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.
* * * * *^^^^^* * * * *^^^^^* * * * *^^^^^* * * * *^^^^^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.