Memoir / Autobiography
Generation Zeroby Sabreet Kang Rajeev
Idea: In Generation Zero, Sabreet Kang Rajeev relates the archetypal American Experience of coming to these shores and raising American-born children, in the hope that they'll fulfill the promise of the American Dream and the prayer that they'll continue to honor and respect the culture of their ancestry. A magnificent tribute to the spirit that embodies the very best in the dreamers who built this nation.
Prose/Style: Gifted with enormous insight, compassion, and empathy, Kang Rajeev has written a memoir that recalls A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in its ability to re-create her family history not only through her own eyes, but through the eyes of her mother and father. Shifting seamlessly from one point of view to another, the author conveys the unspoken fears, the tremendous sacrifices, the small triumphs, and the devastating setbacks experienced by many immigrant families.
Originality: What sets this book apart is its author's ability to objectively depict harsh realities with great love and deep respect. Many who were raised in America by immigrant parents will relate to the sometimes painful process of lives spent trying to straddle the line between the new world and the old, but few have reflected so deeply as Kang Rajeev on the heroism and dignity of parents who left everything and everyone they cherished to create a life in America.
Character Development/Execution: Kang Rajeev is able to convincingly convey her family's lives and history not only through her own eyes, but through the eyes of her parents. Moreover, even when life is hard and conflict arises between the values of the old world and the new, there is never bitterness on the author's part. Kang Rajeev loves and reveres the people she is writing about, and her reader will do the same.
Blurb: Kang Rajeev has written a memoir that recalls A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in its ability to re-create her family's history not only through her own eyes, but through the eyes of her mother and father. Written with warmth, humor, unsparing honesty, and tremendous love and respect, Generation Zero recollects pain without bitterness, embraces imperfections, and glows with gratitude.
Dementia, a Love Storyby Stephen Lewis
Idea: Stephen Lewis has accomplished a rare feat in writing the slow, painful erosion of Carol, his wife, a sufferer of early onset dementia, juxtaposed with the story of their love and the happy years before the disease stole her from herself. The story of Carol is set forth so vividly that the reader sees her with his eyes, every step of the way.
Prose: Stephen Lewis possesses that rara avis, a writer's writer utterly free of pretension or vanity. The simplicity of language, yoked to his complexity of thought, recalls the words of W.B. Yeats - "A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." Mr. Lewis has not stitched in vain.
Originality: No story of caregiving in this reviewer's experience has ever been written with such an exquisite ear, nor with such an eye for structure and for selecting the quotidian details that transform this from a memoir into a work of art. The subject of caregiving is universal; its expression in this memoir is unique.
Character/Execution: Carol and Stephen will live forever for any reader of this book - an immortality they more than deserve, and one that will greatly enrich the life of the reader. Reading Stephen's description of the life they shared, one wishes one could have known them in the prime of their health and pure joy in one another. Two lives, beautifully lived, and beautifully written.
Cooking For Her Eyes–Transcription of a Sonata: A Story of Music, Food, Love, and Deathby Susan Uehara Rakstang
Idea: "I structured this memoir as Beethoven structured his Piano Sonata No. 8," Rakstang explains in the endnotes to her exquisite memoir of love, family, friendship, food, music and becoming a woman whose every thought and action creates art out of life itself. This is a luminous memoir that nurtures the soul even as it pleases the intellect by its aesthetic grace, brilliance and wit.
Prose/Style: The music of Rakstang's prose is like the music that inspires her - simple and understated at times, then swelling into an unexpected lyrical beauty that overwhelms the reader with delight. Among the many hats this author wears - architect, chef, musician, daughter, mother, wife, mentor, friend - must also be numbered 'poet."
Originality: So many shimmering threads are gently woven into this magical narrative, yet nothing seems forced or out of place. The author writes as graciously as she has lived; it is a pleasure to be welcomed into the tenderness of her worldview.
Character Development/Execution: It is Rakstang's gift to be able create the people she loves on the page as vividly as they appear to her in her own memories. The book is beautifully and thoughtfully constructed, with all the patient, painstaking attention to detail the author employs in creating an origami crane, an architectural drawing, a meal that is a feast for both the eyes and the palate, or a life that is rich in family, friendship, and personal fulfillment.
