By this point in her six-decade career, Barbra Streisand feels like an ever-present icon. Close your eyes and you can conjure her distinctive profile. Read the lyrics to “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and you can hear her voice without turning on a record. Through albums, the stage, and in movies, Streisand has been depicted thousands of times. But like all mega-stars, most of us don’t really know her, and no one understands that better than the woman herself.
Streisand has spent the last ten years trying to correct that. That’s how long it has taken her to write her opus of a memoir, My Name Is Barbra. Fans have heard this title before and have even seen it paired with the image of her shadowed profile; it’s how Streisand, as a young star, was introduced to the world on her early albums. That’s to say, the way Streisand writes her life is consistent with what we’ve come to know. Her entire life is laid bare, from when she still spelled her name with the extra “a,” to her life now as a star who has achieved incredible heights.
Readers don’t need to read between any lines because Streisand says it all. She writes about everything in careful detail. Not just the intricacies of her personal experiences, but the nuanced details of her life and work, including creative choices in music arrangements, the beads and fur on gowns she had made, a dissection of every review of Yentl, and so much more. This brings the book to almost 1,000 pages, capturing her vibrant life and career so far (or forty-eight hours if you choose the audiobook, which I do recommend if you want an even more vivid dose of Streisand’s personality, where trite asides bring extra color to her story).
Beyond the encyclopedic length and the awe at Streisand’s storied life and career, what’s most striking about the memoir is the consistency of her sense of self. In Streisand’s own mind she was never an unlikely star; rather, she was born to be a star. In fact, Streisand insists that she always knew she’d be famous. This statement doesn’t come off as arrogant or diva-like. It’s simply a matter of fact. Of course, she recounts times of self doubt – bouts with directors and co-stars, and strife in romantic relationships – but for the most part, she writes about herself in a way that makes her achievements seem a natural outcome of her existence. She never learned how to sing, she just could. Her impulsive yet logical personality leads to decisions that bring her remarkable success. It’s a refreshing vote of confidence that confirms her success is due to her consistent belief in what we all have come to realize – Barbra Streisand is a once-in-a-generation talent whose existence feels both astonishing and inevitable. This book is a wonderful record of that miracle.
Emily Marinoff is a culture writer and audio producer. Her writing has appeared in Roads & Kingdoms and Buzzfeed, and she currently makes podcasts at iHeartMedia. She is especially enthusiastic about bread making.