Category Archives: Memoir

Brother & Sister: A Memoir by Diane Keaton

Brother & Sister - A Memoir by Diane Keaton Title: Brother & Sister: A Memoir
Author: Diane Keaton
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494504
Genre: Memoirs, Autobiographies,
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I finally got a chance to read Diane Keaton’s memoir of herself and her brother. It brought out a lot of emotions in me as a sibling. This book is of course about the love she has for her brother Randy, but it is also about the love that doesn’t see after a while, the kind that is oblivious to what is going on with the other.

The book starts off with them being an ordinary family – one big sister, one little brother, Mom, Dad, and some more siblings, all in the middle-class California of the 50s. Things are obviously fine on the surface – the picnics, the family trips, the camps, and such as the other side beings to reveal itself. Of how things go wrong – when you grow up, do not keep in touch, become involved in your respective lives, how the brother is diametrically opposite of his sister, and how he lives a life that isn’t considered “normal”.

Brother & Sister is a book about relationships, and how mental health illness and alcoholism can be and is a real threat. This is also seen through the scrapbooks, journals, letters, and photographs kept by Diane’s mother – it is almost a progression of sorts.

Brother & Sister isn’t about judgment as much as it is about trying to understand someone you love so deeply, about what went wrong with them, why did the relationship suffer, and perhaps a way to piece it all together. Sibling relationships aren’t easy at all. But the idea of perhaps confronting demons and deep-diving into the family history to understand relationships and people makes this book so readable, relatable, and extremely relevant.

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid Title: A Small Place
Author: Jamaica Kincaid
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374527075
Genre: Nonfiction, Jamaica Caribbean & West Indies History, Memoir
Pages: 81
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

So, this is my first Kincaid read, and all thanks to the 2020 Reading Women Challenge. Their first prompt is an author from Caribbean or India. Since I’ve read a lot of women from India, I thought let’s give the Caribbean a shot and started with A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid – a rather short, but extremely powerful and engaging book about colonialism and its effects in Antigua. There were so many things I wasn’t aware about Antigua till I read A Small Place, and like I said I was only too happy to read something out of my comfort zone and thereby discover the writing of an author I had intended to read for a while.

A Small Place is a memoir, it is also a history of Antigua in a way, it is also an essay of anger against the people who colonised Antigua, it is also a voice of great empathy that Kincaid has for her country and people. The book begins with an attack on tourists who visit Antigua – what they expect and choose to see versus what the place is.

A Small Place is a short book – but extremely powerful and angry. Kincaid writes about home – about what it meant to her, and what has become of it. Of how the English ruled them, and how their independence has only worsened the situation because of corruption and bureaucracy. Jamaica Kincaid speaks candidly – almost to the point of being brutal – there are no holds barred. The prose comes from an extremely personal space and therefore the writing shines the way it does.

For instance, when she speaks of lack of clean water in the country or even about the beloved old library that was destroyed in an earthquake and how nothing was done to build the new one. And now that there is a new one that has been built (way after the book was published), but there is still doubt if it is open to public or not.

Kincaid’s book is large – very large not only in its scope but also in what it has to say – and how she manages to say it in all in less than hundred pages is nothing short of a feat. That explains the writer she is – succinct, bare-boned, and yet so deeply emotional that every emotion is reflected on paper, and in turn is felt by the reader.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back- Carl's Book by Naja Marie Aidt Title: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book
Author: Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
Publisher: Coffee House Press
ISBN: 978-1566895606
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 152
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

You cannot overcome grief. Grief hangs around, till it decides to leave you. Till such time you cannot get rid of it. It will not let go. As Naja Marie Aidt puts it so eloquently, that it breaks your heart: “Sorrow cannot be cured”.

When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book is a book about Naja’s son Carl and how she and her family lost him when he was twenty-five years old. Lost him to what? Lost him to whom? How does one overcome such a loss? Does one really? The answer is always no.

The book is about Carl. His life, his loves, his innocence, his need to be there for everyone, and his love for his friends and family. Naja bares it all. She gives it all to the reader – in the form of Carl’s notes, his poems, her poems, other writer’s works on death, grief, and loss. From Whitman’s poetry (which she found in her son’s green jacket afterward) to Anne Carson and Gilgamesh, this quest is also personal (only personal) – that of understanding the nature of loss and how to cope with it (if there’s a way to it).

We all have different ways to deal with death. How many of us acknowledge the loss and speak of it again and again and again? How many of us choose to ignore what we feel and continue as though nothing has happened? The loss of a loved one cannot be contained. The loss of a child more so.

