The nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, has written a remarkably candid and vivid memoir of her difficult childhood and her subsequent rise to the Federal bench. The overwhelming majority of readers will learn much about the challenges faced by those growing up in the economic poverty of minority ghettos, but also about the richness of a culture that motivates and impels some to distinguished achievement.
Sotomayor's Puerto Rico-born parents were part of the 1940's wave of migration to New York from the still-deprived island. As with many, they gravitated to what unfortunately became one of the most notorious crime and drug-infested slums, the South Bronx. Her problems were complicated by juvenile diabetes, which required daily insulin injections by age 8, bitter conflicts between her hard-working mother and her alcoholic but beloved father, and the death of the latter when she was only 9. Sotomayor writes movingly about the effects of those circumstances on her younger brother and herself, with deep insight about how the emotional support of extended family and the recreational and celebratory patterns of Puerto Rican society in New York made life not only bearable but often enjoyable.
Without much encouragement in the Catholic schools she attended, Sotomayor quite early fixated on the goals of becoming a lawyer and eventually a judge. She devoted herself to her studies and caught a break with the beginning of affirmative action in university admissions. Invited for interviews at the top Ivy League colleges, she chose Princeton, largely for its proximity to New York. Despite skepticism about minority students suddenly appearing on storied campuses and her own self-doubts, she thrived, made Phi Beta Kappa, and was accepted at Yale Law School.
Another episode treated with candor and genuineness is Sotomayor's romance and failed marriage with a young man with whom she had been friends since high school. While she dated subsequently, she has never found the one true life partner, yet has derived great satisfaction from long-time friends and from the children of her brother and her friends. Her relationship with her mother, troubled in many ways over the years despite their mutual admiration, also became more tranquil.
We also learn a good deal about the workings of a prosecutor's office from the author's account of her turbulent and exciting years serving under New York County's legendary District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who recruited her out of Yale. Some of the experiences she relates will sound familiar to viewers of "Law and Order" and similar programs. She then rounded out her experience with several years in civil law at a private law firm before coming to the attention of the late Senator Daniel Moynihan (D-NY),who was looking for candidates for Federal judgeships. Although the exhaustive process took a year and a half, she was appointed a U.S. District Judge by President George H.W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate in August, 1991.
The memoir stops at this point, although there are a few references to subsequent events up to the time the book was published in 2013, shortly after Sotomayor was elevated to the Supreme Court. There may be an addendum in the future, but it can hardly be any more informative and inspirational as this one.