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LOUISE DESALVO is professor of English at Hunter College, CUNY. She has published thirteen books, among them Writing as a Way of Healing, Breathless, Adultry, Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work, and her memoir Vertigo.

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Louise DeSalvo

Introduction by Edvige Giunta

Born to immigrant parents during World War II and coming of age during the 1950s, DeSalvo finds herself rebelling against a script written by parental and societal expectations. In her revealing family memoir, DeSalvo sifts through painful memories to give voice to all that remained unspoken and unresolved in her life: a mother's psychotic depression, a father's rage and violent rigidity, a sister's early depression and eventual suicide, and emerging memories of childhood incest. At times humorous and often brutally candid, DeSalvo also delves through the more recent conflicts posed by marriage, motherhood, and the crisis that started her on the path of her life's work: becoming a writer in order to excavate the meaning of her life and community.

In Vertigo, Louise DeSalvo paints a striking picture of the easy freedom of the husband and fatherless world of working-class Hoboken, New Jersey, the neighborhood of her early childhood, where mothers and children had an unaccustomed say in the running of their lives while men were off defending their country, but were jolted back into submission when World War II ended. Hoboken was not a place where girls were encouraged to develop their minds, or their independent spirits, yet it is that tenement-dotted city with its pulse and energy, wonderful Italian pastry, and sidewalk roller-skating contests, and not suburban Ridgefield, where the family moves when Louise is seven, that claims Louise’s heart.

Written with an honesty that is as rare as it is unsettling, Vertigo also speaks to broader truths about the impact of ethnicity, class, and gender in American life. Offering inspiration and a healthy dose of subversion, this personal story of a writer’s life is also a study of the alchemy between lived experience and creativity, and the life-transforming possibilities of this process.

"The writing here is terrific."

Los Angeles Times

"DeSalvo has one of the most refreshing feminist voices around."

San Francisco Chronicle

"Very creative . . . Vertigo brings the past to the present and transforms pain into power and pleasure."

—Nawal El Saadawi

"One of the pleasures of Vertigo is its continual sense that DeSalvo's own history is as mysterious to her as it might be to us, that she, like her reader, is a stranger in a strange land, a perpetual traveler."


"Gripping and compelling. . . . DeSalvo digs deep and has written a profound work of emotional healing."

—Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt