A California native recalls coming-of-age in the 1960s, the deaths of her parents and her Muslim ex-husband, and many travels in this debut memoir.
Baldwin was born into privilege, the daughter of a handsome, well-known architect with a showpiece home in a Southern California beach community. She details how this idyllic existence soon disintegrated, however, in part due to her father’s drinking and infidelity. She and her sister then lived with their mother in Palm Springs but also regularly visited their bon vivant father, remarried to another heavy drinker with her own children. Baldwin’s stepsister committed suicide, a shocking event that contributed to Baldwin’s entering an early marriage with the son of a wealthy family. The young couple hit the road in a Volkswagen Bus, delving into psychedelic drugs and other 1960s happenings in Haight-Ashbury, Guadalajara, and elsewhere. The marriage eventually dissolved, leaving Baldwin to raise her son alone. At this halfway point of the memoir, Baldwin skips ahead 40 years and writes about the deaths of her parents and her ex, rewinding to previous events in between, including when Baldwin moved to Mexico. She stayed in touch with her ex while continuing to live an itinerant existence, including in Morocco, and ultimately converted to Islam. Baldwin remembers her stepsister again near the end of her memoir, as well as others she lost, noting, “And in the imaginary landscape of memory and projection, all the ghosts dance free.” Baldwin’s beautifully observed memoir captures the early 1960s spirit: “we were the nation’s children, swallowing power chemicals to discover ancient roots. We crawled from the sea as single-celled organisms and witnessed the birth of complexity.” She also provides touching tableaux of dealing with death and accepting the flaws of loved ones. This impressionistic memoir skims over some potentially interesting subjects, with little detail provided about Baldwin’s second marriage or her financial situation, which apparently allowed for continued travels around the world. Overall, however, it’s an evocative, memorable memoir.
A striking, sensitive record of voyages and acceptance.