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My Name Is Barbra


My Name Is Barbra

Barbra. Barbra. Barbra.

You’ve done it again.

You’ve succeeded in creating another compelling story that YOU controlled. Congratulations, darling.

MY NAME IS BARBRA is Barbra Streisand’s long (970 pages) recollection of a life lived the way she wanted and under her control. From a young age, Barbara (that’s how her name was first spelled) knew --- vowed even --- that she “would never be invisible.” Her father passed away when she was a toddler, and her mother married a man who vacillated between ignoring her and insulting her. But she had a mind of her own and a vision.

"The stories, the photos and the name drops are all gold, but the voice is platinum.... You can’t help but HEAR Barbra’s cadence as you're reading."

Surprisingly, that vision was not a career in music. Barbra’s first trip to Broadway to see “The Diary of Anne Frank” cemented for her a desire “to be a serious actress.” The world of make-believe was calling to her, and at age 14 she pretended to be older so she could join a summer theater apprentice program. It was there, after years of being told that she was the proverbial ugly duckling, that she was referred to as attractive for the first time.

Acting classes quickly followed. While there would be doubters and naysayers to come, Barbra’s own brand of chutzpah was growing in strength. Oh, but don’t get me wrong, Barbra herself still had those questioning voices in her head --- and a bit of tinnitus, too --- that nagged at her. She writes, “I had two personalities, in a way…one was the street kid who was not going to take any sh*t from anybody, and the other was the little girl who was very vulnerable and easily hurt.” This reviewer would say that’s too black and white for the multitude of Barbra facets we encounter in the pages. But at its core, the controller, for which she is notorious, and the vulnerable are dominant.

Those early years include encounters with Joan Rivers, Dustin Hoffman and Lee Strasberg --- and those are just a few of the celebrity names that dot these voluminous pages.

Singing became a way in. Barbra’s naturally dazzling voice was loved early by many. She debuted at the Bon Soir on September 9, 1960. Maybe sharing a dressing room with Phyllis Diller rubbed off on her because her comedic flare surfaced as well. (Forgetting she was chewing gum when she took the stage one night, she took the gum out and promptly placed it on the mic stand, which received many laughs. And that stuck: it became part of her routine.)

The milestone moments kept racking up: an appearance on “The Jack Paar Show,” a breakthrough role with Arthur Laurents, and then meeting Elliott Gould. He made her laugh (“Listen, if you can make me laugh, you’re halfway home.”) A romance blossoms with him, and she kindly suggests that you use your imagination about the intimacy of their relationship. Again, Barbra is in control.

Elliott may have been her first true love (and her son, Jason, her second!), but he was not the last to win her heart. Legions of men fell for her, or she for them. To her credit, she leaves a lot to the imagination, even if she was directed to leave blood on the page.

The stories, the photos and the name drops are all gold, but the voice is platinum. In her writing, Barbra uses parentheses and ellipses with abandon. The parentheses add a sense of kooky whispers, asides meant for just the reader. The ellipses are often comic silences --- fill-in-the-blank moments. You can’t help but HEAR Barbra’s cadence as you're reading. Is it because the voice is so iconic? Maybe. Or is it because she is talking directly to you? Perhaps it is a bit of both.

Some have said that I AM BARBRA is too long, that she could have benefited from a good editor cutting here and there. Barbra writes about directing a movie: “It was thrilling to shape it and refine it and watch it come together.” Her life, played out on these pages, comes down to that very sentiment. She shaped it, refined it and watched it come together. She oversaw her own life and the book that tells her story.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on December 15, 2023

My Name Is Barbra
by Barbra Streisand

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2023
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 992 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0525429522
  • ISBN-13: 9780525429524