One of our recommended books is Women We Buried, Women We Burned by Rachel Louise Snyder


A Memoir

From the author of the groundbreaking, award-winning No Visible Bruises, a riveting memoir of survival, self-discovery, and forgiveness sure to captivate readers who loved Tara Westover’s Educated and Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle.

For decades, Rachel Louise Snyder has been a fierce advocate reporting on the darkest social issues that impact women’s lives. Women We Buried, Women We Burned is her own story. Snyder was eight years old when her mother died, and her distraught father thrust the family into an evangelical, cult-like existence halfway across the country.

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From the author of the groundbreaking, award-winning No Visible Bruises, a riveting memoir of survival, self-discovery, and forgiveness sure to captivate readers who loved Tara Westover’s Educated and Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle.

For decades, Rachel Louise Snyder has been a fierce advocate reporting on the darkest social issues that impact women’s lives. Women We Buried, Women We Burned is her own story. Snyder was eight years old when her mother died, and her distraught father thrust the family into an evangelical, cult-like existence halfway across the country. Furiously rebellious, she was expelled from school and home at age 16. Living out of her car and relying on strangers, Rachel found herself masquerading as an adult, talking her way into college, and eventually travelling the globe.

Survival became her reporter’s beat. In places like India, Tibet, and Niger, she interviewed those who had been through the unimaginable. In Cambodia, where she lived for six years, she watched a country reckon with the horrors of its own recent history. When she returned to the States with a family of her own, it was with a new perspective on old family wounds, and a chance for healing from the most unexpected place.

A piercing account of Snyder’s journey from teenage runaway to reporter on the global epidemic of domestic violence, Women We Buried, Women We Burned is a memoir that embodies the transformative power of resilience.

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  • Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Hardcover
  • May 2023
  • 272 Pages
  • 9781635579123

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About Rachel Louise Snyder

Rachel Louise Snyder is the author of Women We Buried, Women We BurnedRachel Louise Snyder is the author of Fugitive Denim, the novel What We’ve Lost is Nothing, and No Visible Bruises, a New York Times Top Ten Book of the Year, winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, the Hillman Prize, and the Helen Bernstein Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, LA Times Book Prize, and Kirkus Award. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York TimesSlate, and elsewhere. A 2020-2021 Guggenheim Fellow, Snyder is a Professor of Creative Writing and Journalism at American University. She lives in Washington, D.C.


“The tenacity and bravery of a young woman determined to survive and make her own mark on the world move the narrative with unstoppable force as the sentences build in intensity and poignancy . . . Anyone moved by No Visible Bruises should put this at the top of their to-read list. Exceptional writing, a harrowing coming-of-age story, and critical awareness combine to make a must-read memoir.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“How do you write a book about overcoming extreme hardship, about the singular people who convince you to take a chance on yourself, about finding the big world after a childhood that prepared you for a tiny one, about discovering that you love the people who failed to love you—and manage not to strike a single trite note? How do you remember every detail and make the reader feel like they saw, heard, and felt each moment? I have no idea, actually, but Rachel Louise Snyder has done it.” —Masha Gessen, National Book Award winning author of The Future Is History and Surviving Autocracy

“With wonderfully evocative prose, Rachel Louise Snyder captures here the stark horror of a child losing her mother and half her roots as she’s then swept into her evangelical father’s second family and has to either flee or be erased. As nakedly honest as it is fair, what is so remarkable about Women We Buried, Women We Burned is that Snyder does flee, and her lone voyage to her very self is the voyage of so many girls and women around the world who have been uprooted and cast aside and must find their own way back. This is an important and profoundly moving memoir, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.” —Andre Dubus III, New York Times bestselling author of Townie and Such Kindness

“A bold and searing memoir about family and violence, illness and independence, pain and fear and beauty. With wry humor and enormous humanity, Rachel Louise Snyder shows us how to summon the courage to imagine in a cruel and dangerous world. A beautiful book.” —Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times bestselling author of Rogues, Empire of Pain, and Say Nothing

“With the same virtuosity and eye for detail she brought to No Visible Bruises, Rachel Louise Snyder uses her own story to illuminate the many divides that plague America, from class and culture wars to toxic religiosity and frayed family ties. Women We Buried, Women We Burned is a gorgeous memoir that parses the patriarchy with an endearing frankness as fierce as it is, astonishingly, forgiving.” —Beth Macy, New York Times bestselling author of Raising Lazarus and Dopesick

“A harrowing story of survival that also brims with warmth, wit and insight, this memoir has the propulsive force of a novel, driven by a spirit of compassion and curiosity that will not be broken.” —Jessica Bruder, New York Times bestselling author of Nomadland

Discussion Questions

1. Do you believe it was the author’s father’s overwhelming grief that drove him so deeply into the church, or were there other psychological factors that resulted in his new commitment? What could those be? How does the church influence his approach to other things in his life aside from family, like work and money?

2. Why was Karen Jones so important to the author? What kind of an impact did she have, and how is that impact felt in the present day?

3. Rachel and her father experience a shift after he slaps her for the first time. This sets off a new phase of corporal punishment for all the children in the household. Why do you think he turns to this type of punishment? Why does he continue it?

