All That is Bitter & Sweet by Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd
with Maryanne Vollers
All That is Bitter & Sweet
Ballantine Books, April 2011
ISBN 978-0-345-52361-7
432 pages

Autobiographies and memoirs by “stars” are not my cup of tea. I’m pretty sure the last one I read was Barbara Mandrell’s Get to the Heart: My Story in 1990.

I’ve always admired the work of Ashley Judd–both her film work and her advocacy of feminism–but I didn’t know the extent of her feminist social justice work until reading this memoir. She travels the globe doing outreach and education, she’s on the board of directors of Population Services International (PSI), and recently graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School. I missed the pre-publication advertising for the book and ran into it at the bookstore where I work. Curious, I picked it up to familiarize myself with it, as I do with as many of the new releases as I’m able, and found myself not wanting to put it down. So I took it home.

Judd writes movingly about the pain and beauty of her childhood and young adult years–the abuse, the isolation, the dysfunction, the anger, the depression–and how she eventually arrived on her path toward recovery.  Her description of going through a treatment program and her on-going daily practice is helpful for others on their own journey toward healing and health. If you’re the type who ONLY believes in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, this book might not be for you. But if you’re working a program, on a spiritual path, or have come to question whether you can truly do it all by yourself, this book might be helpful.

Interwoven with Judd’s private experiences are her more public experiences as an advocate for social justice particularly for girls and women enslaved in the sex industry. Initially I was squeamish about reading her experiences of visiting brothels around the world (don’t get me wrong, it is disturbing reading), but Judd writes about her visits and activism with such a sense of love that I was left with a sense of hope for the world. Judd believes in and has seen that real change is possible through the implementation of practical programs aimed to raise women out of poverty (one of the main reasons for sexual slavery). The way to do this is through programs that address the multiple, critical needs that people have rather than just one issue at time (AIDS, malaria, unsafe drinking water, malnutrition, addictions, working wages, places to live, attitudes towards women’s equality, etc).

Judd’s struggle to heal her pain and her passion for creating positive change in the world are both inspiring. When I need encouragement, I’ll return to All That is Bitter & Sweet. It has also given me a list of people (like Apne Aap) and organizations to learn about. I hope this won’t be the last book we see from Ashley Judd.

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