If you are like me, you probably put the Supreme Court Justices on a pedestal just one rung below the 12 apostles. Clothed in severe black robes, representing the final pillars of justice in the United States, they hardly seemed to have anything in common with me. I couldn’t imagine having lunch with one of them and having anything to say.
That was before I read Sonia Sotomayor’s new memoir, My Beloved Country. (Knopf Publishing, 2013). In this very engaging book, Ms. Sotomayor tells the story of her life growing up in the Bronx in a Puerto Rican immigrant community. She begins by recalling how she had to learn how to give herself insulin shots at the age of seven so that she could insure weekend visits to her beloved grandmother. This willingness and ability to focus on a goal and achieve it occurs over and over again in Ms. Sotomayor’s life.
Her childhood is full of extended family providing both support and challenges. Her alcoholic father dies when she is 12 years old and her mother struggles to insure that Sonia and her younger brother have the education she understands that they need. On the urging of a high school friend, she applies to the “Ivies,” even though she doesn’t know what they are. Acceptance comes from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton. Because Princeton looks most like the campus from the movie “Love Story,” Sonia makes it her choice. Some of the most entertaining parts of the book come from her experiences trying to understand the culture outside of her own. She doesn’t know what a bridal shower is, who Alice in Wonderland is, and why she should bother to join a campus society that wants to give her a gold key—Phi Beta Kappa.
By the time she gets to law school at Yale, she has become more worldly but still determined to achieve her girlhood goal of becoming a judge. Upon graduation, she takes a job as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Wanting to expand her horizons, she later moves to the NY law firm of Pavia and Harcourt to practice civil law. In this capacity she becomes engaged in the world of licensing and trademark law. This leads to becoming friends with the owners of major fashion houses in Europe such as Fendi. The book ends with her appointment as a federal district court judge in New York.
As I read Ms. Sotomayor’s stories, I couldn’t help but relate many of her experiences to my own. Although my world growing up was not hers, her skillful writing drew me in. I could make parallels that made me feel that we could meet some day and have lunch and have an honest and enjoyable conversation.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book was knowing one of our Supreme Court Justices on a more personal level. The Supreme Court makes decisions that affect all of our lives. Knowing more about one of those decision makers makes me more confident in one of the pillars of our democracy.
Diane Burke recently retired from a 30 year career in education and moved to Hampton Roads from upstate New York. One of her life long passions has been reading books about real women. A retirement goal was to find a way to share this passion with others. She created a website www.booksaboutrealwomen.com in which she has organized and reviewed over 100 books about women. She lives in Chesapeake with her husband and is the mother of three and the grandmother of eight.