In an extremely personal memoir to be published Tuesday, the 58-year-old Sotomayor writes candidly about how her life-long disease and the sense of “existential independence” she developed after the early death of her father fueled her rise from the poverty of the projects to the exclusive enclave of the Supreme Court.
“My Beloved World,” which is being published in English and Spanish, will reintroduce the nation to the first Latina justice — her publicity blitz includes a profile on “60 Minutes,” a sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, excerpts in People magazine and a national tour. She received an advance of nearly $1.2 million.
The book does not deal with her three years on the Supreme Court — she warns readers not to try to divine how her personal views inform her jurisprudence — and tells the story of her life only until her appointment to the federal bench 20 years ago.
One of the reasons for writing it, she said in a recent interview in her light-filled chambers at the court, is that “there are so many people with pieces of my story that they identify with and give them hope.
“I needed to honor that expectation in some way, and [show] it was a role that could be important for a Supreme Court justice.”
She reveals that her disease nearly took her life more than once and that part of the reason she never had children was a fear she would not be around to raise them. She writes frankly that her independence played a role in the amicable break-up of her marriage to her high-school sweetheart, Kevin Noonan (although she remains hopeful there will be another serious relationship in her life).
If her story is in many ways a familiar American tale of self-reliance and ambition, starting with the desire to win the gold stars dispensed by a fifth-grade teacher, the setting stands apart.
There’s the tiny Bronx apartment where her Puerto Rican-born parents spoke only Spanish and her father, Juan, drank himself to death behind a closed bedroom door. There were her beloved grandmother’s Saturday night parties, filled with food and music and ending with a velada, or seance. There was a poor but tightly woven community so contained that Sotomayor did not venture into Manhattan until she was in high school.
It is also a modern story in ways that are rarely associated with Supreme Court justices.
Sotomayor’s mother, Celina, a nurse, moonlighted at a methadone clinic. A brilliant but fragile cousin Nelson was addicted to heroin and died of AIDS complications; she realized just before his death she had unwittingly once driven him to score drugs.