We Are Bridges: A Memoir

Cassandra Lane
The Feminist Press ($17.95)

by Dustin Michael

Cassandra Lane’s debut memoir, We Are Bridges, is a powerful and intimate exploration of personal identity and family history. Spanning the chasms of what cannot be known, what has been lost, and what has been stolen, the book underscores how often information goes missing and proposes what must be done to reconnect with what remains.

The story begins with a pregnancy test and the narrator contemplating the uncertainties of bringing a Black child into a hostile and hateful world. This turns out to be an echo of an earlier episode from Lane’s family history, a gruesome and unforgettable scene that finds her great-grandmother Mary, pregnant and alone, standing in the shadow of the body of her lynched husband. It is Mary’s story that forms the first pier of the bridge that links Lane’s past and future, her ancestry and her descent, the childhood she remembers and the child she ultimately bears.

The memoir is composed of an interlocking series of vignettes (Lane calls it a “hybrid” in her prologue), beginning in 1904 and spanning roughly a century in the leadup to Lane’s own impending motherhood. Lane leans into the wordplay of her family’s last name, “Bridges,” and adopts the symbol as an organizing conceit for her narrative, but the fluid elegance of her prose more closely evokes the form of a dancer leaping into empty air, reaching out for an unseen hand, a connection drawn through motion.

A creative writer by nature and a journalist by training, Lane’s curiosity propels each chapter. She is a confident storyteller with a style both lyrical and luminous. Her years of experience conducting interviews and chasing leads are evident in the questions she asks of her subjects, the way she draws information out of relatives and strangers alike, but it is her piercing interrogation of her own memories that truly captivates. As Lane trains her investigative arsenal on her own past, the work achieves the kind of translucence familiar only to great memoirists, as the unbearable brilliance of the author's intellect shines through the tissue of her memories like sunlight through leaves.

As Lane tells this tale and searches for her place in it, she finds that so much is speculative, despite her best attempts at factual reconstruction. She brings her journalistic skills to the project of telling her family’s history accurately, but sometimes, the information is not forthcoming; other times, it is simply gone. In a situation all-too familiar to African American genealogists and memoirists across the country, Lane discovers that many of even the most fundamental documents, like the birth certificates of her ancestors, have been lost to time.

Given this difficulty, the title of We Are Bridges resounds even more. Lane has set herself an essential task by doing what she can as a writer—verifying and validating the lives of those who came before her, confirming their existence, drawing from them strength and inspiration, and locating herself within their lineage.

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