Investigative journalist and award-winning author Rachel Louise Snyder has reported on natural disasters, genocides, wars and social justice issues around the globe. Acclaimed for her seminal 2019 study of domestic violence in America, No Visible Bruises, she turns her focus to her own troubled family history in Women We Buried, Women We Burned, a memoir that is compelling, propulsive, gripping and disturbing in equal measure.
Snyder was 8 when her mother died of breast cancer at age 35. Growing up with her older brother near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Snyder had basked in her Jewish mother’s beauty and love; the loss left her feeling haunted and forever incomplete. Their father soon remarried, moving them near Chicago and immersing the newly blended family into the fervid world of evangelical Christianity. Church, Bible readings, forced hugs and bruising spankings were the remedies for all broken rules, and Snyder eventually rebelled in every way she could.
Snyder was kicked out of her house at age 16, and her path from a homeless teenager to a college professor—one who, in her work as a journalist, has borne witness to women’s victimization across the world—is a journey worth following. It began when Snyder spent a semester of college traveling internationally by boat, funded in part by her mother’s brother. Though she had never left America before, she ended up visiting Japan, China, South Africa, India and Kenya with other college students. Along the way, she discovered that several of her fellow students had also lost a parent, and she wondered if that made them all more curious about simply being alive.
Later, Snyder’s years living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge’s legacy of genocide still silently throbbed between generations, provided another education altogether. She describes the pulsing monsoon rains, the never-ending search for soldiers gone missing during the Vietnam War and the geckos climbing her apartment walls with a precision that makes even her most everyday observations vividly alive.
With the birth of her daughter, Snyder was able to reach a deeper understanding—and a sharper judgment—of her father and stepmother. The life she builds from this new wisdom is another kind of journey, one equally worth following.