Tag Archives: memoir

Reading The Hundred Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey

The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian OdysseyThe Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid MacKeen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew of the Armenian Genocide in an abstract way. This telling, largely based on journals of one involved, made it so harrowing and vivid. It is hard to imagine marching on while one’s companions drop out to die, being unable to help.  Not only leaving companions behind but marching by bodies of those who had died days before. Thirty plus died in a day.

It is also hard to imagine the thirst, the hunger, the lack of clothing.

And the ruse that they were going back home when they were actually going to be executed, which eventually the deportees realized.

The grandfather’s story was so well told that even though I knew he came out alive, I was on pins and needles as I read challenge after challenge, betrayal after betrayal.

The weakest part was the narration of the author’s journey retracing the grandfather’s. It was a good idea, an important link, but fell flat to my ear. There were a few places where it livened up a bit: in the shop with the women dressing her in a scarf to go into a mosque and the meeting of the family of the Sheikh who saved the grandfather.

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Reading about Race

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of RaceWaking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I appreciated reading this meditation on growing personal awareness of whiteness as a race, not as neutral or a norm. It is not an easy lesson to learn, and Irving shares her missteps as well as her successes.

Sometimes books on interracial communication leave me fearful of saying anything at all. Irving answers that fear by speaking of the need to get over ourselves, to get over needing to be seen as a “good person” or a “good anti-racist,” but to be willing to be vulnerable.

Irving admits that her white culture could be different from that of other readers due to differences in social class. And while much of what she describes rings true to me and I admit white privilege, there are some networking advantages she had that were not available to me. Those differences do not negate her message that we need to own our privilege and see its flip side in privilege withheld from people of color. And I can identify with the dominant white cultural dictum to avoid conflict, hence avoid discussion. Yep, I was raised like that.

Irving’s book is not about white do-goodism; in fact that is one of the stages she went through on her way. Nor is it about diversity training. Rather it is about recognizing and confronting systemic racism and our place in it.

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An Amazing Second Half of a Book

Cancer In Two VoicesCancer In Two Voices by Sandra Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent book, though if I hadn’t seen the documentary by the same name, I might not have made it through the beginning. In the film the couple’s openness and closeness is apparent throughout. In the book it shows up later. It is especially vivid in the chapter about Barbara making her will and some of the introspection it prompts in each partner. Though they had been coupled for quite a while, there had been no ceremony. But after Barbara’s diagnosis, she and Sandy created a ceremony meant to include their Jewish and non-Jewish friends, their professional friends and friends from the lesbian community.

It is a book of journal entries, some by the partner with cancer and some by the partner without. Because Barbara’s breast cancer was misdiagnosed when she first noticed a lump, there was no early detection. By the time it was diagnosed it was aggressive and already metastasizing. While the book is about coping with cancer and eventually about both coping with Barbara’s dying, it is about much more. It is about life, about community, about family, about communication, about loving.

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More reading for the Middle Eastern Memoir Book Group

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America And American in IranLipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America And American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What I valued most about this book was the analysis of negotiating rules in Iran. What seemed to come automatically to local Iranians had to be learned by Maoveni, who had come from the US with a mythic version of Iran. She had to unlearn as she learned–and this made her explanations more cogent for a western audience. Life there was not without danger, but perhaps less danger than our imaginations would assume–at least for the savvy. And perhaps, less oppression, though the experience of escaping it was not without risk.

While Moaveni’s identity formation was a back drop, it was not the focus; the focus was on Iran itself, and the Iranian peoples’ struggles and disillusionments. I appreciated glimpses of Iranian people, places, and customs. I enjoyed meeting her family members and friends.

Bookending the narrative with the embassy hostages and the attack of 9/11 seems apt, viewing how that marks the moments Iran is part of awareness for many of us.

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A Mountain of Crumbs

A Mountain of Crumbs: A MemoirA Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir by Elena Gorokhova

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorokhova’s memoir is, first of all, a good read. She knows how to pace her recollections so that as a reader I cared about what happened next. Her flashbacks are well handled, adroit trips into the past and back again to the current story. One of my favorites was while mushroom hunting, they came to what had been a WWII trench, now overgrown. It led to thoughts on the war, on her family’s experiences in the war, then back to mushrooms.

Another strength was capturing the mental processes of a child in the early portions, the childish logic set against adult logic in such a way that the reader understood far more than the child knowingly reported.

The book provided an interesting peek into one person’s experience of growing up in the USSR, to the system, to dealing with and around the system, to vranyo: we know, they know we know, we know they know we know. Vranyo, along with theatre imagery (made relevant because a sister becomes an actress), and thoughts on the magic of theatre provide major themes throughout the memoir.

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