My Beloved World Summary

Sonia Sotomayor

My Beloved World

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My Beloved World Summary

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My Beloved World is a memoir by the United States Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who, in 2009, became the first Hispanic person, and the third woman, to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the memoir only covers her life until 1992, omitting any discussion of the appointment which brought her to national attention. In part, her decision to end the memoir at this point—the year in which her nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York—was motivated by a sense that it would be inappropriate to discuss any later, more political, appointments and also by a sense that “it was by then that the person I remain was essentially formed” (Preface).

Sotomayor’s primary motivation for writing a memoir came, she tells us, from the numerous questions that she was asked, not about her professional experiences, but about her personal circumstances: children with diabetes asked her how she coped with the disease; women asked her about her experience of sexism; people from disadvantaged backgrounds asked her how she overcame poverty. She also notes that since being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she has been thrust into the public eye in a way that can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with. Writing this memoir has allowed her to reflect on how she arrived at such a point and remember all the people who helped her to get there. As such, the book does not focus on Sotomayor’s legal philosophy or, except for occasional brief comments, any of her former cases; instead the focus is very much on her personal life and circumstances.

My Beloved World is told in a broadly chronological order and begins with an account of Sotomayor’s childhood in the Bronx. Born to Puerto Rican immigrants, Sotomayor had a difficult childhood; her father was an alcoholic who would die when she was nine and her mother, though loving, was often away—she seemed to find it easier to care for others than for her own family. However, Sotomayor also recounts a deeply loving relationship with her paternal grandmother, who provided a valuable source of comfort and support throughout her childhood.

As well as the material deprivation of her childhood and her difficult relationship with both her parents, Sotomayor also had to deal with chronic illness. She was diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven and had to learn to give herself the necessary insulin injections. When she realized the implications of her diagnosis—the possibility that she would not live as long as other people—Sotomayor was determined to make the time she had count. She channeled this drive into fulfilling her ambition to become a lawyer, an ambition first sparked while watching Perry Mason with her brother. Although she struggled with her illness occasionally, by the time she was appointed a judge, she tells us, her diabetes was under control.

Sotomayor gives a detailed account of her education, first at a Catholic school and later, at Princeton and Yale. As a high school student, she was conscientious and her time on the debate team helped to develop her analytical skills. While she graduated Valedictorian of her high school class, attending Princeton remained a daunting prospect. In fact, she had never even heard of Ivy League schools until a more privileged friend encouraged her to apply to them. When she first arrived at Princeton, Sotomayor felt very insecure and unprepared and her anxieties were exacerbated when she realized that there were areas of her education that were sorely lacking. In particular, she had almost no knowledge of Literature—she had never heard of Alice in Wonderland, for example—and sought to educate herself in the university library.

Despite her academic success at Princeton, where she graduated summa cum laude, one of the defining features of Sotomayor’s time there was the attitude of many students to the policy of affirmative action. She recalls the regularity with which The Princetonian would publish articles or letters to the editor complaining bitterly about the policy. In what is one of the more politically charged sections of her memoir, Sotomayor calmly and thoroughly refutes the arguments her fellow students made and points out that, while affirmative action offered disadvantaged students such as herself an opportunity that would otherwise have been denied to them, those students had to seize that opportunity and work hard to make the most of it. Judging by Sotomayor’s own achievements, those students were more than capable of achieving great success.

As well as her academic career, Sotomayor discusses much more personal and, indeed, painful aspects of her life. She recounts how, in 1976, she married her high school sweetheart, Kevin, as that was what was expected of them. Kevin was studying to be a doctor and, together with Sotomayor’s own busy schedule and increasing professional success, the stress soon began to take its toll on their marriage. They divorced in 1983. A year later, Sotomayor, who had been working for the New York District Attorney’s Office, entered private practice. Eight years later she was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Her dream had become reality.

My Beloved World is a candid account of Sotomayor’s impoverished childhood, her struggle with the effects of her father’s alcoholism and premature death, her academic and professional successes and her personal relationships. Sotomayor does not shy away from recounting the difficulties she faced—not only material deprivation but her own fears and insecurities as well—or the mistakes she made. However, this is not a typical tale of an individual’s triumph over adversity, primarily because, throughout her memoir, Sotomayor takes care to acknowledge all of those whose help and support enabled her achievements. Indeed, the memoir’s title is taken from a poem by the nineteenth century Puerto Rican poet, José Gautier Benítez, implicitly recognizing the importance of her Puerto Rican heritage in shaping the person she has become. Sotomayor’s memoir paints a portrait of a woman who has dealt with racism and sexism, whose attachment to her immigrant community has not precluded her embrace of the opportunities America has to offer, a woman whose success is testament to the continued vitality of the American Dream.