Barbra Streisand book: 970 pages of self-validation – review

Barbra Streisand book: 970 pages of self-validation – review

Unmasking the six-decade legend: a journey through family, fame, and approval

by Suswati Basu

Barbra Streisand, the six-decade legend of the stage, airwaves and screen has written a book if you haven’t heard already. The 970-page doorstopper flaunts all of the quirks you may have expected about the 81-year-old Hollywood icon. From family and fidelity, to her constant need to prove herself, Streisand bares a certain perspective of herself in her memoir “My Name is Barbra” – one that requires constant recognition, despite her obvious success.

Rating: 2 out of 5.
Barbra Streisand book "My Name is Barbra" in front of the books "The Storyteller" by Dave Grohl, "Face It" by Debbie Harry, "The Woman in Me" by Britney Spears, "Just Kids" by Patti Smith, and a canvas poster of the artist Billie Holiday singing.
An assortment of books including book by Barbra Streisand “My Name is Barbra.” Credit: Suswati Basu / How To Be Books

Barbra Streisand’s fame: awards and net worth

Just to spell out how much of an impact she made in the world of entertainment, the Brooklyn-born singer is one of the few people to receive the coveted EGOT - an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. On top of that, she became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major studio film with Yentl in 1983. Streisand's impressive discography boasts 52 gold and 31 platinum albums, surpassing all other female singers and nearly all recording artists, second only to Elvis Presley.

Furthermore, she holds the distinction of being the sole female artist to attain fourteen multi-platinum albums, including the acclaimed soundtrack for her movie "A Star Is Born." Streisand's exceptional musical contributions have earned her eight Grammy Awards, along with the prestigious Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award and Legend Award. According to Forbes, her net worth is estimated at a whopping $400 million. With her massive accolades out of the way, it is clear to see that Babs has little left to achieve. Yet the bottom line of her Actor's Studio-type book is the fact that there is an incessant need to be recognised. 

Streisand’s complex family dynamics

During her childhood, the young Jewish girl experienced the loss of her father at a tender age, coped with a mother who displayed tendencies of emotional neglect and borderline abusive behaviour, and had a stepfather who was largely absent from her life. And throughout the tome of her autobiography, there are two obvious threads running through it – one of feeling abandoned and the other of seeking approval.

Streisand’s father was only 35-years-old when he died. While her mother Diana Rosen was a widow at 34, with two small children including Streisand, who was only fifteen months at the time. Years later, she said her mother told her that for months after her father died, “I would still climb up on the window ledge to wait for him to come home. In some ways, I’m still waiting.”

“As a child, you really need someone to love you in order to give you a sense of self-worth . . . that you are seen and taken seriously . . . that your feelings count.”

Streisand also “hated” her stepfather Lou Kind because he mistreated he mother, “and he never spoke to me.” She said he would often tell her to be quiet while she was talking, which is when “I unconsciously decided that I would never lower myself for any man.” As a result, we never see the filmmaker really settle down, apart from her marriages to actors Elliott Gould and James Brolin.

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Barbra Streisand had a fling with Kris Kristofferson during “A Star is Born,” according to her book.

Instead, she has a long string of relationships and rendezvous with co-stars, perhaps in a bid to fill the void of a male figure and acquire unconditional love. She has quite a blasé attitude towards these affairs, a form of transference if you will, due to the constant close intimate proximity with these celebrities. For instance, in the late 1960s, while married to Gould, Streisand was reportedly involved in a scandalous affair with her “Funny Girl” co-star, Omar Sharif. Additionally, there have been rumours of a romantic entanglement with Kris Kristofferson during the filming of “A Star is Born” in the 1970s, a period when she was in a relationship with Jon Peters.

“He gave me hickeys on my neck. Thank God I had a two-piece bathing suit by Rudi Gernreich with a turtleneck top to hide them!”

Barbra Streisand mentions a brief relationship with her co-star Omar Sharif during “Funny Girl” in the book.

And the relationships came in different forms as well, in a bid to secure a maternal figure in her life. She said Muriel Choy, who was the Chinese restaurant owner where she worked as a teenager, became her second surrogate mother, with her neighbour Tobey Borookow being the first.

“I loved Muriel. I could ask her any question, and she would explain things to me . . . things my mother never mentioned, like sex and cooking.”

