Returning to My Mother's House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine
by Gail Straub


High Point, 2008. ISBN 978-0-963-03275-1.
Reviewed by Lisa Shirah-Hiers
Posted on 08/25/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus

In her award-winning book, Returning to My Mother's House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine, Gail Straub takes us with her on a deeply moving literal and spiritual journey as she seeks to come to terms with her mother's untimely death at the age of 55.

As she approaches her own fifty-fifth birthday, Straub faces her fear of mortality and begins the grieving process she had pushed away as a young woman. In re-evaluating her life and her too-brief relationship with her mother, Straub comes to believe that it was her mother's rejection of the traditional feminine attributes of emotion, intuition, connection and respect for the interior life that were forced upon her by society and her own personal imperatives that eroded her health. Something of a bohemian and a gifted painter, her mother had rejected that free, creative, unbounded lifestyle for marriage, motherhood, and life in a conservative East Coast suburb. As her mother struggled to fit in, she lost her sense of her true, feminine, expressive self. Straub believes it was the pain of that loss as much as anything else that led to her mother's eventual metaphorical and literal heart failure.

As Straub struggles to come to terms with her mother's life and death she begins to understand that she too has lost touch with her feminine self and witnessed the same loss in the women around her. Straub writes, "I saw so clearly how her betrayal of her emotional intelligence, her artist's intuition and imagination, and the values of her interior life precisely mirrored the universal loss of the feminine in our society. Returning to my mother's house, I came upon a great longing to return to my own feminine wisdom, to understand more fully my own allegiance to doing over being, head over heart and body, exterior values over interior attributes." (p. 139)

Straub's fascination with the universal loss of the feminine takes her to Bali, Russia and China, working with women to reclaim their deep wisdom and to reconnect with this source of personal power and healing. In the end, Returning to my Mother's House is not a book about grief but about connection. It is both Straub's personal story and a powerfully universal guide for every woman and man who has succumbed to the pressures and perils of modern life, calling us to step back, take stock, honor the interior life, reconnect with the self and with each other. It is only by honoring the feminine as well as the masculine, Straub argues, that we will have the power to transform and heal ourselves and our culture.


Gail Straub is co-director with her husband, David Gershon, of the Empowerment Institute, the co-author of Empowerment: The Art of Creating Your Life As You Want It, and the author of The Rhythm of Compassion: Caring for Self, Connecting with Society as well as Circle of Compassion, a book of meditations. Her memoir, Returning to My Mother's House: Taking Back the Wisdom of the Feminine, was the 2009 Nautilus Silver Award Winner in the memoir category, the 2008 Winner in the National Best Books Women's Issues Category. It was also a finalist in ForeWord Magazine's 2008 Book of the Year in the Category of Family and Relationships. For more information visit her website.

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