Sunday, April 28, 2013

New in Paperback: Raising Elijah by Sandra Steingraber

Several years ago, my husband and I decided not to have children. It’s a decision we’ve seldom regretted, but I never regretted it less than when reading Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah (Da Capo), a book that is essentially about the hazards of raising children in an increasingly toxic world.

Dangers to children -- both born and unborn -- abound. The very thought of it must, for parents, be crazy making. I can’t imagine how they do it. But if Raising Elijah were just a book about the myriad environmental hazards to children, it would be a deeply interesting book. Steingraber knows these waters well. But that would be a book that lacked this author’s heart and voice. Raising Elijah is lovely. It is interesting and mortifying, moving and funny. A call to action and a call to grief. Most simply, it is a wonderful book.

Steingraber, herself a PhD and a cancer survivor, is the author of Living Downstream and Having Faith, both highly personal books that look at the environment and what troubles it in an entirely lucid and compelling way. And while all of what she shares is interesting, some of it is downright shocking. Even alarming. Take this:
Here is what we know about the boy babies of women pregnant during the 9/11 attacks: Some of them disappeared. That is to say, they were never born at all. And they vanished not just among women living in New York City but throughout the United States. Three to four months after 9/11, significantly fewer boys were born and the death rate of male fetuses … increased by 12 percent.
This gender-selective loss and consequent reduction in the male birth rate is not without precedent. The male birth rate has been known to decline after “natural disasters, pollution events, and economic collapse.” No one understands the biological underpinnings for this phenomenon. 
And while on a certain level, all of this makes perfect sense, it feels startling to have it pointed out in this way: and having it not be something that is always and perfectly known. Plus, by the time early in the book when Steingraber shares these details, you are so entwined in the details of the story she is telling that when she does tell us, you just want to weep.

Raising Elijah is a call to action and a sweet love letter to motherhood from a talented and learned pen. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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