This is one of those "life is too short" moments in deciding to give this book a pass. I'm choosing not to spend time with narcissistic men, either inThis is one of those "life is too short" moments in deciding to give this book a pass. I'm choosing not to spend time with narcissistic men, either in print or in real life. Thanks, but no....more
I. Debuting (again) After presenting one of my novels last month to a large and long-standing book club, I was asked to join. This author hugged herselI. Debuting (again) After presenting one of my novels last month to a large and long-standing book club, I was asked to join. This author hugged herself for joy and accepted membership with grace and glee, since she is trying to restart her life in a place where she's lived for several years, a small town where circles intersect and collide and she's forever running into herself, her recent past, her new present. What a joy to be in a collection of women new to her, who see her as person whole unto herself, not the ex-wife of so-and-so, not the ex-girlfriend of, 'Oh him. I know him,' not the present partner of the ex-boyfriend of the woman who... well, at least she doesn't live here anymore.
Our pasts, circling around us with their ambivalent lessons, their ambiguous truths, memories recollected in different ways at different times by those who may have been present or who merely know someone who . . . Whose story is it to tell?
II. Disappointment I've yet to find a book club that has not ended in disappointment. I swore the last one, when I made a beautiful cake and everyone cancelled at the last minute, would be the last. It's been four years and a lifetime ago. I'm trying again. This group seems serious.
III. Discovery One of the joys about a great book club is being introduced to books I likely wouldn't read on my own. Despite the buzz, or perhaps because of it, I would have avoided Tara Westover's memoir, which struck me as one of those misery tales to be frustrated and exasperated by. An indeed it is. But it is so much more.
IV. Dismay Educated isn't about growing up Mormon. I think you'd probably learn more about the Church of Latter Day Saints watching a performance of The Book of Mormon. Westover's memoir is about growing up in the shadow of profound mental illness—her father's—and the Stockholm Syndrome-like effects it had on Westover, his six siblings, and her enabling and imprisoned mother.
Combing through numerous reviews and interviews of the book and its author, I come across much questioning of the veracity of events in Educated. The calamities, injuries, and profound intellectual isolation of the Westover family do strain credulity for much of this finely-wrought narrative. Westover herself tries to cut doubt off at the pass by expressing her uncertainty of how these many dramas unfolded, checking and rechecking with her siblings and others on the periphery of this large and strange family, admitting that there are multiple avenues to memory.
I've worked with authors struggling through memoir and a few of them I have advised to turn their personal tales into fiction. It would ease the telling and allow them freedom to express their stories without fear or being held to details they can't quite recall or are too bound by familial or friend loyalty to share. Basically, their stories would be better as novels than as memoirs.
Westover's, however, would simply be ridiculous. It would be something you'd throw at the wall for its impossibility and strangling of disbelief. Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. We are enraptured by her family's crazy train, horrified by the violence, mortified that these people could be crushed, impaled, burned, smashed and still go on in defiance of modern medicine and common sense, all in thrall of a narcissistic madman.
V. Determination Westover found her way out, an autodidact who filled in the holes of the Swiss-cheese home schooling with study in the sly. Success with the ACT got her into Brigham Young University, where she discovered the Holocaust and Martin Luther King, Jr. In a short time, she went on to complete fellowships at Cambridge and Harvard, and a Ph.D at Cambridge. She is now just 32.
There is something incomplete about Educated. It is a crisp, lucid and lyrical recitation of events, riveting in content and skilled in narrative pacing and structure. Yet, Westover has only recently removed herself from the core of this strange and destructive family, not only her bizarre parents, but several of her siblings, including Shawn, her torturer. What's missing is an emotional depth and resonance that comes from reflection and distance. The reader only gets a sense of Tara Westover as a complete woman, perhaps because she's only recently begun to learn who that woman is, separate from her past.
VI. Decision The perfect book club read, Educated is sure to engender fascinating debate. Book Club met last night to discuss Rene Denfeld's outstanding The Child Finder, and those of us who'd already read Educated couldn't help but comment what a fascinating companion this made- another book examining memory, and how we find our way to love those who hurt us the most, and the costs and rewards of letting them go.
Having so recently read Jennifer Haupt's novel In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, I went in search of real-life survivor accounts of the 1994 Rwandan genoHaving so recently read Jennifer Haupt's novel In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, I went in search of real-life survivor accounts of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and immediately landed on Clemantine Wamariya's extraordinary story.
This is not a recounting of the killing fields — the 100 days of horror when neighbor turned against neighbor in wholesale slaughter. Wamariya's experiences are of a child who escaped just as civil war began. But surviving the massacres launched Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, into a different kind of horror. They spent seven years traversing eastern Africa, seeking shelter in refugee camps, most of which were little more than fenced-in sloughs of despair. There were days when Clemantine repeated her name over and over, to make certain she wouldn't forget who she was, to hold onto one last shred of her pre-flight humanity. Everything else has been taken from her.
The sisters' experiences fleeing from camp to camp, with brief respites of stability in Zaire and South Africa, alternate with Clemantine's post-rescue life in the United States and the alienation she experiences as a exotic creature with a disturbing story. In an unexpected twist, she becomes a celebrity, winning a high school essay contest that puts her on the Oprah show, sharing the stage with her hero, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. She and Claire are reintroduced to a family they have not seen in twelve years, since the girls fled Kigali, leaving their parents behind. Yet there is no fairy-tale ending here. Reunion with her family and a welcome into the open arms of strangers in the U.S. cannot erase the years of suffering endured as a wandering, homeless, trapped girl.
This is a memoir of visceral emotions, of a young woman tortured by anger and fear and trying to make sense of all the she endured and how she survived. It moves from the fable-like impressions of a little girl leaving behind the idyll of a life in Kigali before the terror to an endless march through a forest, not understanding the bodies she sees floating in the river are not sleeping, to the more concrete details of a young woman carrying for Claire's babies in city slums, while her sister seeks the means to provide for her family and escape the hand of an abusive husband. Only when she is out of crisis, safe and cared for, does Clemantine have the time and space to look at the woman she is becoming. It is so hard, and so important, to read her withdrawal and anger, the way she turns herself inside out, revealing the thorns covering her soul to the rest of the world, a world which can't possibly understand what she has endured. In an undergraduate ethics seminar at Yale, the professor poses the perennial dilemma: who should be saved or sacrificed in a sinking ship, the old and infirm or the baby? Clemantine explodes in class, shouting that she has lived this dilemma, on in lake in Zaire, fleeing for her life in a too-crowded boat, wondering who would be deemed the sacrificial lamb. Her anger spills over at last, as she realizes how profound the chasm between herself and her fellow students.
The chasm is narrowed as Clemantine continues to tell her story on stage and in her writing. Healing continues, and this hardworking, articulate, brilliant woman uses her art to reveal the possibility of our greatest humanity.
As we bear witness to the horror happening on our southern borders — children being torn from their families, families degraded by the inhumanity of the wealthiest, most privileged nation on earth — we must remember that every one of these children is a Clemantine. Each has her story, each deserves the opportunity to live a life free from fear and conflict, each deserves to share their experiences, so that we all become the better for having listened and learned....more
An engaging and thoughtful examination of race in these United States. Ijeoma Oluo brings new energy and determination to a discussion that can feel sAn engaging and thoughtful examination of race in these United States. Ijeoma Oluo brings new energy and determination to a discussion that can feel so fraught and loaded and hopeless. The book is presented both as a conversation and as manual, offering tips, guidelines, and discussion points to take the reader from the sidelines to the frontlines.
Its readership, as is so often the case with social justice primers, will be obviously self-selecting. The title alone, So You Want to Talk About Race will weed out all those who can easily answer, "Yeah, no" for the myriad reasons we continue to struggle to discuss race honestly and effectively (e.g fear, anger, boredom, fatigue, confusion, guilt, disbelief, etc.). But Oluo, if she can get you to pick up the book, will engage from the opening pages with her confidence and competence, humor and honesty. She doesn't lecture, but she doesn't soft-pedal, either. Whether it's microagression or police brutality, she presents the issue, why it matters, and what your responsibility is in responding and how to be a part of the conversation. The "you" here is any reader, but really, white folks, this is for us, because it's on us to be the change....more