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The Wrong Calamity
An intimate and compellingly honest memoir of a woman coming into her own after profound pain and grief. Marsha Jacobson agreed to marry a secretive and controlling man because she saw no way out. He compelled her to move to Japan with him, where a chance meeting led to a job at the Tokyo headquarters of Mattel Toys. As she became successful, her husband became more abusive. When they were back in America, she grabbed their two toddlers and escaped from him chased by police. Years later, she had a successful career and a joyful second marriage—until terrible memories her husband buried in childhood came to get him. His PTSD and flashbacks shattered her marriage, her career, and many friendships. With penetrating insight and writing that moves from gritty to glorious, Marsha gives voice to the often-misunderstood lived experience of loss and grief and explores how trauma spreads from generation to generation and person to person but need not last a lifetime.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.75 out of 10


Plot/Idea: This fast-paced, insightful survey of a young woman's trials and successes is, at its heart, a stunning story of resilience that will resonate with readers. Jacobson's personal history is riveting, from her troubled childhood to a controlling marriage to a sudden, debilitating health issue. Readers will be infused with empathy and admiration as Jacobson rises from the ashes each time.

Prose: Jacobson is a talented writer and particularly strong storyteller. Her tone is relaxed and informal, but it's her narrative approach that draws readers in, offering up a perfect amount of detail paired with expressive wording.

Originality: The Wrong Calamity is a survivor's story filled with distinctive challenges and a determined, unique protagonist.

Character/Execution: This is Jacobson's personal story, and as such, her character shines through, but she fully conveys qualities about others in her life that immediately transport readers into the center of her experiences. 

Date Submitted: November 27, 2023

Jacobson’s debut is an elegant, engaging account of her life as a wife and mother facing a harrowing marriage, then as a single parent and eventual successful business executive. Unappreciated, obese, and struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder, Marsha accepts Peter’s proposal even when she knows instinctively that “this marriage would nail me into a very bad box.” Later, even while dealing with divorce and a vengeful Peter, and mothering two little girls, she joins Harvard Business School. Though plagued by illness, she completes her course as “a decent student … but not a star,” and then starts work, happy to provide for her daughters. (Promised support from Peter never comes.) She marries longtime friend Jay, who is recovering from his wife’s suicide, but Jay’s traumatic childhood comes to haunt their marriage.

Jacobson’s excellent storytelling skills make the memoir riveting. She plunges us straight into the heart of things right from the beginning and is able to maintain this steady pace through the book. At the same time, the narrative is thoughtful and reflective when the story demands. Unpredictable and domineering, Peter is the most interesting character in the book, though for negative reasons. So is Judge Samuel. Marsha’s second husband Jay, meanwhile, endures the far-reaching consequences of childhood abuse, sensitive material that Jacobson handles with insight and empathy. Minnie and Julia, Marsha’s grandmothers, are incredibly strong and empathetic women who with their kindness and help support their neglected grandchild.

Jacobson’s career takes her to fascinating places, such as Mattel headquarters in Japan, and she captures them and their cultures with nuance and welcome bursts of wit. She addresses work challenges and the several ways in which she tackled them. Her obvious passion for her chosen career is evident in these anecdotes. Jacobson’s never-say-die attitude, her immense love for her two girls, and her strong narrative skills make this memoir an absorbing and rewarding read.

Takeaway: Compelling memoir of breaking free of a controlling relationship to find business success.

Comparable Titles: Anne Theroux’s The Year of the End, Indra Nooyi’s My Life in Full.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A