“We think our hearts break only from endings — the love gone, the rooms empty, the future unhappening as we stand ready to step into it — but what about how they can shatter in the face of what is possible?”Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (One World) is a graphic memoir by Mira Jacob. I loved her first book, a novel called The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, and was eager to see how she would add to the landscape of memoir writing with her wise and witty illustrations. The book uses paper doll illustrations superimposed on photographs, and interleaved speech bubbles that are alternately heartbreaking, funny, vulnerable, and real.
There’s a large cast of characters ranging from Jacob’s extended family in India to her immediate family in New Mexico to friends in New York City. What starts out as a series of conversations with her young inquisitive bi-racial son (Jacob’s partner is a white Jewish man) turns into deeply considered treatises on family, race, intimacy, parenthood, gender, writing, and politics.
“We took bets on what would bring him down, which is what you do when you’re trying to break your own heart before your country does it for you.”
Jacob brings a fresh and funny perspective to even tried-and-true situations like the Asian-parent/American-child dynamic or arranged versus love marriages. Like in her first book, much of the humor is in how she presents it, in a quicksilver conversational banter. She is also a master at making a point through everything left unsaid. Once, her mother decries her own importance, implying she’s not contributed to America as much as her children or husband, and Mira simply says, “Mom.”
Some of my favorite (yet painful) scenes were the ones between Jacob and her husband, about race and gender and the gas lighting and miscommunications that are inevitable in an interracial relationship in a white supremacist patriarchal world. I would read a whole book of these conversations if Jacob would write it (please write it). And of course, as a writer and woman of color myself, Jacob’s recounting of her struggles to make it in the literary world hit home and hard.
I blew through Good Talk in a couple of days but the themes she articulates are so compressed and significant that I’ll be thinking about them for a long time. I’ve heard Jacob read some of her pieces, complete with the delightful accents of her family, so I expect her audio book is as entertaining, though you’d miss out on the visual art. Good Talk expands the boundaries of creative nonfiction and establishes itself as part of a canon that I’m proud to champion. I highly recommend picking up a copy.
Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. Her memoir Olive Witch (Harper 360) was released in 2017 in the U.S., and The Lovers and the Leavers (HarperCollins India) is her book of interleaved stories, poems, and photographs. See more at olivewitch.com.