On The Way To Casa Lotusby Lorena Junco Margain
Idea: This book offers a captivating, horrifying story about the ways the mistakes of others can forever alter our lives, and how to move forward in a way that is not vindictive, but healthy.
Prose/Style: This book is beautifully written. Suspenseful without being artificial, insightful without being preachy, Junco Margain strikes a perfect balance throughout.
Originality: This narrative, although centered around a traumatic surgical mistake, focuses on hope and understanding. Junco Margain believes not in revenge but in justice, and her unique perspective, as the survivor of a devastating yet completely preventable accident, makes for a compelling work.
Character Development/Execution: On the Way to Casa Lotus is a candid portrait of recovery elevated by the unwavering support of Junco Margain’s family.
Blurb: After a life-changing instance of medical malpractice, a woman must learn to cope with the day-to-day realities of her new condition, as she learns the redemptive power of forgiveness, love, and self-assurance.
Compassion Mandala: The Odyssey of an American Charity in Contemporary Tibetby Pamela Logan
Idea: This powerful memoir closely details the author’s years of humanitarian work in Eastern Tibet. The author effectively integrates the story of living with, supporting, and educating Tibetan people with her more personal internal journey.
Prose/Style: The book showcases powerful prose throughout, with skillful structure and outstanding descriptions of Tibet, its culture, people, and landscape.
Originality: This is the extremely original story of a woman's commitment to a distinctive region and its people. Logan’s uncommon passion, integrity, and optimism embody the best of humanitarianism. The author may wish to incorporate more of the material that appears in the concluding summary, into the body of the text itself.
Character Development/Execution: This memoir is fluidly written and displays the author’s deep sense of the region’s complex history and vibrant culture. The author’s adventures and moving experiences come vividly to life.
Blurb: A beautifully written, powerful memoir of one woman's stunning quest in eastern Tibet.
Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japanby Todd Wassel
Idea: Wassel’s work is entertaining, educational, and inspiring. While sharing his experiences during his pilgrimage in Japan, Wassel also shares educational information about the history of Japan and insights into Japanese society. Though the sometimes slow and repetitive, Wassel’s journey and fine writing will draw the readers in.
Prose: This work flows smoothly and is easy to read. The material is interesting and the pace moves steadily. The stories he shares feel authentic and the reader is able to gain insight into his state of mind throughout the entire journey while also being able to picture the beautiful landscape around him.
Originality: Wassel’s retelling of his pilgrimage is insightful and encourages the reader to look inside themselves to determine if they are truly happy with their lives. He shares the stories of the other pilgrims that he encountered along his journey, each looking for clarity and happiness in some manner.
Character/Execution: Wassel’s growth, from lost to enlightened, is meaningfully conveyed throughout.
Return to Ithacaby David & Susan Wight
Idea: This emotional memoir moves at the perfect pace to tell this sad, enlightening, and powerful story. David and Susan Wright's individual pieces meld perfectly to introduce the various plot points, treating both the sad and insightful moments with equal time and reflection.
Prose/Style: The authors’ separate voices can each be "heard" in the prose, yet they also meld beautifully to bring readers a narrative that's compelling and fully formed. Even the devastating moments at the center of this memoir are written about with grace, emotion, and care.
Originality: David and Susan Wright's experience is lovingly shared and explored. Yet, with their varying voices, they manage to make their son's story not his alone, but one that shines light on how an experience like this affects an entire family. This memoir is heart-wrenching and enlightening in equal measure.
Character Development/Execution: David and Susan Wright paint comprehensive "pictures" of Rion, Winston, and themselves. Each character in the family is complex and presented as fully formed. The characterization of their eldest son is especially nuanced and detailed. This presentation makes the main plot of the story even more emotionally resonant.
Ten Thousand Shells and Counting: A Memoirby Nadija Mujagic
Idea: Mujagic offers a rich and detailed account of her experiences during the war in the former Yugoslavia. The author provides a graceful and insightful blend of memories, impressions, and the impacts of trauma, with clear explanations relating to the complex circumstances of the war and its conflicts.
