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The Red Kitchen (A Memoir)

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At the age of seven, Barbara witnesses a frightening incident between her parents. She goes on to spend much of her childhood toggling between the happy family she longs for and the unhappy one she’s in but can’t repair. Disturbed by the smell of rotting leaves and an uneasy feeling about her father, she will spend half her life trying to get to the bottom of the reasons w At the age of seven, Barbara witnesses a frightening incident between her parents. She goes on to spend much of her childhood toggling between the happy family she longs for and the unhappy one she’s in but can’t repair. Disturbed by the smell of rotting leaves and an uneasy feeling about her father, she will spend half her life trying to get to the bottom of the reasons why. As an adult, a summer in Africa allows Barbara to live without labels—wife, mother, daughter, sister—and become the woman she wants to be: funny, compassionate, complex, and often flawed. The Red Kitchen is the story of both Barbara and her mother, who, like many women, both spend much of their lives surrendering to society’s expectation to be one thing while yearning to be another. Ultimately, both women—in very different ways—come of age, find the loving parts of their mother-daughter relationship, and start living their best lives.


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At the age of seven, Barbara witnesses a frightening incident between her parents. She goes on to spend much of her childhood toggling between the happy family she longs for and the unhappy one she’s in but can’t repair. Disturbed by the smell of rotting leaves and an uneasy feeling about her father, she will spend half her life trying to get to the bottom of the reasons w At the age of seven, Barbara witnesses a frightening incident between her parents. She goes on to spend much of her childhood toggling between the happy family she longs for and the unhappy one she’s in but can’t repair. Disturbed by the smell of rotting leaves and an uneasy feeling about her father, she will spend half her life trying to get to the bottom of the reasons why. As an adult, a summer in Africa allows Barbara to live without labels—wife, mother, daughter, sister—and become the woman she wants to be: funny, compassionate, complex, and often flawed. The Red Kitchen is the story of both Barbara and her mother, who, like many women, both spend much of their lives surrendering to society’s expectation to be one thing while yearning to be another. Ultimately, both women—in very different ways—come of age, find the loving parts of their mother-daughter relationship, and start living their best lives.

42 review for The Red Kitchen (A Memoir)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Princess

    Clarke takes us to a red kitchen from her childhood– truly a shade of color that can either be described as passionate or menacing and in this scenario proved to be both. In a place where one expects to be fed and nourished, Clarke takes us to that moment of betrayal in her mother’s red kitchen, where all she felt as a little girl was confusion and trauma. Reading this memoir really felt like living another person’s life. It is more detailed and felt longer than any other memoir I’ve read so far Clarke takes us to a red kitchen from her childhood– truly a shade of color that can either be described as passionate or menacing and in this scenario proved to be both. In a place where one expects to be fed and nourished, Clarke takes us to that moment of betrayal in her mother’s red kitchen, where all she felt as a little girl was confusion and trauma. Reading this memoir really felt like living another person’s life. It is more detailed and felt longer than any other memoir I’ve read so far, which can be a good thing or not depending on the reader. The Red Kitchen is a long and intimate journey with Clarke taking us to an immersive experience of an audacious woman’s life fully lived (from late 1940s to early 2000s!!) It shows the different kinds of people we could be in a single lifetime. Big thanks to Barbara Clarke and She Writes Press for the gifted copy with a request for review. A longer version of this review can be found on my blog: https://princessandpages.wordpress.co...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Story Circle Book Reviews

