Archive for the 'Memoir/Journal' Category

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Title:A Woman in Berlin

Why I liked this book: First published in 1954, this book has just been reissued, and is now finding a more appreciative audience. This book was just too vivid an account, too soon after the events, to be welcomed when it first appeared. Berlin during the first weeks of Russian occupation at the end of the war was a harrowing time – especially for the women. The keeper of this journal, an intelligent and perceptive woman, was convinced to publish (albeit anonymously) only after many years. What she had to do to survive, and to help other women do the same, is plainly told. No one is vilified. The journal ends as Berlin begins to claw its way out of chaos. In Crumb Library you will find the original edition of 1954. The author reportedly died in 2001.

Monday, May 1st, 2006

Title: Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Genre: Memoir

Why I liked this book: Satrapi’s memoir of her life from ages 6-13 is a story worth reading in a time when we could all benefit from learning more about Iran, revolutionary governments, and the human toll of war. To quote from the publisher’s description of this graphic novel,

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran: of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life and of the enormous toll repressive regimes exact on the individual spirit. Marjane’s child’s-eye-view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family.

Satrapi’s tale of her childhood is by turns an instructive lesson in the tumultuous political and cultural history of Iran, an extraordinarily funny tale of childhood and rebellion, and a gutwrenching exploration of the cost of war and regime change. Satrapi (and her translators) have written a story that, in conjunction with the stark but never spare black-and-white images, brings a sadly gripping story to life, with enough humor and familiarity that the tragic events of Iranian history don’t overwhelm the reader. But they will probably make you think, and, if you’re like me, make you wish you knew more. (Fortunately, Satrapi has continued the family saga in Persepolis 2 and Embroideries.)

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Title: I Thought My Father Was God
Author: edited by Paul Auster
Genre: Non-fiction

Why I liked this book: Everyone has special stories — the ones they tell at parties, the ones they tell to make their friends laugh, the ones that they tell late at night over a bottle of wine. Stories about family, about life, about the little things that are too good to be true, or too horrible to be made up. I Thought My Father Was God is a collection of those true favorite stories of hundreds of Americans, gathered up through NPR’s National Story Project.

I’ve been listening to these stories using the audiobook, which is read by Auster himself. He has a lovely reading voice, and a strong sense of character, tone, and pacing, which makes it an easy book to listen to. But the content of some of the stories make it hard, as well. I’ve been moved to laugh out loud (on an airplane, prompting some funny looks…), smile in recognition, and suddenly begin crying, all from the stories in this collection. They showcase some of the best, the worst, the funniest, the most touching, and the most unbelievable of the things that happen to real people living real lives.

Read it. It’ll make you grin, it’ll make you grimace, and it’ll drag you in and not let go.

For more information on the National Story Project, try the following websites:
About the National Story Project at
National Story Project Archives at
Observer interview with Auster

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

Title:Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place
Author:Terry Tempest Williams

Why I liked this book:This very personal book relates the parallel stories, during the mid-1980s, of the rise and fall of Great Salt Lake and the sickness and death of the author’s mother and grandmother. It is a telling full of anguish – and ultimately anger at the abuse of our environment and at betrayed trust. She asks, why should there be such destruction and pain? Is this just nature at work? Are we responsible for any of it? These are questions worth asking, but given the author’s immediate personal distress I’m not sure they get the most helpful answers.

Williams is constantly drawing connections between her personal sorrows and the greater world. This method of analysis is problematic. One feels that if her life were joyous, the earth would look radiant and healthy. “Trust your feeling. I have trusted mine.” her mother tells her. Is this really good advice? I’ve found that it’s often better to distrust your feelings – to look for the real motivation behind why you feel a certain way.

On the political side, the author does remind us how difficult it is for a rural area to resist being sacrificed for a national objective. Much if Utah is “downwind” of where much nuclear testing was done. This area, described as “virtually uninhabited” still did have many “virtual uninhabitants” – as they wryly refer to themselves. They believe they continue to suffer the effects of those years of testing. The author makes a good case that our wanton destruction of the environment is more than just ill-advised – it is killing us.

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
Genre: Autobiography/Literary Criticism

Why I liked this book:

This book is difficult to describe because it is about so many different things at once. On one level, it is an amazing account of an oppressed, educated, contemporary, group of women, who possess the courage to hold secret meetings where they study banned books under an increasingly intolerant government. As they arrive for each meeting, most of them remove the veil that they are forced to cover their faces with in public. During these meetings they discuss forbidden books, talk about their own lives, and debate about religion, politics, and the wearing of the veil. Nafisi flashes back often and rounds out the story by describing what it was like for her to live as a “privileged” professor of literature during the bombings and ever stricter laws imposed on women in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

On another level, the book contains a lot of astute literary criticism. It sheds light on possible interpretations of Nabokov’s Lolita, and even made me want to try reading some of the other books that were discussed. The literary criticism sections of this book were more interesting when they were discussing books that I had read, but even the discussions about the other books were still interesting and related to the narrative of the story.