A human rights activist recalls a richly textured life in this memoir.
Hart Wright (When Spirits Come Calling, 2002, etc.) was born in the middle of the Depression. She grew up in New York City, where, as a child, she was ashamed to invite classmates back to the family apartment on account of it being poorly maintained and infested with cockroaches. This led to her being somewhat of an outsider. But her uncle and aunt were wealthy publishers, and the author grew up surrounded by books that she loved to dive into. Always a bright student, Hart Wright finally found her footing when she attended Juilliard Prep, where she felt she fit in with the other girls in class. Her outsider status came to an end in junior high, where she was elected to minor offices in two clubs and went on to win a scholarship to Cornell. So began a remarkable life adventure, which saw her active in the anti-war movement in Berkeley, California; witness the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech firsthand; and take up residence in Panama with her then husband, a zoologist. Hart Wright’s memoir details all manner of diverse experiences, from coming under attack in Mexico while supporting the Zapatistas to believing to have received messages from beyond the grave from her dead husband, Paul. This account elegantly captures the zeitgeist of mid-20th-century America. For example, when recalling a protest outside the United Nations Tower, the author notes how even though the “McCarthy era was beginning to wane, American civil liberties still left much to be desired.” She describes a man taking photographs of the protesters who she suspected was an FBI agent. She recalls: “Every time I circled past the man with the camera, I would raise my sign to cover my face.” Hart Wright’s writing is also astonishingly steely at times. When discussing a former husband, she asserts: “I didn’t love him, his presence didn’t excite me.” Yet at the very heart of this memoir is the vehement belief that “when good people help and the system works then, with luck, things can get better.” The book offers a powerful message of hope that resonates as strongly today as it did 50 years ago.
A smart, straight-talking account by an author who courageously followed her beliefs.