“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” Graham Greene, “The Power and the Glory”

I love reading memoirs—getting glimpses into an author’s life, usually revolving around a particular event or time period; often with significant changes in the writer’s inner life.

This post is about memoirs with dysfunctional families—one of my favorite types, combined with an exotic setting.   The book that started this particular tangent was “Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight: an African Childhood” by Alexandra Fuller.  Alexandra (Bobo) writes of her childhood in Africa —rural Africa which she loves.  In the backdrop is her wacky, quirky family—lots of alcohol, cigarettes & guns and her mother & father with iffy, though loving parenting. The resiliency (it’s a tough life),  the support of each other & for Africa make this a compelling story.   She wrote another memoir, a sequel,Scribbling the Cat:  Travels with an African Soldier” about her relationship with a soldier named “K” who fought in Rhodesian’s civil war—she follows him on a journey to come to terms with his past.

From Africa to Scotland: “A Charmed Life:  Growing up in Macbeth’s Castle” by Liza Campbell.  This memoir starts with her father’s death.  It seems that she’s trying to come to terms with him and his bad behavior; memoir as catharsis.  One of his favorite pastimes was to drink and drive fast.  After he had 6 or 7 crashes in his Jaguar, he switched to Ferraris, blaming the cars for his accidents.  The castle is a backdrop to family dynamics; the family is rich & privileged (unlike Alexandra Fuller’s family), but isolated.

From Scotland, back to Africa –Somalia is the autobiography “Infidel” by Ali Ayaan Hirsi.  Another problematic family, Ali comes from a strict traditional Muslim background.  Her father was a political hero who arranged a marriage for her with a man who, according to her, was a “pea brain.”  Although she went through with the wedding ceremony, she never did live with him.  Outspoken and brave, Hirsi Ali escaped death threats and went into politics.  In 2010, she wrote a follow-up memoir, “Nomad: from Islam to America: a Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations.”

~ Joyce MacDonald

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