Amram (Finding Me—and Them, 2017, etc.) delivers a memoir on his childhood in the thick of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
This work is at once a political history of the anti-war left in Minnesota—spearheaded by the rise of U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy—and a nostalgic look back at Amram’s childhood in a politically active household. On the historical side, Amram provides readers with background on the United States’ increasing involvement in the Vietnam War and the political machinations that led to military escalation. He also delineates the formation and development of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, which eventually became part of the left wing of the national Democratic Party. These two stories dovetail in the lead-up to the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention, in which the DFL attempted to help propel McCarthy to the presidential nomination and put an anti-war resolution on the party’s plank. Following Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s nomination and the Democrats’ eventual loss, the author chronicles the nation’s continued anti-war activism, up to the 1972 presidential election. Amram grew up as the adopted son of two Minnesota political organizers, Barbara and Fred Amram, who were heavily involved in the movements he describes; he offers readers his reminiscences of their work and how it influenced his political awakening. The book also covers his recovery from an accident that left him comatose for six weeks and his extensive physical rehabilitation. Amram’s prose shifts between cleareyed history and poetic memoir, but he doesn’t quite find a balance between the two. The history sections, though compelling, can become repetitive, restating facts and events and overusing lists of voting results. However, the book is most successful when Amram focuses on the ineffable qualities of his early years: “We worshiped the echoes of our summers, trying to stretch the evenings out until school began again.” In these moments, he highlights singular moments of his childhood, from neighborhood games that he invented as a child to idyllic summers that he spent at the family’s cabin.
A book that offers affecting early memories but too often gets bogged down in explaining later history.