Prose: Mujagic’s prose is descriptive, polished, and features well-integrated historical and political details without ever becoming dry.
Originality: Memoirs relating to experiences during war are familiar, but few focus on the conflicts impacting Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and few with such a wealth of engaging detail.
Character/Execution: The author excels at personalizing the experience of one's home being under siege through vivid, in-scene descriptions, while also clearly conveying the particular circumstances of the Bosnian war. Mujagic’s framing of her story through the lens of PTSD, allows for greater resonance and relatability.
Dance of the Deities: Searching for Our Once and Future Egalitarian Societyby Patricia A. McBroom
Idea: This is a fascinating and unique read that challenges many cultural norms, blending personal narrative, gender studies, and anthropological treatise.
Prose: The writing is clean and professional with astute and engaging prose. McBroom imbues the narrative with warmth, while providing an intelligent, academic treatise.
Originality: The book’s blend of gender and ancient history with memoir results in a fully unique, well-sourced and stimulating work.
Character/Execution: The experience of reading this thoroughly researched book feels akin to auditing collegiate lectures with a charismatic lecturer. The book’s exploration of ancient female deities is expertly connected to modern gender studies through personal narrative.
Blurb: A fascinating anthropological read, tailored to the contemporary, that challenges many cultural norms.
I Don't Wanna Be Pinkby Dena Taylor
Idea: I Don't Wanna Be Pink, Dena Taylor's memoir of the battle with breast cancer that resulted in a double mastectomy, is brilliant, hilarious, gritty, brave, mercilessly honest and life-embracing in a way that hasn't been seen since Gilda Radner's It's Always Something. Taylor's refusal to give up one iota of her "one wild and precious life" makes for a gripping, exhilarating book.
Prose/Style: Taylor wields the scalpel of a savagely formidable wit, fiercely refusing to surrender to the cancer that costs her both breasts. Honest, brave, messy, angry at the illness and at her body that has somehow turned into The Enemy, furious at the well-meaning who patronizingly pity cancer survivors, grateful to feel her own returning strength, filled to the brim with the appetite to squeeze every drop she can out of life, and irresistibly, beautifully human - all which she manages to record with the accuracy of a scientist and the deep emotional truth of a born writer.
Originality: It sounds strange to say that one enjoyed reading a memoir of someone's battle against cancer, but Dena Taylor writes with such epic candor and hilarious turn of phrase that there's no other word for it. Mordantly funny, superbly self-aware without an ounce of pretention or self-pity - this is a woman who would have written a superlatively readable, smart, funny, engaging memoir no matter what the circumstances of her life might have been, simply because that's who she IS.
Character Development/Execution: An immensely relatable, fresh, vigorous voice that bursts off the page with energy and brio. Taylor is an incandescent embodiment of "badass," and readers’ hats will be off to her.
Blurb: An immensely relatable, fresh, vigorous voice that bursts off the page with energy and brio. It sounds odd to say that one enjoyed reading a memoir about a battle against breast cancer, but Taylor writes with such epic candor and hilarious turn of phrase that there's no other word for it.
The Knowingby Nita Lapinski
Idea: Lapinski's spiritual memoir, The Knowing, is a powerful, compassionate chronicle of the author's experience with abuse and violence, self-destruction, and ultimate betrayal, as well as a fascinating account of her lifelong gift of clairvoyance and how it informs her choices.
Prose: Lapinski's prose is smooth, lyrical, and layered, while the work is enhanced through a sophisticated narrative framework and stylistic novelty--notably, her nuanced portrayal of the book's central antagonist.
Originality: The author's dual focus on spirituality and mediumship with the story of being victim to a violent predator, is strikingly unique and engaging.
Character/Execution: Readers will value the author's graceful storytelling, tremendous candor, and ability to write about significant trauma in a manner that never becomes overwrought, but instead uplifts the narrative. The author's discussion of "the knowing," is genuine, evocative, and understated.
Can't Breathe: A Memoirby Laesa Faith Kim
Idea: This memoir is a candid, moving account of the author’s experience of raising a special needs child.
