Saturday, January 06, 2007

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost

This was my first read of 2007, and I enjoyed it so much! I've always enjoyed an interesting personal non-fiction account, be it an adventure story, like Into Thin Air, or a travel memoir, or a biography about an interesting person, because I am able to learn about a culture or occupation or hobby without opening a history book, or a newspaper, or a periodical. In this book I learned a good deal about the life and customs of middle-of-nowhere, India, in addition to the cult-like following of Baba, a spiritual guru, who her parents moved to India to worship full-time.

The memoirs that I have most enjoyed are well-written, containing elements of fiction such as a strong "plot," which even leads to a crisis point, making it read like fiction. When I find books such as those, they trump even a good novel in my book. All the Fishes Come Home to Roost is exactly that kind of read. Rachel Munija Brown is an American misfit in India, as the subtitle proclaims. She writes about her less-than-ideal childhood, most of which was spent in an ashram (religious commune) in India. What I admire most is that the story is told for the most part without blame. She knows that it influenced who she was as a child and who she became as an adult, but she does not harbor bitterness or resentment. She tells her story in a straightforward manner, including the ups and the downs with a liberal dose of humor to lighten what would otherwise be seen as quite an unfortunate situation. It's not meant to be a tell-all, or a self-help book, or an attempt to prove what the author has overcome. I think that the dedication of the book reveals much of her motive in writing it:
If you're opening this book for the first time, it isn't dedicated to anyone yet. But if you've already finished reading it and you've turned back to the beginning, feeling a little less lonely, a little less strange, or a little more cheered than you did when you began, then you will know. I wrote it for you.
It's just a story of one person's life. We all have our stories. We all have things we've had to overcome. We have things for which we are sorry--in choices we made and in choices that were made for us. We are all alike, but we are all different.

One way in which I could identify with Brown was in her love of books. She grew up reading, and throughout her memoir, she is reading, and she mentions the titles of the books, and sometime the plot if it helps to further her own plot. I couldn't help but smile when she mentioned books that I have read, like Cherry Ames, Student Nurse.

The final assurance that I had in knowing that I loved this book, and that it will probably earn a place on my own notable books list, is that even before I finished, I wanted to know when she would be publishing something else. There is a free downloadable reader's guide available HERE, or at her own site HERE (on which she incidentally offers to come to your book club or address it over the speakerphone, and also personally recommends other memoirs). I think that this book would be great for a book club, or even just one that you choose to read and discuss with a friend. I know that I will be thinking about it for a while, and it may not be last you hear of it here on this blog. If you've read it, or do read it, please let me know your thoughts.

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One of the first books that got me hooked on the memoir genre was Abraham Verghese's My Own Country, coincidentally about an Indian man, but one who came to the United States to practice medicine. He observes life in rural Tennessee, living as an immigrant and treating the first cases of HIV as they emerged in 1985.

Check out some of my other favorite recommendations and what else I hope to read in 2007 in my aStore.

This review is linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.


Big Mama said...

I haven't read it but when you mentioned that she mentioned Cherry Ames, I had to comment. I loved the Cherry Ames books!

Dianne said...

Sounds interesting. I haven't read many memoirs but I used to read a lot of biographies. Need to get back to that.

Carrie said...

HA! I haven't read it either but was commenting because of the Cherry Ames reference! I LOVE those and own a few. If I ever have a girl I will look harder for the books in the series I'm missing.

Anyway, I too like reading biographies and memoirs more than history books. Hearing personal stories makes history come alive. You pick books I wouldn't but that's why I keep checkign back with you! =D Thanks for broadening my horizons.

Susanne said...

This sounds great. Another one to add to my "Want To Read" List.

Beck said...

Both books you mentioned sound great - my mom, in particular, LOVES memoirs. I'm jotting down both titles to recomend to her!

Rona's Home Page said...

I really enjoy reading blogger's book reviews. Many that I end up reading too. I'll have to check with my public library and see if they have this one. Thanks for the suggestion.