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In her memoir, The Magnolia Code, a name she and her sister gave to the unwritten rules they were expected to live by, Joan Brooks Baker takes the reader on her personal journey - growing up privileged as the Yankee daughter of dyed-in-the-wool Southerners, in the post–World War II New York City - to finding where she belonged, as a photographer, living in the high desert of New Mexico. The Magnolia Code decreed that appearances are more important than truth, and the desires of men always trump those of women. Neither sat well with Baker. She might have succumbed to the promise of easier safety the Magnolia Code offered; instead, she persevered in her desire to find her own way, navigating the paradox of the diverging paths of security offered by “the code” and her own sense of who she wanted to be in the world.
Within each chapter, Baker narrates her life story from childhood, as the feisty “Cactus Pete,” to the present day. She examines relationships within her primary and extended families, some amusing, some enlightening, many defying “the code” to find role models in rebellious women, including her Aunt Billie, who challenged her to be herself regardless of the consequences. Ultimately, Baker discovers who she is and where she belongs through her work as a photographer. As she witnesses and documents women’s lives in other cultures, she sees herself reflected in their eyes. She begins to make peace with her upbringing, to reject The Magnolia Code without abandoning her family heritage, to balance the darkness with light.
Baker’s memoir will find an audience with women all too familiar with the constraints of society, class, and a culture that has not honored their personal experiences. Baker’s tale, both humorous and poignant, of a woman coming into consciousness could not be more perfect for these times. The Magnolia Code is a current and universal story for those interested in exploring life’s dualities.
The Magnolia Code has been honored as a 2020 Distinguished Favorite by the Independent Press Awards.
For more, please visit https://www.joanbrooksbaker.com/