Memoirs can be tricky to pull off, as they are apt to come off as so much navel gazing if done poorly. Not so, Oriana Josseau’s memoir of her early years in Chile. In this tale, the late scientist, who penned the book at age 75, engages the reader with an insightful look at life in another time and culture, during an era of decorum and simple pleasures, of poverty and world turmoil.
Josseau’s memoir covers the first 26 years of her life. Born in 1920 in Punta Arenas, the author early on established herself as an independent child with a keen intelligence and natural ambition. In grade nine, Josseau, who was always at the top of her class, set her sights on a career in science after learning of the death of Marie Curie. “ … I had never heard of her before,” Josseau writes, “but because Sra. Mora went on to tell us something about the life and achievements of this remarkable woman, that suddenly opened new vistas … Women didn’t have to be only mothers, or nuns, or teachers, or poets.”
But she soon learned that being a woman in the then-male-dominated world of science would not be easy. Thrilled to be recommended for a grant to study in the U.S., she was later devastated when she was denied the grant because she was a woman, and “women are a bad investment.”
Despite her studies and work, Josseau’s life never lacked excitement. She attended the opera, visited the home of poet Pablo Neruda, and one summer almost singlehandedly fed a crew of 15 fellow students as they built their own ski hostel.
Even though the memoir only covers the author’s early years, they are fully lived decades indeed. In writing about them, Josseau proves herself a natural storyteller with a knack for knowing just the right moments — and their meanings — to share.
Also available in hardcover.