Author Kazim Ali reminds us that, like layers of sediment in the earth, generations of lives are inscribed within the land around us. In his memoir Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water, Ali weaves a detailed meshing of historical events, personal accounts, and his own experiences as he searches for answers to the series of questions that led him to Cross Lake and the Pimicikamak community.
After seeking help from numerous doctors and specialists, Esme Weijun Wang couldn’t shake the feeling that something was being missed.
Finally, there was a breakthrough during her college years when she was first diagnosed as bipolar the summer before she left for New Haven. And then when her medical records were sent to Stanford she explains, “In the referral authorization itself, I was listed as having two diagnoses: schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. There was no mention of fibromyalgia, complex PTSD, dysautonomia/POTS, chronic Lyme disease, or any of the other diagnoses I’d received over the years” (185).
Esme Weijun Wang’s 2019 essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias is an engaging journey that deals with a serious topic. The book does a thorough job of educating the reader in this area of health that is commonly misunderstood. The relationship between the author and the text is beautifully captured by including both clinical information and her own personal struggles and triumphs.
“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.
Wilderness and a Dissolution of Boundary
Review: A Wilder Time
Bellevue Literary Press, pp. 224
“You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” This Alan Watts quote prefaces William Glassley’s nonfiction book A Wilder Time.
Watts was a 20th century Buddhist and spiritual lecturer who talked about the non-existence of self and the necessity of a return to nature in order to dissolve artificial, man-made divisions.
Glassley, a geologist, takes his own Wattsian spiritual journey into the Greenland wilderness. Although Glassley’s scientific background comes across in his writing, it doesn’t outshine his poetic prose that captures the pristine, esoteric setting of an untouched land.
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.
Community: In Sickness and In Health
Review: The Fevers of Reason
by Rachel Barton
Bellevue Literary Press, pp. 272
As I approached The Fevers of Reason, I did so with a foot in each river of influence—or rather, a leg in one and a toe in the other. Weissmann’s essays discuss the intersection of various issues within medicine and popular culture. As a student of literature, I have often written extensive essays and participated in lengthy discussions of multiple works, like Arrowsmith and Sherlock Holmes,that Weissmann includes. Until recently, my knowledge of science and medicine has been rather superficial—me as a nervous patient in the waiting room. As my study of literature, guided by Elaine Scarry and Rita Charon, has begun to dip into the interaction between literature and medicine I’ve become more confident about the relationship between the two. Wearing my budding knowledge of the relatively young field like swimmies, I jumped right in to Weissmann’s collection and found a rich layering of past, present, science, and literature to present diverse takes on the issue at hand.
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.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff