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I Am a Stranger Here Myself

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4.20  ·  Rating details ·  65 ratings  ·  24 reviews
Part history, part memoir, I Am a Stranger Here Myself taps dimensions of human yearning: the need to belong, the snarl of family history, and embracing womanhood in the patriarchal American West. Gwartney becomes fascinated with the missionary Narcissa Prentiss Whitman, the first Caucasian woman to cross the Rocky Mountains and one of fourteen people killed at the Whitman ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published March 15th 2019 by University of New Mexico Press (first published February 6th 2019)
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Cindy Sundvik
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book to learn more about Narcissa Whitman. However, I learned so much more. This fun to read, couldn’t-put-it-down book gave me some insight into myself as a granddaughter, daughter, mother, wife, woman, and dreamer. It gave me permission to look back at my life and ancestry with appreciation and understanding, and look forward to my own life with a new vigor to color outside the family lines.

Gwartney sets her own life against the backdrop of Narcissa Whitman, "the first Caucas
...more
Jan Norris
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I am in the minority on this one. I did not love it. It is very well written, but it dragged for me. The Whitman story is fascinating. And I could relate to the change in how we view Native Americans today versus the myths we were taught in school and from movies and tv shows.
But, overall, I couldn’t wait for this book to end.
Alice
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Debra Gwartney’s I Am A Stranger Here Myself is a courageous, unflinching, and masterfully written probe into history, identity and place. It lays bare the human tendency to assign the primacy of one’s belief system over all other perspectives, regardless of the cost. Gwartney doesn’t make it easy on herself—yoking her path to that of Narcissa Whitman, a rigid, religious zealot, requires Gwartney to examine her own assumptions and judgments; in doing so, she discovers unexpected pockets of conne ...more
Jill Sullivan
Mar 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Debra Gwartney’s book is what memoir strives to be—questioning, curious, exploratory and deeply reflective. The writing is fabulous—phrases roll off the page as the author explores what it means to inhabit the West. Braiding her story with that of Narcissa Whitman, an early American missionary who raised the ire of the Native population she was trying to “save,” Gwartney questions both hers and Narcissa’s innermost insecurities, motives, failures and success.

I finished the last page of I Am A S
...more
Stephany Wilkes
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book sounds like it will be so quiet, and it is, but it's gorgeously contemplative while being incredibly compelling. I couldn't put it down. I was so caught up in not just the author's personal stories, or Whitman's, but in the stories we tell ourselves.
Kate
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is very much about sense of place, the author's growing up in Salmon, Idaho and her rich study of Narcissa Whitman who, in the 1830s, moved from the east to what is now tbe state of Washington.
Fletcher
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I Am a Stranger Here Myself is meant for all who seek a deeper relationship with their ancestry, their community, and themselves.

The story opens with the narrator’s road trip to her grandfather’s funeral in Salmon, Idaho, the small town where she and several generations of family before her were born and raised. On the way, she's tailgated by an impatient Idaho stranger in a big pick up—tailgated all her life by her family’s expectations of who she should be and what she should do with her life.
...more
Sands Hall
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In this engrossing and powerful memoir, Debra Gwartney entwines the incredibly (incredibly) sad story of Narcissa Whitman, a missionary presumed to be the first white woman in Oregon, with her own search for home and belonging. Along the (fascinating) way, Gwartney offers many insights: historical and familial, as well as emotional and psychological.

Among the powerful choices Gwartney makes is to examine her thoughts and prejudices and predetermined (and often quite pejorative) ideas about Narc
...more
Debbie Hagan
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book blends two of my favorite reading genres, history and memoir. Debra Gwartney weaves her personal story, growing up in Idaho, with the story of Marcus and Narcissa Prentiss Whitman who in the early nineteenth century set out on a dangerous trip, in a wagon, heading over the Rocky Mountains with an idealist objective in mind. They will set up a missionary camp and save the natives by converting them to Christianity. They establish the Whitman Mission and begin preaching to the Cayuse; ho ...more
Wally Wood
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Debra Gwartney's I Am a Stranger Here Myself is a memoir, a history, and a meditation. It is extraordinary and in the month between reading it and writing this, I've recommended it to a dozen people. One of my fears, in fact, is that I will praise it so fulsomely that readers who pick up the book will inevitably be disappointed.

