“There are two things that happen when someone is trying to decide [...] where they are going to put your otherness,” Marra B. Gad writes in her new book The Color of Love. “For some, there is a blankness in the eyes that takes over, as if they are lost in thought,” but for others, “there is an immediate narrowing, a sharpness that engages. And it is because they don’t need to think.” For Marra, these two reactions encompassed much of her world. In the prologue, Marra describes her background as a mixed Jewish woman, half white and half black, who was adopted by a Jewish family in 1970. To Marra, the labels she identifies with don’t matter, shouldn’t matter, yet, “For many, identity is literally a black-and-white matter.” Something that is, or isn’t.
Finding Sanctity in Suffering
Review: Sacred Groves: Or, How a Cemetery Saved My Soul
Bedazzled Ink Publishing, pp. 262
In her memoir Sacred Groves: Or, How a Cemetery Saved My Soul, Kathleen Davies examines the concept of identity through the lens of a novice female professor. Through her experiences as an outcast and stepping into new territories, Davies finds her purpose in life—ironically in a Victorian graveyard. The cemetery magically holds parallel to her internal battles in ways that are enlightening and serve as a heaven on earth in a world full of uncomfortable encounters. Not only does her muse scream at her, surrounded by mesmerizing architectural beauties in nature, but she has a self-awakening among her observations. Told with poems, witty snippets from her journey, and photographs of headstones and mausoleums taken with her own camera, Davies breathes life into the inanimate statues and lifeless tombs, making the local graveyard her “feminine space,” almost like a garden. By describing such a serene place using textures and voiced appreciations, Davies not only provokes imagination for herself, but also for the reader. She remarkably navigates through the unknown and speaks her truth with such vulnerability, revealing that through suffering, humans often find hidden truths.
Review: The Shape of A Hundred Hips
Bink Books: pp. 226
Cost: $14.95 (paperback)
In this current climate of the #MeToo movement, women across the globe are fighting back against sexual harassment and assault by pulling back the curtain of shame, stepping out of the shadows, and sharing their personal stories. Author Patricia “Pat” Cumbie bravely adds her voice to this critical discourse with her memoir, The Shape of a Hundred Hips.
Transformation and Letting Go in the Las Vegas Valley
Review: Echo Bay
Tolsun Books, pp. 48
Cost: $10.00 (paperback)
Some people seamlessly accept the maturity and responsibility that comes with adulthood. Some of us call our moms a lot. Some dig their heels into the ground with the resistance of a toddler heading to time out. Chloe Caldwell, by certain definitions, is the latter. Caldwell’s latest essay collection, I’ll tell you in person, includes lengthy but devourable essays about some of her craziest decisions, most obstructive and devastating problems, major disappointments, and the relationships that got her there.
The Making of an American Dream
Review: Welcome Home
Alternative Book Press: 158 pp.
Jude Ezeilo’s heartwarming introduction to America provides a new ethical and moral viewpoint to the country that Americans are accustomed to today. Welcome Home: A Memoir is an exchange between Ezeilo’s past and present selves, both working toward obtaining United States citizenship. Arriving at such a young age from his home country of Nigeria, two-year-old Ezeilo soon discovers the work and dedication it takes to achieve the American dream.
M.M. Wittle's creative non-fiction chapbook Three Decades and I'm Gone is her personal story of the author losing her father in her first decade of life, her mother in her second decade, and nearly losing herself to her grief in her third decade. The story is mostly written in a linear sequence of vignettes of prose poetry with some traditional stanza poetry. This treatment of memoir in a chapbook/poetry form gives the popular genre a compact, accessible feel. One can take the tragedy of each decade piece by piece and still experience the fullness of the story because each bit is an independent thought or feeling that supports the story as a whole.
Mother vs. Daughter: The Battle for Choice
Review: Daughters of the Grasslands
Daughters of the Grasslands
Mary Woster Haug
Nonfiction - Memoir
Bottom Dog Press: pp. 192
Paperback Cost: $16.20
With the open information attitude and international connectivity brought on by the Internet age, women are challenging what it means to be wife, mother, and daughter, raising their voices to share their stories and capture the imaginations of young girls internationally. Few express this better than Mary Woster Haug, author of Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir.
She claims that tradition and honor are the chains that bind girls to the same limited resources that their mothers and grandmothers have struggled with. In order for girls to fight these concepts, they must often turn against their own mothers, or feel as though they are: Not a battle for the faint of heart. Raised on the grasslands of North Dakota, Haug is a modern woman born from tradition. A self-proclaimed feminist, she tells of her personal evolution away from the values that buoyed her own mother, and Haug’s effort to escape the judgement she read so plainly in her mother’s features. Haug runs all the way to South Korea, taking a year-long professorship at the University in Daejeon. What she discovers is that mother-daughter conflicts are universal. Instead of escape, South Korea is more a harsh emersion into the tensions Haug never wanted to face.
Review: El Paso Days
El Paso Days
Nonfiction – Memoir
Wings Press, pp. 160
If one were to look back on a life as collected memories, how would those memories be recalled? Elroy Bode's memoir, El Paso Days, shows that life is relived not chronologically, but randomly, as recollections and experiences, joys and sorrows. The author takes the reader on a pinball ride, bouncing between his life as a teacher to the ennui of retirement. It is an anthology of moments, collected fragments of time and space.
The title leads the reader to anticipate a memoir about life in Texas, a literary landscape of arroyos and tumbleweeds. While El Paso is the backdrop, the book is a memoir of a piece of Bode's life, a nonlinear autobiography, seasoned liberally with the author's musings about life, death, and the cosmos. The reader travels across the timeline of Bode's life, stopping to observe a remembered event here, a cherished vision there. He explains in the opening note that his book is "a journal of thoughts, scenes, happenings, sort of month by month: not a record of a specific year but a kind of recent generic year." Through these scenes and thoughts we see a portrait of the author, somewhat abstract, with pieces missing, owing to the prevailing undercurrent of loss.
Review: Cures for Hunger
Cures for Hunger: A Memoir
Deni Y. Béchard
Nonfiction - Memoir
Milkweed Editions, pp. 315
Hardcover Cost: $24.00
In Deni Y. Béchard’s memoir Cures for Hunger, the reader is introduced to the author as a young boy enamored with his father. The author’s father, André, harbors a wild thirst for danger that burrows in his personality and threatens his family. We see this in the opening scene when André takes his children to sit in his truck over railroad tracks. As the train barrels toward the family, André pretends the truck has stalled until the last possible moment. Antics like this one terrify and thrill his children. Then there is the darker side, the sunken eyes and secrets. After the family’s escape from André—and that’s how it felt, kids packed in the car, speeding across the Canadian border in the middle of the night—Béchard blames his mother for taking him away from his father. In the years leading up to his fifteenth birthday, Béchard discovers pieces of André’s criminal record and resolves to move back in with his father. His hope to quench his fascination with André’s past is shadowed by the realization that his father is not the same man he remembers from childhood.
Béchard explores what it means to be in limbo between craving a father’s love and being repulsed by his lifestyle. In his memoir, the author appears troubled, wanting nothing more than a strong patriarchal figure as he picks fights at school and writes dystopian fantasies in his bedroom. But his redeeming qualities are limited.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff