The Ways We Choose to Live, with Magda Szabó (A Book Review)

Book Reviews, Fiction

Assuming that someone could vouch for us, and assure her that neither of us were likely to brawl or get drunk, we might perhaps discuss the matter again. I stood there dumbfounded. This was the first time anyone had required references from us. “I don’t wash just anyone’s dirty linen,” she said.

I grew up with Ate Marie, our nanny and household help. My mom had a full-time job with three little girls to take care of. Her mother-in-law, my paternal grandma passed away when I was about 6 or 7 years old, and my maternal grandma, her mother, was abroad, working in the U.S. She needed all the help she could get. When I was about ten, my father found out he was adopted and that his real mother was in London working as a nanny.

A few years ago, I was involved in a campaign for domestic worker’s bill of rights. The campaign involved educational discussions, continuous social media outreach and visits to the state’s capital, Sacramento, in efforts to level up the rights of domestic workers and caregivers.

How I’ve known domestic work my whole life has been this way, from Ate Marie, our household help, my grandmother who was a nanny in London, the Filipinos who become caregivers in the U.S. and around the world, and the countless women who labor each day with their heart and hands.

And then I met Emerence.

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Fall, 1981 by Tamas Galambos

Magda Szabó The Door (Amazon | Indiebound) is the story of Emerence, a Hungarian woman who becomes employed by the narrator and her husband as their household help. The narrator is a writer, married with no child. From the moment she sought Emerence, much of her existence revolved around understanding the older lady’s existence. This was already evident upon their first meeting: she asked for references & remarked that she doesn’t just washes anyone’s dirty linen. She sought out details, asked around, even traveled back to Emerence’s hometown to get a glimpse of who she really was.