It Doesn't Get Better than This Book!
Reviewed in the United States on 31 March 2013
Perhaps I should have read this book before The Year of Magical Thinking, because I have now completely reversed my opinion (in the positive direction) of Didion and her writing. In Where I Was From, Didion has written a book that makes my scalp tingle with admiration. I read the book over a period of one week, in supermarket lines, doctor's offices, every sort of place I could squeeze in another sentence, paragraph, or chapter. I read aloud sections of chapters to my beloved husband, and made a pest of myself - interrupting his morning read of the New York Times. "You MUST hear this!" I would announce, and indeed, he would always end up glad.
The Crossing: Are you interested in the pioneers and the westward movement in the 1800s? This book brings intimate stories of particular families (including Didion's) to life, but in the CONTEXT of the larger move West, what it signifies, and how it has shaped the character of California and its residents TODAY. "The crossing" is the title Didion gives to what had to be chucked without a backward glance, to "make it to the pass in time before winter." California, she tells us, was flooded by people, not JUST the Donner party, who had to learn to let go and cast their pasts and cherished possessions and even faltering children and parents to the winds, the prairie, to unmarked graves, to the Dust Bowl - and move forward.
Why is California what it Is? Are you interested in the railroads, urban sprawl, the loss of wetland, the missing "old California" (which may have been an illusion to start with), the unemployed and homeless, the loss of funding for education, the millions occupying our prisons, the budget crisis in Sacramento, the water wars, agribusiness, and.... how all this ties together and links to the pioneers and the gold rush? Nothing is accidental, says Didion. It is the same "movie" replayed over and over. We have been careless in the way of the Great Gatsby, here in this state, breaking things, but with a spirit of optimism and good will that may save us after all. This book is profound and sad, half poetry, half NPR, half Men to Match my Mountains, and I have run out of halves!
I wish you the pleasure of finding this book, reading it, and perhaps being inspired to write a memoire of a similar sort: putting personal lives into the larger historical context. We need more of this!!!
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