Book Review: Zami by Audre Lorde
*Content Warnings: Graphic content, sexual abuse, mental illness, self-harm*
Zami is a Carriacou word that can be loosely translated to ‘love between women’. It is difficult to imagine a more fitting title for Audre Lorde’s memoir: a story of the pursuit of love. As a black lesbian coming of age in 1940s/50s New York, she fights to belong in a world that unrelentingly seeks to push her to the margins.
I was struck by the maturity of Lorde’s perspective, particularly as she is still young even towards the end of the memoir. Looking it up, I discovered that she wrote Zami in her 40s, looking back on her youth. This element of hindsight did not create the distance I would expect but allowed a thread of wisdom to be woven throughout the narrative.
Lorde makes it impossible not to feel inspired!
The childhood years of the memoir are centred on description, making for a slow but intriguing start. I became fascinated by the intensely curious, perceptive way that Lorde views the world around her. The pace of the story increases once she leaves home, as her life becomes more vibrant and eventful.
Throughout the book, issues still relevant today are tackled in a rousing way. These include the value of female solidarity/friendship and intersectional feminism. Rather than feeling ‘tacked on’, these issues are framed by Lorde’s own experiences, examining universal issues through an emotive, personal lens.
Lorde has described Zami as a ‘biomythography’, which is difficult to explain until you’ve read it! It involves combining memory with rich, imaginative descriptions. Lorde’s writing is both searingly honest and poetic. Shocking incidents are interposed in a tone so matter-of-fact that I often had to re-read several times to process them.
Zami conveys the full spectrum of emotions, from grief and pain to deep love.
‘Maybe that is all any bravery is, a stronger fear of not being brave.’
Read If: You are looking for an inspiring and poetic memoir of love between women.
Made Me Think: The relish with which Lorde describes the female body in Zami is refreshing. We are so used to such descriptions being censored and idealised into something unrecognisable. Her lovers are different shapes, sizes and styles, with their own scars and insecurities.
It is empowering to read such descriptions, in which the female body is unconditionally desirable.
Written by Florence Edwards.