Tag Archives: memoir


Photo from Amazon

I came across The War Came Home with Him while shopping on Amazon. Other than being a historical account and involving Veterans, who I find have fascinating stories to tell, I also have something in common with the author. Technically, it’s actually my father who has it in common with her. My grandfather, my father’s father, was also a POW in Korea. It also changed him and he didn’t talk about it. My father has been researching my grandfather’s captivity, so I thought it might be instructive.

The War Came Home with Him has alternating chapters starting with Alexander Boyson prior to his capture and trading places back and forth with his daughter, Catherine’s, story starting when she was a little girl. It beautifully tells the story of both of their lives, his before and after the time he was a prisoner, and hers of her life with him. It’s heartbreaking how being a POW negatively impacted the author’s life, but it’s also hopeful in that it’s clear the author has forgiven him, understands him to some degree, and has made peace. This memoir doesn’t glorify war or gloss it over; it is what it is, through the author’s eyes and the father’s. The author’s perspective is based on her memories and her father’s based on her research and writings her father left behind, making it believable and, as far as I know, highly accurate. I also liked how the author arranged the chapters, subtly tying what her father went through as a Korean War POW to her own memories of how he was as a father, and how he brought that part of the war home with him.

The War Came Home with Him is interesting, tells a good story, and provides deep insight into the author’s and her father’s life. And I also believe it’s an important book. I read it pretty quickly even with the holidays, so, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight and a half.

Source: Madison, Catherine. (2015). The War Came Home with Him. University of Minnesota Press.

OUT OF THIS WORLD by Mary Swander

I also bought Out of this World at the first annual Clinton Book Festival on August 29, 2015 while I was there promoting my book, Taming the Twisted. I’ve met Mary Swander before, enjoyed her poetry, and like books telling the history of where I live in Iowa.

Out of This World is a memoir broken into four parts about Mary Swander’s adult life living in the middle of an Amish community in east central Iowa. Living in an Amish community, however, is just one of the “out of this world” themes in the book. It’s also about learning to live in her own body, which doesn’t tolerate food and chemicals the same as most other people in the world, sort of like her body rejecting our modern way of life. Mary had the unique opportunity of finding the detailed story of the previous owner of one of the homes in which she lived, thereby living essentially in someone else’s world. She also lived in a converted schoolhouse, also unusual. Though lots of people live in pastoral settings, including Iowa, in a sense, that’s also a way of living “out of this world.”

The picture Mary creates of the Amish part of Iowa was interesting; though I live near there, I’ve never had the chance to be immersed in the community as she has. For the setting, Mary also creates a beautiful and accurate picture of Iowa. I’m here and am familiar with the landscape, but if I wasn’t, I think I’d know what it looks, sounds, smells, and feels like. She also weaves in interesting bits of history, facts, and philosophy. Reading Out of This World made me wonder about my own attraction to solitude and about how a lot of people say they would or want to choose clean, simple living and eating, but we don’t. In Mary’s case, she was essentially forced to live clean if she wanted to live at all.

Out of This World interestingly portrays one person’s experience in one setting during a particular time in her life, which is I suppose what makes it a memoir. If you’ve never been to Iowa and want one perspective about how it is to live here (contrary to some beliefs, we are NOT all the same, just as nobody nowhere is the same), you’ll enjoy Mary Swander’s book. It did take me a bit of time to read it with the holidays and other commitments, so, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a six and a half.

Source: Swander, Mary. (1995). Out of This World. Penguin Books.


Photo from Amazon

I found Dream Chasers of the West: A Homestead Family of Glacier Park at a souvenir shop during my trip to Glacier National Park in 2015. I was intrigued by the back of the book description about Clara Miller who left Minnesota at thirty and unmarried in 1913 to homestead in Montana. The fact that it was a true story intrigued me more.

I’ve long time been a fan of the history of people and things – more of the development through time rather than politics. Clara Miller Smiley’s story was no different. Though it’s a biography, Clara’s story (and her family’s) is told like fiction. It’s full of dialogue, description, and showing rather than telling. There are occasional paragraphs where the author writes an aside or wonders about what Clara may have been thinking at the time; though these asides weren’t necessary, they were brief and didn’t detract from my reading.

In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will just say that Clara experienced joy in her life but also incredible hardship. She lived through the depression and worked in the new tourism industry, all while trying to find her true self and follow her passion. Clara, always a storyteller, dreamed of being a writer and publisher; maybe she didn’t achieve literary fame but I’m certain she entertained dozens of people with her stories, usually a writer’s goal anyway.

I read most of this book while still in Montana, finishing the last few chapters after I returned home. It was a fascinating story and interesting to try to find the places in real life that were written about. So, on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it an eight.

If you have been to Glacier National Park or are just interested in pioneering stories, you will enjoy this book.

Source: Wettstein, B.L..2006. Dream Chasers of the West: A Homestead Family of Glacier Park. Riverbend Publishing: Helena, MT.