Sunday, June 08, 2014

Review: The Distancers: An American Memoir

What if you could bring your family history alive? I mean take the anecdotes you've heard about your grandparents, and great-grandparents, and make them narrative with true depth? Would you do it? That's exactly what Lee Sandlin has done with The Distancers: An American Memoir.

Sandlin effectively tells us the story of his family's last 4 generations, and does so in a way that wouldn't let me put the book down. It's quite a feat considering that his family, for the most part, is "normal." Sure, there are triumphs and tribulations, but overall, this is just the story of regular 'ol folks.

What makes this book a true gem is how it turns distinct moments in American history into a steady flow. How the heck do we go from life before the Civil War to the 1980's? By watching the characters grow and respond to a changing nation and world, we catch glimpses that answer this very question.

Also, I'm a fan of any look back at history that doesn't glorify nor denigrate it. When people want to cling to the Good Old Days, this book will remind them of life before cancer treatment or empowerment for women. And when people tell me how backward those days were, this book will remind them of the simple joys of gathering around the dinner table and how awesome the power of make believe can be for children. We need to learn from and embrace our past, and books like this help do that.

In the end though, it's Sandlin's wonderful story telling skills that make this book work.

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