One-Minute Book Reviews

December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto’s Memoir, ‘Daughter of Destiny’

Benazir Bhutto’s Daughter of Destiny (Simon & Schuster, 1989) was one of the most remarkable memoirs I reviewed An Autobiographyduring my 11 years as the book editor of the Plain Dealer. I was especially struck by how calmly Bhutto speaks in the book of being tortured by the regime of Zia ul-Haq, which kept her at first under house arrest and then imprisoned. Among the methods of torture she endured: She was strung up by her feet and beaten until she lost consciousness (and writes in the book about what a blessed relief it was finally to black out).

Many people may have wondered how Bhutto could have returned to Pakistan from her recent exile when the situation was so dangerous for her. Anyone who has read Daughter of Destiny knows part of the answer, if not all of it: It is not just that she had extraordinary courage but that, in a sense, she had endured worse than death.

My Plain Dealer review of Daughter of Destiny isn’t online, so I can’t link to it. But here’s a brief but fair review of the book that I agree with:

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

What’s the Difference Between Writing a Memoir and Writing Fiction? Quote of the Day (Mary Gordon)

The boundaries between memoirs and fiction are becoming more porous. Here’s how the novelist and memoirist Mary Gordon responded when an interviewer asked, “Is memoir writing not that much different from fiction writing?”

“It is and it isn’t. It has formal demands, demands of shapeliness in the way that fiction does. There are some things, which, if left out, would make an untruthful record. Memoir has a responsibility to the truth, or the truth as best you can tell it. That is to say, if you willfully suppressed something – well, there is no point writing a memoir if you don’t want to tell the truth as you see it. To deliberately fudge something that made you look better, or made someone else look better – that’s the kind of issue that comes up in memoir that does not come up in fiction.”

Mary Gordon in “Writing to Understand Yourself,” an interview with Charlotte Templin, in The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction: Inspiration and Discipline (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99), edited by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies Gordon’s most recent memoir, Circling My Mother (Pantheon, $24), was published in August

Comment by Janice Harayda:

If only more memoirists shared Gordon’s view that there’s no point in “fudging.” You see much more distortion in memoirs today than a generation ago. Some memoirists say that they have to fudge to protect the privacy of friends or relatives, or that if they didn’t, they couldn’t tell their stories, because they lack too much essential information. Other writers contend that memoirs are inherently subjective. All of that may be true. But I’ve argued on this site that if memoirists set aside the truth – for example, by inventing scenes or using composite characters — they have a responsibility to say so in their books.

What do you think?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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