Older authors reminisce in their memoirs
Three accomplished older adults in diverse professions focus on notable aspects of their lives in their fascinating memoirs.
On Juneteenth, by Annette Gordon-Reed, 152 pages, Liveright hardcover, 2021
In this anthology of six essays, historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who is in her early 60s, describes her childhood in the Lone Star State and her experiences in the forefront of school integration in a small east Texas town.
Juneteenth, which has been a federal holiday since last year, commemorates the arrival of federal troops in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to ensure that all of the state’s 250,000 enslaved people were freed.
The proclamation was greeted by the newly liberated with celebrations; the following year, Jubilee Day was born. In 1979, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth an official holiday.
Gordon-Reed examines the disconnect between the ideal of Texas and the reality of Blacks, Mexicans and indigenous peoples who lived there. She recalls the struggle to achieve equal rights she witnessed as a young Black child, making note of the inner strength of the adults who nurtured her. She extols the absence of hate exhibited by her community in the face of wrongdoing.
As a historian, Gordon-Reed places these events within the context of the shattered promise of Reconstruction. She enlightens readers about aspects of the Black experience that have been erased from the nation’s memory.
Gordon-Reed is a lawyer, historian, Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. She is noted for her breakthrough research that documented the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
Without rancor or malice, On Juneteenth takes readers into a cultural milieu that resonates with love and warmth.
Assignment Russia: Becoming a Foreign Correspondent in the Crucible of the Cold War, by Marvin Kalb, 337 pages, Brookings Institution Press hardcover, 2021
Television journalist Marvin Kalb continues his delightful memoir in this second volume of reminiscences. The Russian-speaking Kalb interrupted his Harvard PhD studies in 1957 to join the team of noted broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow at CBS.
The fledgling reporter, who aspired to become a foreign correspondent, takes us through his initiation as a radio news writer. Kalb is subsequently offered his dream job: CBS Moscow bureau chief.
For those of us who came of age during the Cold War, Assignment Russia takes us back to a time when the possibility of nuclear Armageddon between the two superpowers was a chilling backdrop that cast a shadow over world events. Those days are apparently reemerging.
Kalb regales readers with behind-the-scenes stories, many of which include his beloved wife, Mady, who accompanies him behind the Iron Curtain.
The memoir covers the Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debates, the downing of the U-2 spy plane, and the last years of acclaimed author Boris Pasternak. Readers will have to await the next volume for Kalb’s insights into the Cold War crises of the early 60s.
Nonagenarian Kalb resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in D.C.
And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writer’s Life, by Helen Humphreys, 272 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover, 2022
Canadian poet and author Helen Humphreys has written a warm and touching account of bringing home a new puppy. Humphreys introduces us to Fig, a purebred vizsla.
She describes the stresses and joys of acclimating her new companion to the solitary writer’s lifestyle. The author is nearing 60, lives alone and is replacing her beloved dog, Charlotte.
And a Dog Called Fig is a diary with entries spanning slightly more than three months. The book consists of reminiscences about departed loved ones, former homes and previous canine companions.
Humphreys looks back on her life, its twists and turns, from the contented perch of a highly-regarded writer. Yet Humphreys muses about death. To counter those thoughts, she endeavors to emulate Fig, by living in the moment.
The stories flow with charm and grace. The book is much more than an account of acclimating her new canine companion. Humphreys’ digressions provide context to the diary entries. Her research of literary icons who were dog owners will be a revelation to many readers.