Ma and Me

A Memoir

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Pub Date 17 May 2022 | Archive Date Not set


The memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the love and life debt she owes her mother.

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.

The memoir of a refugee caught between her identity as a gay woman and the love and life debt she owes her mother.

When Putsata Reang was eleven months old, her family fled war-torn Cambodia, spending...

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Featured Reviews

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.

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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.

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[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.

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