A writer of American and Iraqi heritage recalls growing up in the mid-20th-century American Midwest.
Kane’s debut memoir opens in Neosho, Missouri, in 1938. Her mother, Doris Hisaw, was 17 years old and had a part-time job working in a local grocery store. Some 9,000 miles away in Basra, Iraq, the author’s father, 27-year-old Nejib Tooni, and his brother Kamil were given 500 British pounds and told by their father to travel to America to find wives. Within hours of meeting Doris in Neosho, Nejib asked for her hand in marriage. Doris’ parents forbade the relationship, but, unable to contain their desire, the couple decided to elope. There was a misunderstanding with the FBI—Doris’ mother had apparently told them that Nejib intended to kidnap Doris and make her a part of his harem back home—a story that made national news. But soon, the two made the long journey to Iraq. This incredible story forms a dramatic prelude to the author’s recollection of her early childhood; she lived with her family in Basra before they returned to Neosho as World War II raged in Europe and the South Pacific. The small town had changed dramatically during their six-year absence; it was now filled with girls wearing blue jeans and “bobbysoxers” swooning over Frank Sinatra, and the author says that she felt “dowdy” in comparison. The memoir charts Kane’s coming-of-age, which included early curiosity about sexual matters followed by an extended period of latency before she began to date boys. As an adult, Kane secured a job in New York City working for Time magazine. Her sense of achievement was somewhat shaken, however, when her father unexpectedly slapped her across the face one day for calling him “mean.”
Kane is a devastatingly honest writer, and her memoir often shares deeply confidential and personal details. In one scene during her recounting of her childhood, for example, Kane describes playing “hospital” at the age of 7 with her young friend in graphic detail; very few writers possess the nerve to explore precocious sexual urges in such a candid manner. She also addresses her complex relationship with her parents, and she confides how, in later life, she contemplated suicide. Over several years, she says, she compiled a list of reasons to stay alive: “I labored over this list of mysteries for consideration,” she says, which included “curiosity,” “beauty,” and “love.” Kane also displays an unwavering faith in the power of words, which, in her case, became a tool for survival. There’s a great sense of positivity and hope to be found when Kane writes: “I learned that I did not have to live: I chose to live.” The author’s somewhat conservative reportage of her parents’ courtship is less captivating, and it pales in comparison to the dazzling, florid, and profound confessional that follows it. Still, this minor flaw detracts little from a sharply written and fascinatingly introspective work.
Self-assured, daring writing that holds nothing back.