Category Archives: memoir

Persepolis by Marjane Santrapi

Persepolis

Persepolis is the most compelling graphic novel I’ve read since Maus. It follows the life of the young Marjane (the author), a spunky and independent six year old who is living in Tehran during the start of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The revolution unfolds before Marjane and her parents, who are committed Marxists and initially thrilled about the deposition of the western-backed shah, who tortured his dissenters in his secret prisons and got put in power through a western-funded coup. Marjane soon learns that life is much different under the new regime. She is forced to wear a veil at school, which she rips off at recess because it’s hot and oppressive. She is forced to beat her hand against her chest and chant funeral hymns for the “martyrs” of the revolution who are killed in the war against Iraq. She is forced to knit hats for the male “martyrs”- boys as young as 13 who get sent to the front lines of the battlefields in Iraq. She watches communist relatives and family friends disappear in Iran’s secret prisons, only to never emerge again. Throughout the horrors of the regime, Marjane never loses her fighting spirit. She stands up to her religion teachers, idolizes Western fashion, and hangs ACDC posters on her wall in defiance against the regime’s anti-Western rules. You can’t help rooting for her to escape the clutches of the regime and the terrifying police who snatch up dissenters in the night.

This book is written for young adults and is an easy read. I recommend if for anyone who wants to understand the history of the U.S.-Iranian conflict, and for anyone who likes reading about girls with chutzpah.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Andrea Gesumaria
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk

This is one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long time. It is the memoir of a woman wrestling with grief over her father’s death. It’s the story of the same woman, a falconer — more precisely, an austringer — who immerses herself in the training of her goshawk, Mabel, to channel her pain. It’s also a portrait of T.H. White, author of the The Sword in the Stone, who turned to falconry to wrestle with his own demons and whose life is presented as a tragic counterpoint. Finally, it’s a reflection on the tenuous divide between civilization and the wild, between solitude and loneliness, between death and life.

The author’s prose is poetic and evocative, offering the reader vivid images of Mabel at rest and on the hunt. Macdonald is amazingly effective at making the reader feel that they too are beside her in the English fields, damp, sweaty and exhilarated. More than once I completely lost myself in this book, which is all I can ask for.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

WildCheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild begins with herself at 26. Broke, addicted to heroin, and newly divorced because of her unfortunate habit of cheating on her husband with many men, for reasons unknown to her, she decides to hike the entire length of the Pacific Central Trail (PCT) to learn how to be something other than “the woman with the giant hole in her heart.” Strayed realizes at the start of her hike that her downfall began at 22, the year her mother died of cancer. She looks to the PCT for a means of salvation, but there is only one problem: she’s never in her life backpacked on a long-distance hike.

What follows is a deeply honest, reflective journey through hot and dry California and green, wet, Oregon, where she encounters a charging bull, dwindling water, kind strangers and brown bears. As a Washingtonian whose most terrifying hiking moment was encountering a coiled rattlesnake in Catoctin, I was floored by the relative placidity that Strayed uses when describing her multiple encounters with rattlesnakes, including one that she nearly stepped on in a dust storm. Strayed’s deeply honest writing is moving, and her journey – harrowing and beautiful, is hard to stop reading. I challenge you to not want to put on a pair of hiking boots and get outside after reading this book.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI, SMCM
Review Submitted by: Andrea Gesumaria
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book with a one word title.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

This is a memoir by a New Yorker staff writer about his lifelong passion for surfing, from his boyhood in Hawaii to his recent years off the coast of Long Island. I know nothing about surfing, but this book, and its incredible prose, gave me a completely new understanding and appreciation. I read this book at the beach, which was absolutely perfect. Finnegan’s writing is elegant and rhythmic and it was a joy to explore his life of adventure and travel. I was most impressed by his ability to recapture the spirit of adventure and restlessness that propelled him across the South Pacific during his early twenties. Such freedom! This is a book about youth, single-mindedness, and risk-taking, gradually giving way to adulthood and rootedness.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating: Highly Recommended

Confessions of Congressman X with a foreword by Robert Atkinson

Confessions of Congressman X

This short memoir is a documented collection of conversations over many years between an unnamed, Democratic congressman and Atkinson. The congressman was originally angered when he discovered that Atkinson recorded the details of their conversations over the years, but he was mollified by the knowledge that his secrets had been kept. The congressman agreed to publish this book because of the “public’s ‘surprisingly boisterous disdain with Washington” that’s bubbled forth during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

The book is a sickening confirmation of what many of us have suspected for years about Congressional representatives. They are controlled by special interests, PACs, and billionaires who can line their pockets. They are for the most part keenly deceitful with their constituents and are primarily concerned with fundraising for their election campaigns so they can keep their cushy jobs. They rely on staffers to tell them how to vote on bills they don’t have time to read, and they know that the system is broken but aren’t motivated to fix it. He also notes  apathy and lack of knowledge in the American voter. Even though the electorate is seemingly fed up, 90% of those elected are incumbents. “I understand the lack of trust and resentment voters have in Congress’ ability to do its job. But let’s face it, there’s no real incentive for us to change. Creative gerrymandering and the polarized electorate’s propensity to vote the party line pretty much guarantees the reelection of incumbents.” This book raised a new level of disgust with Congress within me.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Sandi Hauenstein
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book read in one day; book printed by a small press.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This book allowed me to experience such a historically charged period in American history from a single perspective– giving me a much deeper insight to the effects of racism, poverty and broken families than I would experience in another book. The book delved into the psychological processes of a young, black girl in the poor south as she was held between the traditional, religious values of her community and the emerging liberal ideologies of the increasingly expanding, industrialized outside world. Through her mother and grandmother’s aphorisms, Maya was able to guide her non-traditional lifestyle through those enduring phrases to create a harmonious balance between both extremes within her life.

 

Availability: SMCM, COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Mackenzie Nargiz
Rating: Must Read

American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus

American GhostAmerican Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest

In this family memoir, novelist Hannah Nordhaus investigates the life of her great-great-grandmother Julia, whose ghost is said to haunt her home (now a hotel) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Guests report strange happenings in the second floor bedroom that once belonged to Julia Schuster Staab, including cold temperatures, flickering lights, and a ghostly apparition of a woman in a long Victorian dress. Some rumors claim that Julia killed herself, that she died of grief, or that her husband Abraham murdered her. But what is the truth?

In American Ghost, Nordhaus traces the story of her ancestor Julia from her childhood in Germany to her difficulties as a young Jewish bride in 1860s Santa Fe, then a rough frontier outpost. Although her husband Abraham become wealthy in New Mexico, Julia never thrived and returned many times to Germany for unknown “treatments” and “cures.”

Nordhaus visits archives, pores over her great-grandmother’s (Julia’s daughter) adolescent journals, consults mediums, and travels to Germany to discover the truth about Julia. She discovers a troubled history – mental illness, disinheritance, and an entire branch of the family lost in a Nazi concentration camp.

American Ghost is a haunting story of immigration, belonging, mental illness, family history, promising new beginnings, and lives lost too soon – a very rewarding ghost story.

Availability:  USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended