Tuesday, July 27, 2010

a long answer to a short question on autobiographies

It started as an answer to my friend’s question on his blog post about autobiographies: “The most respectable way to  lie is perhaps the autobiography”  but I soon realized that my comment became as long as the post itself. And we all know that it wouldn’t be proper to post your own full length ramblings on someone else’s blog so I decided to write my own post.

The question(s) : What autobiographies have you read? Whose autobiography would you be interested to read?

Let's see. The most recent autobiographical, or somewhat-autobiographical books I had read are :

Persepolis- Marjane Satrapi ( read orig. French)

Reading Lolita in Tehran Azar Nafisi ( a memoir in books)

Running in the Family- Michael Ondaatje ( a fictional memoir)

 Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

My favorites are Reading Lolita and Running in the Family, but according to their critics and authors these are rather memoirs than autobiographies. Perhaps this is why I liked them more.
From my oldest readings, there were only two books which I did recall effortlessly. Is it that  I only liked these two books or … Maybe I do have a really bad memory and it’s a good thing that I started to record the books I read recently.

Amintiri din CopilarieIon Creanga (Childhood Memories,  read orig. Romanian), but what kid who grew up in Romania would not recall  Creanga?

Si le grain ne meurt -Andre Gide (If it die ,  read orig. French). I confess, again, Gide is for me an author-obsession, i.e. I do not chance to recall the full plot of the story and have no idea who wrote it.

Or is it because I am confused about the genre and its sub-genres? Am I the only one unable to exclude memoirs, edited diaries or autobiographical essays from her list? I even thought about a few poems that grown an autobiographical aura over the years ...such as Plath's Lady Lazarus, Bishop's One Art or Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

So what about two of my favorite diaries  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and "Jurnalul Fericirii" (The Diary of Happiness,  read orig. Romanian ) by Nicolae Steinhardt.
I mentioned Anne Frank a week ago.
Steinhardt's experiences in the political prisons of the communist regime, his discovery of the deep humanism encompassed by the Christian faith and his unassuming praise of an author in spite of said author's sexual orientation are not only interesting from a historical point of view but may make a good counter argument against the restrictive evangelism as we know it.

There is also the  autobiographical fragment from Anne Ranasinghe's  At what Dark Point .

Thor Heyerdahl “The Kon-Tiki Expedition” as well as Fridtjof Nansen “Farthest North” are ample accounts of the authors' vision, hardships and the determination leading them to organize successfully the expeditions which brought them the fame and public acknowledgements. And such these are more than just simple travel books, even though they focus on the Kon-Tiki, respective Fram trips which they describe in detail.

I must have re-read The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe at least three times, and I can recall quite well his detailed accounts on the beginnings of serious psychiatric research by Charcot. Another memoir, rather than formal autobiography, built as a collage of vignettes and offering witty insights in the lifestyle of the upper classes.
Or Richard Henry Dana,Jr's memoir of his two years as a simple sailor in the US commercial marine Two Years Before the Mast. This unromantic, down to earth account of life at sea describes the abuse that common sailors would often suffer from the hands of their officers.
Alfred Sloan- “My Years with General Motors”, can get quite boring at times but is essential for anyone interested in the history of America’s automobile industry.
And last, but no least there is Carolyn JessopEscape , worth mentioning just because the way it pairs with Infidel . In the last section of Infidel, Ali praises the western society for offering women the ability of self-development and an equal access to justice in contrast with her experience as a Muslim woman in a Muslim country. Jessop's story starts with her memories of growing up in a family belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and later to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Her story bears several similarities with Ali's. Her father, in spite of remaining active in the church, is described as open-minded. Her mother is captive in an arranged marriage. The author is forced to marry a church leader against her will, but fortunately she gains permission to attend secondary school and earn a Bachelor degree. Unlike Ayaan, Carolyn is able to escape only after years of abuse from her husband and only after she bore him eight children...children she could have lost during her escape and the embittered custody battle after...Unlike Ayaan Carolyn lived all her life in Utah and Arizona.*

And the person whose autobiography I'd  like to see written. Hmm...

Octavian –what about your fictional memoirs? I can recall some fragments from your  blog and I can say I really liked what I read. Plus, in my humble opinion, one does not need to be old and famous to write his or her memoirs. And in most cases is more important how you write than whom you are writing about.

* another reason for which I mentioned Jessop's book are the recent news about Jeff's overturned conviction by an Utah supreme court.

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