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'Nine Moons' by Gabriela Wiener
'Would I be a good mother only if I renounced what, up until now, I had considered life's pleasures, or would motherhood reveal to me other kinds of pleasures?'—Review #194
I was ready to leave the Small Press Flea at the Brooklyn Public Library last month and felt guilty about not having bought a book. Then I passed the Restless Books table and saw ‘Nine Moons’ by Peruvian journalist Gabriela Wiener. I didn’t know anything about it, but I bought it because the cover looks similar to ‘Sexographies,’ a collection of her work I reviewed and enjoyed in 2019. It includes first-person forays into ayahuasca and the tattoo artists in a Lima prison, and I figured ‘Nine Moons’ would include more stories like that. So when I discovered it’s actually a pregnancy memoir, I was like … well, this kid’s face says it best:
Donna and I decided not to have children, which makes us weirdos here in our Brooklyn neighborhood. I worried I would struggle with the book. Probably best to dump it and move on. Then I read an inside blurb from Molly Young, who writes the Read Like the Wind newsletter at The New York Times (formerly at New York Magazine) and is a reviewer I trust. She wrote:
‘With certain writers it doesn’t matter what the book is about, because the brain that created it is so euphoric, so wicked, so irascibly specific, that you want to clear out a corner of your own headspace and beckon the author inside as a permanent tenant. It is for this reason that I, a person who has never been pregnant and has little interest in reproduction, can recommend a book about a pregnant lady who watches trash TV and dreams she is going to give birth to a monkey.’
That’s what I needed to hear. I pressed on.
Here’s the cover:
In addition to trash TV and monkey dreams, Wiener describes in frank and direct terms the nine months of her pregnancy, a timeline of anxieties, self-reflection and physical risk. Along the way, she and her husband, called ‘J,’ both lose their jobs in Barcelona. She is touched and prodded by many hands and instruments. She wants to have a natural birth, free of drugs, a decision that forces her to navigate a series of prickly friends, midwives, doctors and medical personnel with strong opinions about epidurals, breastfeeding and such. Many of her experiences are the starting point to wider exploration. For example, after learning she’s pregnant, Wiener recounts stories about clandestine abortions (including her own) in Peru, where it’s illegal. Her dread of possibly having an episiotomy, leads her to report that doctors often conduct the painful and humiliating procedure regardless of its necessity. Her concerns over sex and intimacy during pregnancy lead her to a genre of pornography that provides the title of this book. The final chapter includes her harrowing hours of labor and the birth. There’s intransigent Barcelona taxi drivers, an ambulance ride, many strange doctors’ fingers and, possibly, an attempted baby snatching.
‘Nine Moons’ was originally published in 2009. This translated edition, published in 2020, includes a dedication to someone named Coco and a new Afterword. In the Afterword we learn who Coco is. It’s a revelation that had me like:
I don’t want to say much more because I want you to read this book and be as surprised as I was. I hope Wiener writes a whole other book based on questions raised in the Afterword. Through ‘Nine Moons’ I learned about many things—from transvaginal ultrasounds, to mucus plugs to what a deadname is. It’s frequently graphic and sometimes gross, but always engaging, humorous and compassionate. Take it from Molly Young and me: You should read this book.
How it begins:
Over these past months, nine, to be exact, I’ve come to think that pleasure and pain always have something to do with things either entering or exiting your body.
Nine months ago I didn’t know that a series of events related to those entrances and exists would converge that November, the same month I turned thirty. My father was diagnosed with colon cancer, Adriana committed suicide by throwing herself from a hotel window, and I was lying in a Spanish National Health Service hospital bed, recovering from major surgery. I returned home, devastated by the news, and physically very weak. I can scarcely remember the days following my operation, two weeks during a particularly cold winter, during which I’d needed J’s help for almost everything. To cut my meat, to brush my teeth, and to clean my incisions.
I’d had some excess mammary glands removed from beneath my armpits and I could barely move my arms. I had two enormous scars from which catheters emerged, draining dark blood. I’d decided to have the glands removed because, aside from being unattractive and annoying, the doctors had assured me that, one day in the remote future when I decided to have children, they would fill with milk and cause me terrible problems. And so I decided that I should amputate what I saw as a deformity, even though my mother, with her magical worldview, insisted on reminding me that in other times, women with supernumerary breasts were burned as witches: for her, my two extra breasts could have held supernatural powers.
‘Nine Moons’ (‘Nueve lunas’) by Gabriela Wiener was first published by Mondadori, Barcelona, in 2009. It was published by Restless Books in 2020. Translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell. 196 pages including Afterword and Reading Group Guide. $16.74 at Bookshop.org.
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Before you go:
ICYMI: Review #193
Read this: ‘The Right to Not Be Pregnant’ by Charlotte Shane in Harper’s Magazine is an informative, searing and fascinating must-read about abortion, body autonomy and freedom that asserts: ‘Biology need not be destiny.’
Read this, too: My friend Elizabeth and Aya Martin Seaver have launched a pop-up newsletter called Notes from Three Pines that will feature essays and other contributions about author Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. Check it out.
Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!
Until next time,