A luminous, engrossing meditation on family love and loss.

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BOWING TO ELEPHANTS

TALES OF A TRAVEL JUNKIE

An American woman’s trips to foreign lands help her come to terms with a troubled past in this memoir.

Dimond, a retired writing professor, juxtaposes scenes from her world travels with fraught episodes from her personal life to tease out hidden resonances. She begins with an account of a three-year teenage sojourn in Italy in the 1950s, during which she contrasts the warmth of the local culture with her chilly relationship with her mother, a free-spirited artist, which left the young author feeling lonely and undervalued. Her adult travels took her to more exotic locales, which she intersperses with more family memories and Buddhist teachings that she adopted in maturity. At one point, for example, a nunnery in Burma evokes recollections of a childhood girlfriend’s family, which was as welcoming as her own was alienating. A 2013 visit to see Ho Chi Minh’s miraculously preserved corpse on display in Hanoi takes her back to a similarly hallucinatory acid trip that she had during the 1967 Summer of Love. A 2010 encounter with an elephant herd in Kenya, in which the adult females vigilantly guarded their calves, provokes a recollection of a time in 1966 when she briefly abandoned her husband and 1-year-old daughter for a fling in Las Vegas. She closes with a long, Proustian remembrance of her childhood hometown of San Francisco that takes in bohemian North Beach, the bustling downtown, and the Pacific Heights house where her grandmother led an elegant life that was full of disappointment. The author’s loose-limbed narrative moves back and forth in time, telling a tale that’s less about specific events than it is about shifting moods in shifting places—sometimes anxious, plaintive, or grief-stricken and other times brimming with interest and wonder. The prose is gorgeous and novelistic, vividly depicting the pitiless African savanna (“Greasy-looking black vultures swooped and hovered and swooped again, pecking away at the sour-smelling carcass; they shrieked nervously”) and the mellow ambiance of Florence (“golden light reaching down and blessing an arched doorway, a cloud of cigarette smoke, as children scurried along with their soccer ball”). Much of the book’s sensuousness comes from its lavish descriptions of food, from elaborate feasts to a simple egg: “warm and comforting to hold in the palm of your hand, the creamy and sticky richness of the golden yolk, so good you must lick the little egg spoon clean.” At its haunted center is a wistful and wounded portrait of Dimond’s relationship with her mother, who is a changing landscape in her own right: She was movie-star glamorous in her youth, but the author describes how, in her decline, she had “the ugly wide calloused feet she tried to squeeze into pretty flats, the gnarled hands that she didn’t cherish anymore…her lipstick always seemed cracked.” Overall, this is not merely an account of strange lands and novel adventures, but also a moving saga of a woman wandering the world in search of home.

A luminous, engrossing meditation on family love and loss.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-596-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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