    Barbara Clarke opens her memoir, The Red Kitchen, with a frightening childhood recollection. The same day her mother painted their kitchen a brilliant red, she witnessed an alarming argument between her parents during which her mother held a knife to her father’s throat. Memoirs have always appealed to me as a reader since they provide an opportunity to learn about someone else’s life. From reading The Red Kitchen, it’s apparent Clarke was not happy for most of hers. As a child she saw and felt t Barbara Clarke opens her memoir, The Red Kitchen, with a frightening childhood recollection. The same day her mother painted their kitchen a brilliant red, she witnessed an alarming argument between her parents during which her mother held a knife to her father’s throat. Memoirs have always appealed to me as a reader since they provide an opportunity to learn about someone else’s life. From reading The Red Kitchen, it’s apparent Clarke was not happy for most of hers. As a child she saw and felt the tension in her parents’ marriage. She felt henpecked and marginalized by her mother, who seemed to favor her older brother, Bud. Clarke’s relationship with her relatives was fraught with issues, and she never felt accepted. Even as an adult, the author felt compelled to act a certain way because it was expected. She dropped out of college to marry and supported her husband’s education. I think she did find happiness as a mother while being estranged from her own parents. However, they assisted her quite a bit after her first divorce. Periodically, while reading, I was perplexed about the direction of the book. Clarke has multiple layers and at certain junctures I pondered which theme she was pursuing. Eventually, after a cathartic trip to Africa and the death of her father, the author divulges a major revelation, one I was not surprised to read since she had made allusions to it in earlier chapters. Clarke’s memoir contains a significant message: Take charge of your own life—it’s not too late. I think she spent a large portion of her life dissatisfied but did not quite have the temerity nor confidence to make the necessary changes. Her story can be an inspiration to other women to live their best lives within their own convictions. Story Circle Book Reviews thanks Janilyn Kocher for this review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    The best part of reading a memoir is getting to know the person behind the story. If the book is done right, it can bring me the reader closer to that person. There is a fine line of how much that person wants to share of their life with tons of people' opening themselves up for judgement. In the case of this book, I really felt like Barbara did a very nice job of sharing her story without rushing or leaving bits out. I felt a close connection with Barbara and her mother. Rest her soul. These tw The best part of reading a memoir is getting to know the person behind the story. If the book is done right, it can bring me the reader closer to that person. There is a fine line of how much that person wants to share of their life with tons of people' opening themselves up for judgement. In the case of this book, I really felt like Barbara did a very nice job of sharing her story without rushing or leaving bits out. I felt a close connection with Barbara and her mother. Rest her soul. These two women may have experienced heartbreak but they came out of it stronger and for the better. This book is just what women readers are needing in this present day. Here are a couple of passages that I really liked: The author's mom's live after her divorce went from black and white to technicolor with new friends and a new sense of independence and feminism. "Sometimes I feel resolved and curious about what might come when the energy that was me is released. It is the kind of letting go I yearn for at times--not for death, but for those first moments of fledging, completely free of the nest."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    ***Goodreads Giveaway Win*** Although I enjoyed reading this book, I have to admit I don't think it will stick with me. I can't put my finger on the reason but it just didn't strike me as remarkable. It feels weird saying that considering this was a memoir that contains a bit of a plot twist. But still, maybe because we get so many memoirs about extraordinary lives, a book that's less dramatic doesn't stand out. This sucks because I wish we could get more books about quotidian lives. ***Goodreads Giveaway Win*** Although I enjoyed reading this book, I have to admit I don't think it will stick with me. I can't put my finger on the reason but it just didn't strike me as remarkable. It feels weird saying that considering this was a memoir that contains a bit of a plot twist. But still, maybe because we get so many memoirs about extraordinary lives, a book that's less dramatic doesn't stand out. This sucks because I wish we could get more books about quotidian lives.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jill Dobbe

    The title of this book caught my attention right away. The red kitchen plays a significant role in the life of the author as she grows up in a dysfunctional household with parents who were unhappy and feelings were hidden and never talked about. As an adult, Clarke finds herself searching for her identity in unsuccessful relationships, finally reconciling with her mother and learning the truth about her father.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    From the age of seven as a young girl living with her older brother and fighting parents through her teenage years to adulthood, the author describes her life rife with unhappiness. Lots of memories, lots of confusion, lots of searching. Memoirs are usually fascinating and informative and this author's story is a compelling one, too. Her horror at her parents' downright scary fights is understandable and heart crushing. We begin to see things unravel and unfold as she grows older and pain is emul From the age of seven as a young girl living with her older brother and fighting parents through her teenage years to adulthood, the author describes her life rife with unhappiness. Lots of memories, lots of confusion, lots of searching. Memoirs are usually fascinating and informative and this author's story is a compelling one, too. Her horror at her parents' downright scary fights is understandable and heart crushing. We begin to see things unravel and unfold as she grows older and pain is emulated in her own two unsuccessful marriages. Her liberating Kenya trip shows an entirely different side of her, and of life. Familial and other relationships throughout are described and the changes are interesting to see. Graphic adult descriptions just aren't enjoyable for me so I did not enjoy that side of things. I felt such hopelessness and sadness at Barbara's story in a somewhat disturbing way, though it is important not to choose only comfortable books to read! She has an excellent and vivid way of capturing emotions, memories and senses. My sincere thank you to She Writes Press and NetGalley.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sunny Abernathy

    I don't recall ever giving a memoir or autobiography less than five stars.. I feel having the courage to put yourself and your family's dirty laundry out there for the world to read is worth five stars alone, AND this time is no different. The Kitchen is the family hub. and for the majority of us, our childhood kitchens witnessed a lot. Author Clarke is no different. We all think our family is the worst and everyone else's is better. BUT we are wrong, every family is dysfunctional on some level, I don't recall ever giving a memoir or autobiography less than five stars.. I feel having the courage to put yourself and your family's dirty laundry out there for the world to read is worth five stars alone, AND this time is no different. The Kitchen is the family hub. and for the majority of us, our childhood kitchens witnessed a lot. Author Clarke is no different. We all think our family is the worst and everyone else's is better. BUT we are wrong, every family is dysfunctional on some level, and in Clarke's case, it is just pure awful. There are some graphic depictions but when you are reading someone's personal story you have to take the very bad with the few rays hope the author eventually encounters. Filled with lyricism and raw emotion, THe Red Kitchen teaches us every family has a past, present, and future. And in that future, you can break free from societal and familial expectations of your gender and soar.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melissa MacMaster