A common theme throughout the memoir was her mother’s lack of reliability, and at times, borderline cruelty and jealousy. Early on, she describes an incident when she was seven-years-old and her mother took her to the movies as a treat. Streisand states that her mother suddenly stopped in the road, telling her, “We’re not going. I changed my mind.” The book is continually punctuated with her disappointment in her mother, who failed to give her the kudos that she so clearly craved. It culminates to a manic moment of clarity for the author.

Read: The problem with celebrity memoirs

In a poignant and revealing moment from the book, Streisand’s mother expressed her jealousy and resentment with the words, “Where are my presents? Why are you giving presents to her? You should be giving presents to me! I’m the mother!” Her outburst escalated into a tearful rage as she declared, “I’m the mother! She’s nothing without me!” This shocking scene left the room in utter silence, prompting her first husband Gould to guide her into a separate room to calm her down.

Barbra Streisand speaks to CBS about her long-awaited book.

The multi-talented hyphenate then had the startling realisation that her own mother harboured jealousy toward her success. It dawned on her that her mother’s unfulfilled dreams of singing, driven by shyness, had left her with unresolved doubts and frustration, reinforcing the feeling of not being truly seen or understood by her mother. This revelation cast a profound sadness over their relationship.

Read: Are memoirs still important? Top books and why we love them

Hence Streisand talks about her close friendship with former US President Bill Clinton’s mother, who she had befriended while helping him campaign for his presidency. “I used to call Virginia my Southern mom,” she said, which was corroborated by Clinton who said at his mother’s funeral that the director was like “another one of her kids.”

“‘Those two were joined at the hip, as if Barbra were another one of her kids. Barbra called my mother every single week for the rest of her life . . . And she owned me for life, because of the way she treated my mother.'”

Former US President Bill Clinton, quoted in “My Name is Barbra”

Even when her relationship with her mother was not the focal point, Streisand’s connection to her absent father was evident through her profound engagement with her Jewish heritage. This dedication is exemplified in her meticulous research for the Academy Award-winning film “Yentl,” a project she directed herself.

Perhaps this innate loss of family spurred her on to do more bizarre things later in life, including cloning her beloved dog Sammie, not once but three times in the same go. In a moving twist of fate, Streisand’s 25-year marriage to James Brolin and the merging of their families became a profound chapter in her life. Brolin not only brought his superstar son, Josh Brolin, into the fold but also had two other children, along with grandchildren. Streisand herself had a son from her previous marriage. Perhaps, in this union, she finally discovered the family and the unconditional love she had yearned for all along.

The need for approval

The biggest indications for self-validation is the inordinate amount of “great,” “positive,” and “good” reviews praising her singing, performances, acting, directing, and even her sex appeal. If it wasn’t her screen time, it was the reaction of her co-stars towards her. Even if the memoir begins on a note critiquing her appearance as an “amiable anteater,” it certainly does not end that way.

“Omar [Sharif] apparently had a similar reaction to me. As he told one reporter, ‘The first impression is that she’s not very pretty. But after three days, I am honest, I found her physically beautiful, and I start lusting after this woman!'”

Although the autobiography is interesting in parts, for a non-fan of the singer who prefers substance, it is like trudging through a 1,000-page gossip magazine. Alas, with all memoirs, there is an element of taking things with a pinch of salt due to it being from a certain standpoint. Even recently, Jada Pinkett Smith’s work “Worthy,” was criticised for lacking self-awareness and being too self-absorbed. And there’s definitely this aspect in Streisand’s book, but it is hard to fault the original Queen Bee, given her huge success. She’s earned the right to be self-indulgent, but don’t expect sincere humility.

Consequently, Streisand’s glaring insecurities are sprawled across the book, even though she clearly has nothing left to prove. Even in her 80s, it is apparent that there are some scars and ink stains that never seem to fade, and she truly is “still that child on Pulaski Street.”

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Don't Lose Hope November 15, 2023 - 2:28 pm

I heard Barbara Streisand being interviewed about her book yesterday. Really interesting!

Suswati Basu November 15, 2023 - 2:32 pm

Ah amazing! I know fans of Babs (like my own partner) will have a real interest in this book. It was a bit lost on me because I’ve always known about her, but her music has never really been my style!

Megan | The Booknerd Copywriter November 17, 2023 - 9:27 pm

This sounds like a powerful memoir. I don’t know much about Barbara Streisand but I’m intrigued to read this one. Great review!

Suswati Basu November 17, 2023 - 9:43 pm

Thanks Megan! I was the same, I read it because my partner loves Babs. I feel like I know much more about her now! But I think this book would certainly interest the fans.


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