Naja’s book made me see how I deal with death. How I manage my emotions, what I feel, how I communicate, and what happens to me when someone beloved is no more.

The book tore me severely in so many places. The times she speaks of her son – always so lovingly, the way she speaks of who he was and what he was made of, her anger at her son not being present in the world, how he was buried, the future he could’ve had, the reactions of the family, and more – all of them shook me, made me weep, and made me realise how important it is to tell people you love them – to make them know it again and again and again. Death isn’t easy. Living without is most difficult. We all hold on to scraps of memories. That is all what remains.

And here is Naja Marie Aidt’s interview about the book. A must-watch:

 

Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps by David Heatley

Qualification - A Graphic Memoir in 12-Steps by David Heatley Title: Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in 12 Steps
Author: David Heatley
Publisher: Pantheon Books, Knopf
ISBN: 978-0375425400
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Whenever I read a graphic memoir, a thought comes to mind: Does the nature of the memoir in graphic form take something away from the experience of the author? Or does the reader feel more involved in the author’s life because the story is being told in pictures as well? Does it matter at all? Or do you feel like a voyeur stepping into someone else’s life (if only for a short while) and perhaps even judging them for their choices and how it all panned out for them?

Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in Twelve Steps is a memoir of addiction to 12-Step programs. I had never heard of something like this before, and this is what attracted me to this memoir. Heatley has issues and attends 12-Step programs for those. Till he also has some issues which he doesn’t and attends twelve-step programs for those too.

It all begins with his parents (as it always does?). Their troubled marriage, and seeking counseling, attending programs, and then some more. The book brims with black humour, at every stage, perhaps trying to reduce the impact of the not-so-pretty-picture painted by Heatley (which of course is nothing but the truth).

Qualification traces the journey of the author through the various programs – and I was surprised at how many were there in the US of A. I don’t know if we have so many in India, given how we only seem to know majorly about Alcoholic Anonymous and that’s that. We see Heatley’s life up close and personal and maybe that’s why it is also a little too much at times – from all the addiction to what went on in his head and his perception of others around him only gives rise to empathy, compassion, and love.

What comes out of this memoir is David’s relationships with the people around him and how they impact his relationship with addiction. Heatley tells it like it happened. The quirks, the eccentricities, the highs, and the lows as they took place, and where he is today as a person (well, some glimpse of it).

Qualification is a read that makes you look at your addictions that perhaps you haven’t faced or known of yet. It is a book that helped me for sure to understand my demons when it comes to book-hoarding, buying, and more. Now to only do something about it.

Having said all of this, Qualification is a memoir that stays and makes its presence felt in the most unassuming manner. I caught myself thinking about what happens to me when I am faced with the catalysts of my addictions and how I react thereof. Qualification will maybe also help you see yourself. Read it. It is completely worth it.

 

Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir by Jayson Greene

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene Title: Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir
Author: Jayson Greene
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1524733537
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I am not a parent. I will never know what it is like to lose a child. To grieve for the loss of someone you have created, looked over, been paranoid over, and prayed to God that they live healthy and happy, and yet you have no control over what happens to them. The sheer helplessness and then the realisation after. Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene is the book that makes you see the world through the eyes of a parent – what does it mean to lose a child, how should one grieve, how much should grief take from you, and what it truly means to be able to move on (if there is ever such a thing).

It isn’t easy to read a book about the loss of a child. Of a two-year-old, who just wasn’t there in the world. Of Greta whose life her father Jayson speaks of lovingly. Of the way you as a reader become a part of it and can’t help but recollect the times you have felt that stabbing pain that doesn’t seem to go away, and it does one fine day, and it comes back once in a while, making you sense loss more than ever.

Once More We Saw Stars is also a hopeful book in so many ways. It teaches you how to grieve perhaps, and understand that at the core we are all the same people. We feel the same things. Jayson Greene takes us through this journey of loss, grief, and the coping process.

The book’s title is taken from Dante’s Inferno, also telling us that Greta’s parents will take their grief, make what they have to with it, and ultimately soar above. They will once again see the stars. The story is about love – of deep love and moments of transformation that Jayson presents with such clarity and in great abundance that you cry, weep, and sometimes smile with him, knowing that love will make it alright.

The book is full of memories. Of moments we live and some we do not and some we don’t get a chance to. Jayson’s clarity of thought – how he strings memory and presents them to us is stunning.  There is anger. There is frustration. There is also the knowing that life must carry on and in that process we know that love will remain. It will guide us and help us move ahead, to soldier on, to make us see the stars once more.