Baz Dreisinger has crossed oceans and boundaries—both figuratively and literally—in her new book, Incarceration Nations, which provides a first-hand account of Dreisinger’s two-year quest to penetrate the walls of some of the most notorious correctional facilities around the globe. Dreisinger maintains a dual purpose in her pilgrimage and her account. She hopes to inject small doses of hope and creativity into the inmates she encounters, as well as provide an account to the world that will foster awareness and spur a cause-to-action mentality for the prison crisis that exists in today’s world. Dreisinger’s work seems to accomplish both purposes, as the impact that she has made in the lives of the people who reside in “The Houses of the Living Dead” is evident. The astounding facts and accounts of the inmates’ lives that are carefully crafted into this book have and continue to invoke necessary changes in the global prison system.
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.
“Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America’s Dog Problem” by Jacki Skole, the term “Man’s Best Friend” takes on a whole new meaning. Skole uses her journalism background and her love of animals to shed light on a topic that hits home for just about anyone who has ever brought a dog into their lives. It is during her search to find out the history of her recent four legged family addition, her dog Galen, that Skole begins to uncover something unfortunate: the truth that many dogs face once they arrive at a shelter and the urgent need for change in the animal shelter system.
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.
Crying for Haiti Ended Long Ago
Review: Tears for the Mountain
Tears for the Mountain
Divertir Publishing, pp. 173
In the United States, where our national attention span seems to coincide with the length of a half-hour TV sitcom, it’s no surprise that the deadly, destructive earthquake in Haiti has disappeared from our national consciousness.
The January 12, 2010 quake killed more than 100,000 men, women and children and left tens of thousands more homeless. News reports at the time told of office building collapses in the capital of Port-au-Prince that buried scores of people alive under tons of debris. In the days and weeks that followed, orphaned children wandered the streets and roaming gangs enforced vigilante justice while looting homes and businesses for food and valuables.
Despite an initial international response that led to more than $32 million in donations in less than a month, the scores of similarly horrific disasters since – including the current typhoon recovery underway in the Philippines – have shoved the Haiti story completely off the mainstream media radar.
A quick Google search of the phrase “relief efforts in Haiti earthquake” produces recent releases from the Red Cross, CARE and the Obama White House. However, articles from such mainstream news sources as CNN, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor carry publication dates as old as only a few days and weeks after the quake itself.
Filling this informational void, however, is a powerful nonfiction chronicle called Tears for the Mountain. In his debut work, Chris Rakunas vividly shares his week-long experiences delivering ten tons of medical supplies throughout Haiti.
Originally published on January 12, 2012 – the second anniversary of the quake, Tears currently is receiving renewed attention due to the Philippines disaster along with the pending release of Rakunas’ third book, and second novel, The Eye of Siam.
The goal of narrative nonfiction works, such as Tears, is to provide detailed information about key situations, events and issues. Just as the Greek god Chronos wrapped his snakelike body around the legendary world-egg; a strong chronicle should wrap its arms around a topic and give us a comprehensive, opinion-free, non-judgmental account of what took place.
Tears meets and exceeds this goal by delivering the sights, sounds, feelings and smells of what it was like to be fully immersed in the hopeless tragedy that was immediate post-earthquake Haiti.
The fast-paced book begins with Rakunas, at the time a southwest Florida hospital executive, racing across the state’s Alligator Alley highway to catch a cargo flight to Haiti two weeks after the quake. He and his orthopedic surgeon colleague, Dr. Stephen Schroering, are making the trip with nine pallets worth of surgical goods that were dropped off at their hospital.
From their middle-of-the-night arrival at the darkened Port-au-Prince airport – illuminated only by the light of an electrical fire in the remains of the terminal – to their exhausted departure six days later, Tears chronicles the pair’s experiences interacting with the Haitian people in exacting detail.
We can see the brightly colored orange, green and blue piles of wood shards along roadsides where small houses used to be, as well as the hundreds of boxes of supplies that Rakunas spends hours sorting and organizing and sorting again.
We can hear the joyous laughter of young children playing outside the orphanage Rakunas called home for a week, which stands in stark contrast to the plaintive wailing of mothers over the bodies of their dead babies.
We can feel the old man’s damaged thigh bone snap into place as Rakunas assists with the resetting of a fractured leg on a makeshift church pew operating table, and we share the feeling of fear with the author as he sprints to seek shelter behind a courtyard gate to avoid a gang of Port-au-Prince thugs.
We can smell the pervasive burning charcoal aroma throughout the island, along with the sickeningly sweet odor of rotting human flesh that is seemingly encountered around every corner.
The chronicle also introduces us to such inspiring personalities as Miriam Frederick, the director of New Life Children’s Home and Rakunas’ host and facilitator for the week. She’s described in Tears as a both “a miniature Phyllis Diller” and “the Mother Teresa of Haiti” for her appearance and her countless good deeds. We also meet the complex Guy Philippe, a local political leader who was quite helpful to the author on a delivery to the remote town of Pestel. We learn in the book’s epilogue that Philippe is suspected of being a murderous counter-revolutionary who was trained and funded by the U.S. government.
Tears for the Mountain – named after graffiti in Port-au-Prince depicting a map of Haiti with its tallest mountain Pic la Selle crying – is faithful to its time line and organized into chapters simply titled Day One, Day Two etc. We awaken with Rakunas each morning to the sound of giant cargo planes touching down at the airport and go to bed with him each night after the bracing, but refreshing, ice-cold shower that washes away the physical if not the emotional stains of the day.
In a recent interview, Rakunas said he’s constantly haunted by strong, sensuous images from his trip, an effect he said is intensified each time he attends a book signing and speaks publicly about the trip. These experiences so strongly felt by Rakunas nearly three years ago are effectively recorded in Tears for us to process and ponder in our own minds.
With his repute as a novelist continuing to grow, one hopes Rakunas eventually will step back into the nonfiction genre as he clearly has a firm handle on what it takes to produce a strong and significant chronicle.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff