Optimal Distance Author Insights

Author: Joan Carol Lieberman
Book: Optimal Distance, A Divided Life,

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Interview with the author, Joan Carol Lieberman

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Martha Armstrong Joan Carol Lieberman's Optimal Distance, A Divided Life, Part 1, is an astonishing account of high spirited persistence. An only child of an abusive schizophrenic mother and a PhD entomologist father working for the USDA in Utah and Montana during WW ll who was frequently away, she befriended neighbors and animals to survive. She writes from diaries she kept from an early age to keep track of her life. Her narrative is specific, humorous, a portrait of a time as well as a personal story.
She goes to Berkeley in the 60's during the Vietnam War but believing she was fated to inherit her mother's mental illness takes off for Europe to see the world and decides to go to Burkina Faso as a doctor's assistant. Returning to Berkeley she gets pregnant and manages school, her daughter, and works to pay her bills. To finish her thesis she spends a harrowing year in a cabin in northern Idaho with a man she marries to protect from the draft. As they are about to be evicted President Clark Kerr recommends her for a job in Boulder, Colorado, with the War on Poverty, as a result of a letter she wrote during the Free Speech Movement which impressed him
The scope of this book reminds me of Ivan Doig's This House of Sky. But this is a woman's story. Joan's grace in dealing with life and people around her, her empathy and love are deeply moving. Her search for the truth of her life is fearless.
Martha Armstrong


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