The Wandering Womb
Essays in Search of Home
Juniper Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
248 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 x 0.80 in
- Published: March 2023
Even as a fourth-generation Jewish Texan, S. L. Wisenberg has always felt the ghost of Europe dogging her steps, making her feel uneasy in her body and in the world. At age six, she’s sure that she hears Nazis at her bedroom window and knows that after they take her away, she’ll die without her asthma meds. In her late twenties, she infiltrates sorority rush at her alma mater, curious about whether she’ll get a bid now. Later in life, she makes her first and only trip to the mikvah while healing from a breast biopsy (benign this time), prompting an exploration of misogyny, shame, and woman-fear in rabbinical tradition.
With wit, verve, blood, scars, and a solid dose of self-deprecation, Wisenberg wanders across the expanse of continents and combs through history books and family records in her search for home and meaning. Her travels take her from Selma, Alabama, where her Eastern European Jewish ancestors once settled, to Vienna, where she tours Freud’s home and figures out what women really want, and she visits Auschwitz, which—disappointingly—leaves no emotional mark.
"Wisenberg is an affecting guide through the nuances, joys, and complications of contemporary Jewish womanhood; The Wandering Womb both celebrates those identities and mourns the past pains that they reflect."—Foreword Reviews
"Wisenberg continues her frank and provocative inquiries into perceptions of the female body . . . Drawing on her journalist’s skills and literary prowess, she applies her audacious incisiveness and wit to her family’s stories as Jews who fled pogrom-ravaged Russia and settled in Houston and Selma."—Booklist
“Each essay is a lens through which we are invited to view in Joycean detail the author’s deeply personal present, yet at the same time to ponder and to rethink larger worlds of history and cultures. It’s a collection that often is wry but never cynical, acutely learned and always alert to humor and wonder.”—David Toomey, author of Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own
"Sometimes subtle, sometimes fierce, these brilliant essays express what it's like to be a Jewish woman today, and what it's like to be an embodied human being."—Paula Kamen, author of Finding Iris Chang
“Wisenberg’s years as a journalist show in the precision of her writing, as she leads us through both the distant and proximate past, from Civil-War reenactments to the private world of the mikvah. In The Wandering Womb, history breathes into our lungs and speaks through every word we say.”—Riva Lehrer, author of Golem Girl: A Memoir
“A sharp, deeply questioning mind and a wayward heart inform these delicious essays. They are wry, humorous, melancholy, and universally relatable, filled with the shock of recognition.”—Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait Inside My Head: Essays