Summary and book reviews of Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies

Mothers of Sparta

A Memoir in Pieces

by Dawn Davies

Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies X
Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2018, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2019, 272 pages

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Book Summary

Discovered by Michael Ondaatje, Davies' dazzling literary memoir has shades of Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, and Jenny Lawson.

Some women are born mothers, some achieve motherhood, others have motherhood thrust upon them. Dawn Davies is in the third category. A six-foot-tall divorcee, she isn't chatty, couldn't care less about anyone's potty training progress, doesn't care to share her own children's milestones with people who don't love them. But even if she has never fit in with other moms, she has raised three children with her own particular brand of fierce, unflagging love.

In stories that cut to the quick, we see Davies grow from a young girl who moves to a new town every couple of years; to a misfit teenager who finds solace in a local music scene; to an adrift twenty-something who summons inner strength as she holds the hand of a dying stranger; to a woman dealing with difficult pregnancies and postpartum depression. And in her powerful titular story, we see Davies struggling with the weight of knowing that her son is deeply troubled.

Mothers of Sparta is not a blow-by-blow of Davies' life but rather an examination of the exquisite and often painful moments of a life, the moments we look back on and say, That one, that one mattered. Straddling the fence between humor and, well…not humor, Davies has written a book about what it's like to be a woman trying to carve a place for herself in the world, no matter how unyielding the rock can be.

NIGHT SWIM

It is a moonless night, dark and rare, and the heat is oppressive, the kind of heat where a deep breath leaves you unsatisfied, suspicious that there was nothing life-giving at all in what you've inhaled, and you are left air-hungry, wet at the pits, forehead greasy with sweat, wishing for the night to be over, for your daughters to exhaust their energy, to cool their dense, hot centers enough to sleep for one more night in this summer that seems to stretch into your future like a planetary ring full of debris, circling forever around something it can't escape. It is thickly hot and you hate it.

You sit beside the pool in a plastic chair, dipping the soles of your feet in the water that is the temperature of spit, fanning your face with your own damp hand, which doesn't help. Back in the yard, your corked-up dog cannot contain his glee and shrieks several times into the sky, warding off something no one can see, and your daughters burst like rays from the cool...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I truly enjoyed reading this book and would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs of the not-rich and not-famous. It would be a great discussion selection for a reading group (Beth C). I believe it would raise some interesting points for conversation on motherhood, luck and the "payback fairy" (Carol F). Fans of Nora Ephron and Anne LaMott might recognize some of their traits in Davies' writing (Linda J). Definitely a book I will recommend to anyone (Diane T).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (753 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Powerful debut...startling, tragic, and ultimately redemptive.... Whether perceptively exploring joy or anguish, Davies digs deeply.

Booklist
Funny, insightful…Davies uses her oodles of talent to remind readers that human beings are never just one thing, and in her essays we see a whole life revealed…Her writing jumps from the page as Davies bares her soul, holding nothing back. Readers will laugh and cry, probably at the same time.

Author Blurb Tim O'Brien
Mothers of Sparta is a superbly written book, at times gently poetic, at times devastating. I was spellbound from start to finish

Author Blurb Jenny Lawson, #1 NYT bestselling author
Beautiful and painful all at once. A heartbreakingly honest book that I couldn't put down.

Author Blurb Dani Shapiro, author of Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage
In Mothers of Sparta, Dawn Davies writes like an avenging angel. Her stories are poetic, moving, provocative, and bracingly honest as she trains her lucid gaze on some of life's deepest complexities: In the face of terror, betrayal, and impending loss, how do we love? And what does that love cost us? I've never read a book quite like this one, shot through with the light of an extraordinary talent and spirit.

Reader Reviews

Diane T. (Slingerlands, NY)

Honesty
Mothers of Sparta is a hauntingly beautiful recounting of a life whose skin has been pulled back to expose reality. Dawn Davies draws you into her life and allows you to feel every nuance of her soul. It was refreshing to finish this book with the ...   Read More

Jean L. (Deerfield, IL)

Very moving
The book is both funny and heart-wrenching, but never maudlin. The author is a relateable everywoman who faces incredible challenges. Some essays were very moving. Highly recommended for any parent who has struggled with her own or her children's...   Read More

Lori L. (La Porte, IN)

A Memoir in Pieces
I loved this book! In it, the author tells her life story in a series of essays. Her essays are so well-written and so immersive, you feel like you are living out the events she describes along with her. This book will bring you to tears and make ...   Read More

Emily (Naples)

Mothers of Sparta
My ARC of Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies arrived a few days before Hurricane Irma struck Naples. While our power was off for five days, I was so captivated after reading the first paragraph that I continued to read it by flashlight and finished ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Spartan Mothers

Spartan women depicted on vaseIn Mothers of Sparta, author Dawn Davies compares herself and her decisions about her son to those made by mothers in Ancient Sparta.

Sparta was a city-state in Greece that reached its pinnacle in the 5th century BCE. Its name, now and then, conjures up the image of powerful warriors that thrived on austerity and deprivation. Its entire culture was focused on creating and maintaining the strongest army it could. Unlike other contemporary cities, Sparta had no defensive walls because they believed their men were stronger than any structure.

To produce this army required communal involvement in every aspect of its citizens' lives. Immediately after birth, male children were dipped in wine in the belief that doing so would make them ...

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