My Name Is Barbra

  • Review
By – December 28, 2023

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. 

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