Prose: Kim’s prose is graceful, fluid, and frequently lovely. She brings to each sentence careful thought, nuance, and awareness.
Originality: While there are many memoirs surrounding parenting a child with special needs, Kim’s book stands apart through its poetic sensibility, depth, and subtle emotion.
Character/Execution: This is a fine, harrowing, and deeply impactful memoir that will offer solace to mothers facing the unique challenges of caring for a child with complex medical needs.
Every Grain of Sandby JuLee Brand
Idea: Wichman’s life is one of the rare examples that naturally reads like a story, so that nothing feels out of place. The events feel like plot points in a gritty drama.
Prose/Style: The author’s prose is simultaneously spare and vivid, lending itself to the thriller-like pace of the story while also slowing down for its more emotional moments. The style is truly masterful, and hardly a word feels out of place.
Originality: The story is greatly inspiring, and the positive representation of sex work is of a complexity and persuasiveness rarely seen.
Character Development/Execution: The author takes pains to represent several facets of each “character,” no matter how minor—from Wichman’s stepfather to his numerous lovers to Wichman himself.
Blurb: A story with considerable emotional power, Every Grain of Sand also serves as a convincingly-argued defense of an underrepresented and taboo subject. Wichman's memoir is alternately thrilling, harrowing, and amusing, describing a life that runs the gamut of the emotional spectrum.
Juror Number 2: The Story of a Murder, the Agony of a Neighborhoodby Efrem Sigel
Idea: Juror Number 2 offers an insightful look at the weaknesses of America's public institutions and the role communities play in shaping individual lives. This is a strong and compelling critique of the system through the window of a single crime.
Prose/Style: Sigel makes very insightful points through strong, clear writing and persuasive arguments about how lasting social change can be accomplished.
Originality: Through his own personal experience of participating in a trial, Sigel offers the reader an inside view of what it's actually like to be a juror. This unique perspective provides the opportunity for sincere reflection on the experience and all the players.
Character Development: Sigel's efforts to go beyond just participating in the trial, but to also understand the ultimate motivations and culture that frame the crime, are both sincere and commendable. The witnesses as characters come alive and demand the reader's empathy.
The Last Helicopter: Two Lives in Indochinaby Jim Laurie
Idea: The story of Sinan's survival and her ultimate escape from the Khmer Rouge is gripping; it is impossible not to fear for her when the situation is at its gravest, and impossible not to admire her tenacity, her presence of mind, and her resourcefulness.
Prose: Well-paced, riveting, and grounded, The Last Helicopter is clearly the work of a seasoned professional journalist (that's a compliment.) The author does not spare himself for his youthful mistakes and betrayals; his honesty is refreshing. But the story is Sinan's, and the book is at its most vivid and engaging when she tells it in her own words.
Originality: The story has elements that are unlike many other memoirs of the Vietnam era. The fact that the protagonist is a Cambodian woman particularly allows the work to stand out, as does the work's emotional candor.
Character/Execution: While the reader may not admire the narrator, Jim, every step of the way, he does full justice to the courage and strength of character of Sinan, the Cambodian woman he loves, betrays, and leaves behind as the Khmer Rouge takes her city. The narrative sections written by Sinan herself are stunning in their simplicity and power.
This Sweet Life: How We Lived After Kirby Diedby Jean Brown
Idea: This Sweet Life: How We Lived After Kirby Died is an extremely well-written and hauntingly emotional, heartbreaking account of loss. The text expertly combines the memoir of the authors losing a woman who was their daughter and sister with the account of bringing the man who caused her death to justice.
Prose/Style: The authors balance the skills of composing flashbacks combined with present-day events to re-create the life of the subject and walk readers through her tragic death.
Originality: This poignant recount of love and tragedy hits all the right marks. The main suggestion would be that the use of italics for Jean make her sections a little bit harder to read, but that's a minor alteration to what is otherwise a very strong read.
Character Development/Execution: The execution of the book -- alternating written chapters by both mother and daughter – has the potential easily get lost in the timing of the events, but it doesn't. The weaving of both stories and past and present tense is done extremely well.