer culture. I loved the contrast in demeanours in the wedding photos at the back. I stayed up very late to finish this memoir because I couldn't put it down.
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