To learn the craft of memoir when writing my infertility / adoption story, The Chilli is Not the Whole Curry (which I’m trying to get published), I read A LOT of memoirs. Here are some I can highly recommend.
Burying the Typewriter: A Memoir by Carmen Bugan, covers the author’s childhood in the Romanian countryside during years of political oppression and persecution under Ceausescu’s dictatorship. She witnessed her father regularly unearth and rebury a typewriter in the back garden – his tool to create dissident pamphlets – which led to his subsequent imprisonment and great struggles for the family.
Orphan of Islam by Alexander Khan. As a young boy, Alexander Khan’s life in the UK was ripped apart when his Pakistani father took him to Pakistan. It was the last time he saw his English mother. Amidst the ensuing lies about his mother’s whereabouts, and the culture shock and ostracism Alexander faced, his father died, leaving him an orphan in the care of a hostile extended family, who kidnapped him and sent him to a fundamentalist madrasah. Caught between cultures, feeling lost and alone, this is the story of him finding his way in life.
Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou. The sequel to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, this part of Angelou’s personal story is set at the end of World War II during a time of new opportunities, especially for black people. Angelou was a teenage single mother struggling to find her place in a changing world, moving from one city to the next, from man to man, from job to job. She worked as a waitress, a cook, a dancer, a Madam, and briefly as a prostitute to support herself and her son.
A Child Called ‘It’ by Dave Pelzer. This is not a tale for the fainthearted. It is a ghastly account of severe child absue, the horrifying story of a boy beaten and starved by his alcoholic mother, a woman who referred to her own son as ‘an It’. They boy’s isolation and torture is so bad that he nearly dies.
Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind by Loung Ung. There are many true stories about life during the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. Each tale documents devastating loss, hunger, and wartime atrocities, but each one also has a unique personal aspect, like Loung Ung’s escape to America at the age of 10. She was the “lucky child”, the sibling chosen to accompany her brother overseas. But was she so lucky to leave behind her brothers and sister in war-torn Cambodia? Although she embraced her new life in Vermont, the deeps scars of war meant she could never fully leave Cambodia behind her.
Unpolished Gem: My Mother, My Grandmother and Me by Alice Pung. This is another book dealing with the aftermath of the Cambodian civil war but it’s an uplifting story of hope, humour and family bonds. Pung was born in Australia after her parents fled the killing fields of Cambodia, and although she grew up with an Aussie accent she inherited her family’s old world idiosyncrasies. As her family members assimilate into their big new country, she witnesses their heart-warming stumbles from the perspective of a girl straddling both worlds.