Gwartney (says the publisher's news release) is the author of Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love, a finalist for the 2009 Nation
...more
Stuart E
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Really annoyed that this site doesn't allow me to give things half stars, because in my opinion this book is a great example of a middle of the road 5/10. This isn't to say it doesn't have any merits: Gwartney's prose is often nice and I think that what she's striving for with this memoir/historical nonfiction novel hybrid is rather unique and striking. The central idea of Gwartney sorting out her own identity while exploring the identity of Narcissa Whitman is interesting... That being said, I ...more
Janis Williams
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The first line: "A man is following me on US-93 in Idaho, his red truck a fire-cracker in my rearview mirror." Writers of memoir look in the rearview mirror. We all do. That is where we think we can reliably go for facts. It has been lived and, we believe, is no longer a mystery. But in fact, it is the undiscovered country. Gwartnery's excellent book weaves her memories as a misfit in a family of rugged indivualist, tamers of the land, with lore and historical facts about Narcissa Whitman. I gre ...more
Jeff
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really liked this memoir by Oregon author Gwartney, who somehow successfully juxtaposes her own ambivalence as a 5th-generation Idahoan with the life of another woman of the West, pioneer missionary Narcissa Whitman. Separated by more than a century in time, both women feel ill-suited to the expectations placed upon them by family and society. Gwartney also explores the 7 Sager orphans who were adopted by the Whitmans after their parents died on the Oregon Trail. I remember my own parents read ...more
Jamie Passaro
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I Am a Stranger Here Myself is my favorite kind of memoir. It’s both an unflinchingly honest personal story and an important slice of history. The two parts are woven together, sharing Gwartney’s masterful lens, which considers and reconsiders, looking at her own story and the story of Narcissa Whitman from many possible angles. The result is complex and rich and gorgeously written. I gobbled it up, and I learned, too, about the Pacific Northwest’s true history and about my own identity as a wom ...more
Emilee
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This memoir is beautifully written. I loved being able to learn about the Whitman mission and the people whose choices changed history beyond what my daughter learned in her 4th grade history lessons. Gwartney's exploration of Narcissa Whitman's life and reflection on her own life as a Western woman gave me a lot to think about. I live in Idaho and I both love and it and feel out of place in it at the same time. Gwartney's memoir has given me the courage to claim this state as my home even thoug ...more
Allison
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. This literary memoir about what it means to be a "Woman of The West" interweaves personal biographical experiences with reflections and research on Narcissa Whitman, one of the first white women to settle in the Oregon Territory. It explores deeply the process of how historical figures, and even different generations within our own families, can be judged--perhaps unfairly--by different standards and assumptions.
I really can't compare this to anything I've ever read before. Very thou
...more
Anton T. Harris
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We Are All Strangers

Enjoyed this memoir reflection for many reasons. A history that I was aware of was given real flesh from New eyes. I grew up in Salmon, and Mrs. Gwartney taught me in high school. Have a love of NW history, and the story of the Whitmans and Spauldings added new dimensions, and have me insights on the massacre. As a Jesuit, I was interested in her coverage of the missionary tensions that focused on power and privilege over the dignity of people served. Hopefully, I might get t
...more
Joanne
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wonder integration of history and memoir. After visiting Walla Walla for 9 years in a row while I had a son and daughter in school there, it was good to hear the truth of the difficult history settled that beautiful area. I don't know if I can ever understand the belief that white settlers had that they had the only true religion, they were superior humans, and that they had the right just take land, resources and natives for themselves.
Jackson Matthews
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I liked reading about the author's life, but her obsession with Narcissa Whitman puts a crimp in things, since this was one of the titles I thought was going to be about Nez Perce history from a point of view more sympathetic to the Native Americans. Even when I scold myself that the times were different from now, and people did not know better, I am still amazed at what seems to me to be the lack of Christian love, it's like Christianity is a power. And yet, sincere author ...
Carrie Targhetta
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gwartney digs deep into her own connection to the settlers of the West, laying bare her struggle to understand herself and claim personal ground among the inspiring and often disastrous actions of her ancestors. Through the story of Narcissa Whitman, Gwartney weaves a narrative of unexpected compassion for women (including herself) who search for identify and agency in the absence of “home.”
Karen
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a well-crafted narrative that combines the study and analysis of Narcissa Whitman’s history and letters, interspersed with the author’s own reflections as a native born Idaho woman examining her personal experiences and cultural roots. A wonderful read!
Beth
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
loved the book. learned a lot and the reading pace was not boring. I hope this author keeps on writing
Jae Allen
Local author read for AAUW book club.
Abigail
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love this book and its exploration of identity and insights about home. The author masterfully blends reflections of her own life with the stories of Narcissa Whitman. It's a joy to read.
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