Saturday, 27 August 2016

Where I Was From by Joan Didion


Where I Was From by Joan Didion
Published in September 2003 by Knopf

One of my ReadingWomen selections

How I got this book:
Purchased the ebook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:


The Book Depository
Wordery
Waterstones : unavailable
Amazon

A memoir of land, family and perseverance from one of the most influential writers in America.

In this moving and surprising book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history - and America's. Where I Was From, in Didion's words, "represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely."

The book is a haunting narrative of how her own family moved west with the frontier from the birth of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in Virginia in 1766 to the death of her mother on the edge of the Pacific in 2001; of how the wagon-train stories of hardship and abandonment and endurance created a culture in which survival would seem the sole virtue. Didion examines how the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement led to the California we know today - a state mortgaged first to the railroad, then to the aerospace industry, and overwhelmingly to the federal government.

Joan Didion's unerring sense of America and its spirit, her acute interpretation of its institutions and literature, and her incisive questioning of the stories it tells itself make this fiercely intelligent book a provocative and important tour de force from one of America's greatest writers.

My partner, Dave, chose Where I Was From for our Kindle so I didn't read any blurb prior starting the book. I was vaguely expecting an autobiography of a journalist's youth and certainly not the wide ranging evaluation of California that Joan Didion has so eloquently penned.

There are elements of her own family history mixed in with every Californian family's history, whether 'original' or recent settlers. We also learn in detail about the political life of the state and I was amazed to realise how much of the economy is, or at least was, based on Government money and Defence contract production lines. There are definite echoes of the collapse of the old British mill towns in the current Californian situation. I have only travelled through this part of the world once - by Amtrak from Los Angeles to Santa Clara to San Francisco, a fortnight in all with a few days in each city - but found Didion's book fascinating even though many of the places are unfamiliar to me. I love the way she has melded her storylines to make every word feel personal.

This is very much a book of her struggling to identify and come to terms with her roots and their contradictions. I suspect most of us have a mental image of our home that isn't necessarily truthful about what is really there. Didion has made a brave stand to speak of both the good and the bad of her home state.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Joan Didion / Reportage / Books from America

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