Category Archives: True story

** Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah

Together with her unloved husband, the author of Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life goes to China, undercover, to proselyte for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an organization that is banned by the Chinese government. There, she finds herself with a job as an unlikely podcast host, new friends, and an illicit correspondence with a Californian man that make her question her faith, and drag her away from it, and her family and old friends, who must shun her. I found her descriptions of living in Shanghai as a foreigner are delightful and her earnest description of losing her faith is arresting, although she could have excised the long exchanges with her Californian penpal.

 

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*** Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed is a delightful mix of what it’s like to be a therapist, how therapists behave when they go see a therapist for their own struggles (and not just to get a second opinion on a client), and the author’s personal, twisted journey into becoming a therapist (it’s LA, so show business in involved, but also med school!)

The three strands come together perfectly and you will close the book wanting more.

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* A Serial Killer’s Daughter by Kerri Rawson

When a serial killer is caught, what happens to his family? A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming shows us how harrowing it is to discover that one’s father killed (and tortured!) many people. Sure, he was a man with a temper, but no one in the family suspected him, and he seemed content to continue his relationship with them as if nothing had happened.

The story could have been edited to make for a much more solid outcome, but the theme is heartbreaking.

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** The Little Exile by Jeanette Arakawa

The Little Exile presents itself as a novel that’s very heavily inspired by the author’s real life, as a young Japanese-American who lived in California and was interned, with her parents and brother, in a camp with minimal comforts, after Pearl Harbor.

The story is poignant, both at a personal level, for its young heroine, and also as a scandalous racist act. I wonder why the author chose to present it as a novel. Perhaps to avoid embarrassing family members? It’s too bad because parts of it seem to flow much better, perhaps because they are simple (and evocative) descriptions of what really happened, while others seem forced, even unbelievable. For instance, when the family is forced to leave its San Francisco business and home, the claim is that a large number of neighbors gather to wish them well–but at the same time the forced sale of the business was for a pittance. One would think that the two would not be compatible.

My favorite book on this topic remains When the Emperor Was Divine.

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** Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gormick

Told in accomplished flashbacks inspired from the author’s walks in New York City with her aging mother, Fierce Attachments recounts her childhood in a Jewish immigrant working-class neighborhood, fascinated by a Gentile widow who does not quite follows the rules. I got annoyed by the constant criticisms of her mother, continuing into her mature adulthood when I believe we should all give up on that, but the childhood scenes are complex and well told.

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** Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America mixes memories of the author’s father, a complicated man who eventually left the family, and the author’s own life as a adult. His father’s life made for the most compelling parts of the book, I thought. A smart man living in blatantly racist times, he had to fight for everything: his good government job (until Reagan fired all striking air traffic controllers), housing, and education for himself and his children. The author’s life,  centered around his alcoholism, seemed a bit too navel-gazing, although there were some funny moments, as when he is asked to join a televised intervention for his alcoholic brother and wonders how he can be fit to do that.

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* Running Home by Katie Arnold

Long-distance running has its fans, of which I’m not. I can’t imagine anything more tedious than running for hours (actually, I can: training for one-distance running!) and this book confirmed that the narration of long-distance races cannot raise above the level of tedious, for me at least.

That said, this book is a memoir, and long-distance running came rather late in the author’s life, helping her recover from the death of her father– thereby proving that it can be  a useful activity. So we get a good 150 pages that are about her relationship with her father, who left her mother and her sister when she was a child and for whom she had fulsome and unquestioned love and admiration, until she finally confronted the not-so-perfect aspects of his personality as she cleaned up his archives. That part of the book is very touching.

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