The Temporary Bride made me feel acutely uncomfortable. It is a memoir of a daring Canadian woman who loves to cook and discover new food cultures and has travelled to unlikely locales, alone. (Think Sana’a, Yemen). In this book, she travels to Iran and learns cooking from a homemaker she finds through her son, and the stories of her relationship with this woman living in a world so different from hers are wonderful, as is her avid interest in restaurants, street vendors, and even a camel slaughterhouse.
And then she starts a relationship with the son, one that begins with ambiguous violence and then continues with, to me, unhealthy cultural undertones, as she seems to think of him as slightly inferior, untrained, uncouth. Although she proclaims her love of him, the revelation of so many personal details seemed exploitative and inappropriate.
It’s hard to read This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression and not feel deeply sad for the author, whose euphemistically tagged “treatment-resistant” depression has followed her since childhood, with multiple severe episodes following stressful life events. But she seems to attribute most of her problems to her upbringing, which was clearly cold, even neglectful but not out-of-bounds cruel — just clueless. It made me wonder whether holding on to the notion that she deserved a better childhood may not have made it even more difficult for her to live with her illness. It also made me wonder why she clung to a mother whom she describes as indifferent and callous well into adulthood. Wouldn’t she be better off to put some physical and mental space between her and her mother? In any case, the book is a reminder of the great travails of depression, and the gap still to be bridged by medicine when it comes to treating it.
After a very traditional upbringing and young motherhood, the author’s mother left her old life behind, abducted her youngest child (really!), and started a hectic life of travels through California, several South American countries, and eventually Colorado, leading a bohemian lifestyle and for long periods of time leaving her two older children, young teenagers, to fend for themselves. The book, Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution, manages to both depict the unhinged and destructive aspects of the mother’s choices while hanging on to a deep love and concern for her. It’s heartbreaking to read that the author as a young child feels he needs to tell a family judge that he wants to live with his mother because she’s the one who needs the most help. He does not tell the judge about his rationale, and the judge does not listen to him…
Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life shines because of its subject, a woman with a pampered, conservative childhood who became an outspoken journalist with an irrepressible energy to shake things up. The book seems to be written by admirers, who come back again and again to her most endearing qualities, generosity to her friends and an utter lack of fear or conformity. One would want to see a more balanced view, perhaps exploring how her private life matched the public persona. But what a tornado of a person!
A French writer decides to spend six months, pretty much alone, in a small cabin near lake Baikal, in Russia, and writes a journal-like rendition in The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga. I was expecting a meditation on solitude and nature, and there’s some of that, but interestingly the book centers on his rare interactions with his neighbors (several hours’ walk away!) and occasional visitors, both friends and strangers. It’s hard to be a hermit.
He also talks about the books he reads, most of them French literature, but for me the best parts were the incidental descriptions of his lifestyle: the frozen cabin in the morning, the abundant consumption of vodka with all visitors, the breaking of the ice to do some fishing. They held my attention more than the philosophical commentary.
Please Enjoy Your Happiness is a dreamy memoir of an unlikely encounter between the author, then a 19-year old sailor in the US Navy, and an older Japanese woman (she was only 30, but much more mature than him at the time) in Yokosuka, Japan in 1959. The two quickly discover a shared love of literature and the art and the woman encourages him to pursue a career as a writer. But slowly he discovers her complicated past, complete with yakuza entangling.
The book moves between the present, the encounter, and the period before it to convey a sense of uncertain time and truth for a moving historical, literary, and personal story.
The author of Once We Were Sisters is convinced that her sister’s husband murdered her. He most definitely beat her, repeatedly and savagely, but it seems that, had he wanted to kill her, he would have had access to other methods than driving their car into a tree, without having to himself suffer serious injuries. No matter, the story is about her relationship with her sister, forged against complicated parenting from their mother, a dreadful if indulgent education, and poor husband choices for both of them. It’s a wonderful portrait of sisterly love. Somehow it left me rather cold, including the awful abuse, perhaps because many of the bad decisions are based on hanging on to the very comfortable family wealth.