My Mother is Now Earth

Feb 25th, 2013 | By | Category: 24-3: The Science of Place, Media Reviews

MY MOTHER IS NOW EARTHBy Mark Anthony Rolo
Borealis Books (2012)

Review by Mary Annette Pember

In this poignant memoir, Mark Anthony Rolo tells the story of his mother—a woman who died young and desperately poor while caring for her huge brood of children and trying to live with an alcoholic husband. Brutal yet innocent, My Mother is Now Earth is written through the eyes of his younger self. This device allows him to give witness to his mother’s suffering with the sort of honesty of which only a child could be capable.

Although his mother was Ojibwe and the family lived in a mostly white, rural community, this memoir is ultimately a tale of the toll that poverty exacts on families in this country, regardless of race. Rolo details his mother’s isolation from family and friends in breathtaking prose that recreates her claustrophobic world in which child care and housework were endless. Clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, her WWII-veteran husband medicates himself and his family by the only means available in that era to the poor: isolation and alcohol.

Although there is despair aplenty in this book, Rolo describes his mother’s innate dignity with a powerful, skillful hand. Her Ojibwe spirit permeates her life and the family’s, transcending the grinding demands of their daily lives. This book illustrates the ultimate example of survival and is a commanding depiction of the connection Native peoples have with culture and earth.

Beautiful yet painful, this book exacts an emotional toll from the reader, but it’s one certainly worth paying. By understanding and facing his mother’s life and pain, he helps us face our own demons and, in the end, sets us free.

Mary Annette Pember (Red Cliff Ojibwe) is an independent journalist whose work focuses on Native issues, policy, and culture.

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