    This book was so good, I could not put it down. Memoirs are a new territory for me, something I have only started to pick up in the last year or so. There is something vulnerable about writing a memoir and reading about someone else. It gives you a deeper insight into the author, their experiences, their life, and how they were changed as a person. It takes strength the write a memoir, to have it out in the open for everybody. It’s different from social media in the aspect of thousands area read This book was so good, I could not put it down. Memoirs are a new territory for me, something I have only started to pick up in the last year or so. There is something vulnerable about writing a memoir and reading about someone else. It gives you a deeper insight into the author, their experiences, their life, and how they were changed as a person. It takes strength the write a memoir, to have it out in the open for everybody. It’s different from social media in the aspect of thousands area reading it, not just friends and family. You open yourself up for all to see. It can be empowering and scary, a personal obstacle that must be faced. This book makes you relate to it, either with how the authors parents act, how the narrator responds or something else. This book touches all who read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    I love a good memoir, it is like looking into someone’s life, a fly on the wall if you will. I feel like I know Barbara Clarke like she is a dear friend. To me most memoirs miss the mark in letting the reader into their lives. This book draws you in in the best way. I couldn’t put it down. I felt heartbroken over some of the things that happened. I resonate with this story because my parents were awful to each other. I know a little of what Barbara talks about. I really enjoyed this book and rea I love a good memoir, it is like looking into someone’s life, a fly on the wall if you will. I feel like I know Barbara Clarke like she is a dear friend. To me most memoirs miss the mark in letting the reader into their lives. This book draws you in in the best way. I couldn’t put it down. I felt heartbroken over some of the things that happened. I resonate with this story because my parents were awful to each other. I know a little of what Barbara talks about. I really enjoyed this book and read the last page with a smile on my face. I have preordered this book for my sister because I know she will see a bit of us in the book too. Thank you for letting me read your story!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Arianna Mclaughlin (arianna.reads)

    I often struggle giving stars to memoirs as they are so personal so I focus more on content than style. In The Red Kitchen, we learn about Barbara's life and how trauma in her childhood shaped her future and how she worked to overcome it. It addresses the impact of generational trauma and especially the mother-daughter relationship. It also shows that it's never too late for change. Thank you to Barbara for sharing her story with us. Thank you to She Writes Press, Books Forward and NetGalley for I often struggle giving stars to memoirs as they are so personal so I focus more on content than style. In The Red Kitchen, we learn about Barbara's life and how trauma in her childhood shaped her future and how she worked to overcome it. It addresses the impact of generational trauma and especially the mother-daughter relationship. It also shows that it's never too late for change. Thank you to Barbara for sharing her story with us. Thank you to She Writes Press, Books Forward and NetGalley for the e-arc. All thoughts are my own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Louise Gray

    This is a challenging read with a level of detail which may be too much for some readers. It is worth taking courage and reading it, though, as it is a very interesting account of the lives of people touched by great trauma and tragedy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Books Forward

    Barbara's story is incredible and her memoir is a must-read. Well-written, strong and a beautiful journey of a woman finding her own dreams and expectations. Depicting change and discovery between mom and daughter — and how it’s never too late to come of age. Barbara's story is incredible and her memoir is a must-read. Well-written, strong and a beautiful journey of a woman finding her own dreams and expectations. Depicting change and discovery between mom and daughter — and how it’s never too late to come of age.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marie Inglee

    I gained a lot of insight into myself and family members by listening. The topics were somewhat scattered at times or I would have given it a 5 star rating

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jenn Vance

    The author definitely impressed me with her way of combining humor with even the most difficult of circumstances. Touching on themes of womanhood, relationships, trauma, and self-discovery, this is a memoir so many readers will be able to pick up and see a bit of themselves in.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lorinda Boyer

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  17. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Clarke

  18. 4 out of 5

    aditi bharadwaj in dubai and chennai

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lesley Kay

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jill -

  21. 5 out of 5

    Beth

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leo

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  24. 5 out of 5

    Judy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

  28. 4 out of 5

    Micielle

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  30. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  31. 4 out of 5

    Edward

  32. 5 out of 5

    Mary Hughes

  33. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  34. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Burns

  35. 4 out of 5

    Faith From TBRP Blog

  36. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

  37. 5 out of 5

    Michele

  38. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Adams

  39. 5 out of 5

    AC

  40. 4 out of 5

    Bailey S.

  41. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  42. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Gerhart

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