A Review of Eat First –You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You

The memoir was written as a book of remembrance for the author’s parents and for her daughter. Its readers will react to it in many ways. First it is a family document. It depicts the immigrant experience, specifically a Jewish family’s history in Berlin and after their timely escape from the Nazis and their re-settling in the United States. Interwoven among the behind the scenes insights and historic events are poignant memories, mother stories and father stories, which many readers will identify with. But the book is also a feminist document in which Ms Fuentes’ own history mirrors the life of many nicheless women in the twentieth century.
Reviewed by Carole McDonnell

Eat First –You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter by Sonia Pressman Fuentes
Xlibris Corp.
436 Walnut Street, 11th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
www.xlibris.com
0-7388-0635-8
Published 1999, 335 pages
Available in paperback, hardcover, or e-book
Rating: Excellent

The trouble with living a meaningful life is finding one’s niche. The niche is especially hard to find if like, Sonia Pressman Fuentes, one is a woman and one has to carve one’s own niche. Through, coincidence, serendipity, providence and a sense of purpose, Sonia Pressman Fuentes helped to free women from the narrow nook and cubbyhole society had prepared for them. She did this while she was the first woman attorney in the general counsel’s office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a founding member of the National Organization of Women (NOW). The book, Eat First – You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You: The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter, is her memoir.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes was born and reared in a family and tradition that measured a young women’s value by how marriageable that woman was. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, a young Jewish woman who thought of college education, career and law school would be working her way out of the marriage market. But what would she be working herself into? Not only did a college woman’s family question her choices but society had no place in which to put her once she graduated. Jobs, meaningful work, and respect would be hard to find and hard-won. But Fuentes would change her family’s mind as well as society.

The lives of some influential people are known only to a few. The average woman would not know the author’s accomplishments. The name does not – like Betty Friedan’s or a Gloria Steinem’s– ring a bell. It should. For such behind the scenes movers and shakers, the task of sharing their accomplishments is a hard one. They must share their journey and triumphs without sounding professorial or arrogant. Sonia Pressman Fuentes manages her memoir well. She informs her readers without boring them and she portrays the changes of history in a friendly conversational style. The divisive issues that threatened the growing Equal Opportunity movement are mentioned but she does not dwell on or mine the frailties, wrong-headedness and personal lives of past colleagues.

Memoirs generally contain what the author believes to be important. The memoir was written as a book of remembrance for the author’s parents and for her daughter. Its readers will react to it in many ways. First it is a family document. It depicts the immigrant experience, specifically a Jewish family’s history in Berlin and after their timely escape from the Nazis and their re-settling in the United States. Interwoven among the behind the scenes insights and historic events are poignant memories, mother stories and father stories, which many readers will identify with. But the book is also a feminist document in which Ms Fuentes’ own history mirrors the life of many nicheless women in the twentieth century. Young women in the 21st century often take certain freedoms for granted. They do not realize, for instance, that the sight of a pregnant elementary teacher was considered a taboo. Nor do they realize that in most cities across the U.S. women could not rent or buy a home without a male co-signer.

This memoir will make its readers think of history and how times change. When I picked up the book, I feared it would be a strident feminist tome. It wasn’t. Sonia Pressman Fuentes’ book is about her family, but also about all families. Who hasn’t had dealings with a strong-willed parent? Her description of the path her life took was the description of a strong stubborn woman who only wanted to live a meaningful life. The scattered stories and anecdotes throughout the book were human testaments to a triumphant spirit. They were not angry as I had feared. Although, as a black woman, I disagreed with Fuentes’ statement on page 144 that “sex was an issue more sensitive than race,” I rather enjoyed the book. It will make all its readers – even those of use who don’t define ourselves as Feminists– see that those pioneers of equal opportunity, like Sonia Pressman Fuentes, made the road wider for all of us, regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and age. I highly recommend this book.

For more information on Eat First – You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You visit: Eat First — You Don’t Know What They’ll…

Click here for our interview with the author Sonia Pressman Fuentes

About the Reviewer: Carole McDonnell’s essay, Oreo Blues is included in the W.W. Norton Anthology, LIFENOTES: Personal Writings By Black Women. She has won several writing awards and is currently working on a science fiction novel entitled, The Daughters of Men.

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