A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2019
From National Book Award finalist Megan K. Stack, a stunning memoir of raising her children abroad with the help of Chinese and Indian women who are also working mothers
When Megan Stack was living in Beijing, she left her prestigious job as a foreign correspondent to have her first child and work from home writing a book. She quickly realized that caring for a baby and keeping up with the housework while her husband went to the office each day was consuming the time she needed to write. This dilemma was resolved in the manner of many upper-class families and large corporations: she availed herself of cheap Chinese labor. The housekeeper Stack hired was a migrant from the countryside, a mother who had left her daughter in a precarious situation to earn desperately needed cash in the capital. As Stack's family grew and her husband's job took them to Dehli, a series of Chinese and Indian women cooked, cleaned, and babysat in her home. Stack grew increasingly aware of the brutal realities of their lives: domestic abuse, alcoholism, unplanned pregnancies. Hiring poor women had given her the ability to work while raising her children, but what ethical compromise had she made?
Determined to confront the truth, Stack traveled to her employees' homes, met their parents and children, and turned a journalistic eye on the tradeoffs they'd been forced to make as working mothers seeking upward mobility—and on the cost to the children who were left behind.
Women's Work is an unforgettable story of four women as well as an electrifying meditation on the evasions of marriage, motherhood, feminism, and privilege.
Journalist Stack (Every Man in This Village Is a Liar) reflects in this painfully forthcoming memoir about her own domestic employees. From her position as a white American expat in Beijing and Delhi, Stack documents the trade-offs, exploitative dynamics, and conflicts that arise when the home is also a workplace. After leaving her job as a foreign correspondent, she hired local women to perform the domestic work that would otherwise keep her from freelance writing, including watching her child. The first two sections of the book record in punctilious detail the draining physical labor of childbirth and new motherhood (C-sections, sleep training) and Stack's interactions with Chinese and Indian nannies cropping them out of photographs and treating their personal problems callously (later in the book, she acknowledges one nanny's sick daughter as "the girl whose rightful allotment of nurturing care I had rented and whose brush with death had been a household inconvenience"). In part three, Stack activates her journalistic lens, exploring the nannies' lives and the sacrifices they made to work for her. Stack indicts this system and her family's participation in it ("I can't shake the feeling that I bought something... that should not be for sale") but shies away from actually considering any alternatives. This memoir will appeal more to parents in similar situations than to readers seeking ideas for social change.