As I started to read, I discovered that, yes the book was about his epic battle with cocaine and crack, but what I found more interesting was his attention to the fragility of memory. How our memories, even the ones we believe as solid and unbreakable, can be nothing more than our attempts to hide our personal demons propagated with our desires to be someone else, someone better.
Even though the theme of the book is centered around tragedy, the book doesn’t bog you down in pity or deep reflection. Structurally, it reads more like a fairy tale and an adventure novel. By telling the story in brief, fragmented spurts, it keeps the reader’s attention and builds tension along the way. As each scene unfolds, I found myself quickly turning the pages. Her words, like morsels of good food, made me want to consume more.
The title of his book, at first blush, suggests an intimate discourse in the retrieval of his memories but as the book unfolds, the main focus turns out to be more about cultural identity and alienation.
The main prevailing thought I am left with after reading Wolff’s book is that good writing doesn’t have to be complicated and convoluted. Good writing is beautiful constructed sentences simply organized to give the reader a clear view of the message the writer is trying to convey.
There are two statements Woiwode writes that encapsulate the hurdles of a young writer, œbecause the search for words in a beginning writer is as elusive as the search for physical expression (p.209) and œ What a writer often needs, and especially a beginner, is an answer to technical difficulties. (p.259) Woiwode definitely got an amen from me as I read those passages.
For the longest time, I looked at David Sedaris’ writing as a model for how I would like to write but after reading this book, I have found a new inspiration. Karr’s writing is exactly the style and flavor to how I aspire to write. Her similes and analogies made me say œwow and œthat was great out loud so many times I sounded like a broken record.
I can’t help but to associate the word œmagic with a mystical and fantastical universe. Not the E.T. kind but like a yellow brick road kind. Elves, sprites, wood nymphs and witches inhabit this land and good and evil battle ferociously to the end. But then I thought, Marquez surely couldn’t be writing about fantastical characters when the subject of his book is mainly about the Colombian (I hate when people spell this with a œu) drug world. But in a way, he does.
While the topography tests his physical endurance, it is the natives who test his spirit and resolve. Pham encounters distant relatives, devious tour guides, street urchins and ominous ruffians. Each encounter takes an emotional toll. In this journey of self-discovery and renewal, Pham comes to terms with his past, his identity and most importantly, his place in this world.