Summer reading – Latehomecomer, Ordinary Ways

Murder mysteries are my usual summer reading fare, but this vacation was different. I had a stack of books on my table, some waiting for months, and memoirs won out.

The Latehomecomer is as wonderful as everybody already told me, bringing together the intimate personal story of her family’s journey to St. Paul with the grand sweep of history in the wake of the U.S. war in Southeast Asia. Kao Kalia Yang is a truly talented storyteller, whose book is an engrossing read from start to finish. What I had not realized – and still find hard to believe – is that she was so young (born in 1980) when she wrote this book.

The Summer of Ordinary Ways is another Minnesota story. Author Nicole Helget grew up near Sleepy Eye in an ordinary family made extraordinary by her storytelling. Her unflinching description of life and death, kindness and cruelty, craziness and common sense, is so vivid that it hurts. The book is dark, disturbing, and ultimately beautiful in its passion.

Nicole’s relatives hated the book, which received rave reviews when it was published in 2005. The author insists that these are her real memories, even if her family differs. It’s hard not to believe her, and equally hard to imagine that her family could accept so stark a portrait.

Finally, I began another memoir, This Child Will be Great, by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia. She is much older than the first two authors. Her memoir seems (I’m only at Chapter 4) to be as much a history of her country as of herself and her family. I’m enjoying it, and wish I had more vacation to read it — but I’ll have to slowly finish the book as work reclaims my days.

(And, yes, I did a little writing, too, during the vacation week – much of it on this blog. Wish I had time for more!)

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