Danika reviews Body Geographic by Barrie Jean Borich


This is a very smart book. Sometimes I open a book and immediately realize that this has been carefully crafted and very well-written, which, oddly, can also mean that it may be a less instantly enjoyable book: it may take some time and energy to read as well as to write. Body Geographic is definitely one of those books. It is a memoir that uses maps and migration as metaphor in piecing together Borich’s life. There are occasional maps interspersed with the text, and sections are labelled things like “Inset of Bodies so Real” and “First is the Map of Withstanding”. Borich and her families’ stories are told in fragments like this, not in a linear order.

I got the feeling like I was getting snapshots of people: evocative, but not even close to the full story. As Borich circles back to the same people or time periods, more layers get added to these brief impressions, but I still didn’t feel like I really knew these people. One example that I kept thinking about was Linnea. Linnea is Borich’s wife of two decades, but we do not really get a full conversation between them in the whole book. Linnea only speaks a handful of times. It’s as if she is lightly sketched, though more detail does get added later. I’m used to memoirs where I feel immersed in the “characters”, in their personalities, but there seemed to be a distance between the people in Body Geographic and the reader.

I may not be the ideal reader of Body Geographic: I am ridiculously, embarrassingly bad at geography, and I am not a visual person. I definitely don’t think in maps. I did find the metaphor a very interesting one, especially weaving the stories of her ancestors’ migrations and her own migration between her two home cities (Minneapolis and Chicago), but I am sure that anyone who has a better appreciation of maps and geography would enjoy it even more.

This is an extremely well-written memoir that was obviously very carefully put together, and I would recommend that it be read slowly, to really savor the writing and the style of it. It is surprisingly easy to read, but the fragmentation does make it harder to really sink into the story. This is a book that I appreciated the skill of, but didn’t necessarily feel emotionally invested in.

A warning, though: although Body Geographic seems to try to be positive while mentioning trans people, Borich uses the terms “biological woman” and “tr*nny”. Also, most of these references are towards trans women sex workers. I know that most of this book takes place during the 60s and 70s, but that’s still not okay.

If you’ve read Body Geographic, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!