4. What do you think of Rachel’s parents’ attempt to reform the family dynamic with their binders of rules? What do you think of the final rule about “no child or parent abuse”? Do you see that as truly trying to do better? Why do you think they did that, only to follow it with such a drastic decision?

5. Why do you think Rachel’s father tells her about her lost college fund? Do you think that a sense of misguided guilt was at the root of some of his abuse?

6. There is a noticeable shift in the author after she enters college. What was it about education that changed her? In what ways did it change how she thought about her present? Her future?

7. While the author is on her Semester at Sea, she observes that she and many of her peers have a shared experience. What is that experience? What does her professor say might be the reason many of them have ended up in the same place?

8. On her visit to China as part of the ship’s theater troupe, a tour guide claims that the Tiananmen Square protests were peaceful, and that no one died. How did this impact the author’s view of language and its power? Why do you think this resonated so strongly with the author? In what ways do you see language as powerful in your own life?

9. After the author and her friend witness a man’s self-immolation in Cambodia, she reflects that the nation itself showed signs of trauma in everyday life, in “public displays of private pain.” Would you say that there are also collective traumas in American culture? Are there any that the whole nation has experienced, or only some groups? In what ways do they show themselves?

10. How would you describe Rachel’s choice of subject matter as a journalist? What are her reasons? What kinds of affinity draw her to these subjects?

11. During the author’s visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum she experiences the “limits of her own courage,” and she feels the presence of something beyond her five senses. How does Cambodia’s cultural belief in ghosts figure into Women We Buried, Women We Burned? What ghosts does the author recognize in her own life? Does she welcome them?

12. As an adult, the author eschews any kind of religion, refusing even to enter churches during her travels. But while in Cambodia she begins to view religion differently. What is it about her changing views that allows her to better understand her father’s religious fervor?

13. Rachel’s choice to care for her stepmother allows her to experience what she hadn’t been able to as a child. How was this healing for both Rachel and Barbara? What is similar about her father’s behavior towards both her mother’s and stepmother’s illness? Does this kind of behavior extend to other parts of his life?

14. Which “women” do you think the title of the book refers to? How do you understand the verbs “buried” and “burned” in the title?







A letter from the author, Rachel Louise Snyder


I first remember wanting to be a writer when I was nine years old; I admired my grandfather, who was a poet and a journalist. I did not imagine writing about my own life. The basic facts of my story—my mother died when I was a child, I got rebellious, I was expelled from school and kicked out of my house—might not be all that uncommon in America. Eventually, I found my way through education, and through travel, pushing myself to the farthest corners of the world: Cape Town to Hobart, Niamey to Phnom Penh. I’ve been a journalist and writer for three decades now, and one thing I’ve learned is that everyone has a story. But a story does not make a memoir, no matter how compelling. A memoir comes from trying to understand the why of every critical moment. Why did my father move us across the country in a matter of weeks after my mother’s death? Why did he cut us off from the secular world? Why did he erase my Jewish heritage? Why did I rebel so violently that I nearly wrecked my own life? That is the necessary seed of memoir—not that you have a good story, but that you have the fortitude to excavate fairly and fully not only the lives of those who have done you harm, but also of those you may have harmed.

As I traveled, I got less interested in myself and more interested in other people. I saw how Americans have a particular fixation on themselves, stemming from our culture of individualism (whereas the people of Cambodia, for example, where I also lived, have a collectivist culture), and so I resisted my own story. Plus, it was always important to establish myself as a writer before I became a story. But in recent years my own history kept tapping me on the shoulder, asking, “How about now? Is it time yet?” And one day, it just was.

There is an important distinction I make between the kind of domestic violence I’ve covered as a journalist, particularly in my book No Visible Bruises, and what happened in my family. Ours was not a systemic violence. It was short and sharp and lasted roughly five years. The survivors I’ve met have endured lifetimes of violence, controlling, coerced, systemic, and often far more ferocious. My home had violence, but I never feared for my very life. There is one night I describe in my memoir, when my roommate beat his girlfriend, and that was a terrifying night for me. A front-row seat to domestic violence, untethered and unpredictable.

Still, I can’t deny that the root of my interest in violence stems from my own early years, from my own family and from others I witnessed, when abuse was casually accepted. And it’s this casual acceptance—still far too prevalent—that makes me question how violence is borne, endured, survived, and ultimately eradicated.

If readers take away anything from my memoir—and I hope they take away many things—it is that we are all deserving of second (or third or fourth) chances. As much as it inspires, I hope my story also serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when you don’t have the resources and privileges I had. I was lucky a thousand times over. I was given a helping hand by many, many people, but those helping hands have become harder and harder to find. Systemically, most of all. We have dug in our heels in opposition to one another. We have forgotten how to listen, how to be curious about lives that are unfamiliar. I hope people will understand that it’s not only fortitude that got me through the worst years of my life—that is part of it, yes, I’m scrappy and irreverent—but people gave me help over and over. They fed me, they housed me, they accepted me. The best stories of my life are never mine alone.