33 Comments

Book Burning

When I heard, I was shocked. Ninety-year-old Sarah called to tell me one of her daughters had rounded up all fifty copies of her book, a memoir, from friends and relatives and burned them. She didn’t know why, and it was too painful to probe.

CRF9WH Books burning in fire

CRF9WH Books burning in fire

Sarah (not her real name) and I had worked on her story for three months. We laughed, shed tears, and slowly sculpted a monument to her life. It shone with light and grace and humour and forgiveness and grief and glory. We were both so pleased with the legacy she was leaving for those she loved. As she said to me one day,

“What good are our life experiences if we do not share them?”

It’s been years since Sarah and I met at her house to do what she knew was sacred work. The soul work of telling her story. Today she came to my mind. I thought of how the act of silencing her was similar to how the Catholic church silenced stories of abuse – perhaps because I’d recently seen the documentary movie Spotlight.

On impulse, I picked up my copy (of course I kept a copy) of her memoir and opened it at random. It fell open at a story I’d forgotten. After her husband died, a priest pursued her for several years. It didn’t materialize into a relationship, but Sarah could see he was lonely, longing for family life. She felt that forced celibacy can cause great grief.

Sarah had told the story to me with gentleness and compassion. But now, reading this through the eyes of a family member, who could be Catholic, I felt this could be the reason for the burning of her books. Silencing yet another witness. Could be. I don’t know.

In almost the same thought, I remembered Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 where books are burned to suppress knowledge that would cause people to think and question the existing order. I remembered that Lynden McIntyre wrote The Bishop’s Man as fiction because the truths were so brutal he felt he could tell the real story better in fiction than in a memoir.

Indeed, truth can be dangerous. On the other hand, telling your truth can be healing, can be shelter, can fell the barriers of stereotyping, and can be inspirational to others.

Wise Woman Sarah, I treasure the time we spent together. Your true and generous stories have enriched me. Wherever you are now, I know you are watching over your family with your boundless love.

These flowers are for you, Sarah, and for everyone. We are all one.

These flowers are for you, Sarah, and for everyone. We are all one.

 

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33 comments on “Book Burning

  1. Diane: That is unbearably sad.

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  2. At least she was able to get her story out, good therapy in that, even if no one else wants to hear it. Some chose to write their innermost thoughts, then burn it themselves, letting it all go.

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  3. A poignant story, beautifully written, Diane. Wow. Keep on sending me these posts. I read them all. Pat

    http://www.amazon.ca/Roadblock-Patricia-Calder-ebook/dp/B00VRV766M

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  4. Wow, Diane. Such sad news. And Helen is right: she got her story out, which is therapy in itself.

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  5. It’s so sad when some family members can not accept the truth. Burning the books does not change the truth. The truth remains.

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  6. How very sad… not only the burning of the books but the visceral rage and need to control that such a drastic action signifies.

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  7. Facing your early trials, and the scratches and bruises they leave on your soul, DOES change your life:
    Long ago I wrote to God, of the constant chaos of my childhood, and the insecurities it buried in my soul … within a week of sharing my story with my siblings, the answers blossomed all around me, my greatest anxieties were erased and my life was led back to the path I had wandered from. Today, two decades later, and in the reflections of that 20 years – events that were beyond belief, and yet, at the time seemed quite normal; and the absurdities of life on a little known island are tickling my creative drive. I am drawn to reveal the answers that my Heavenly Father presented back then, with great joy and respect for the comfort his understanding bestowed upon me. And also, I feel that much that followed will both amuse and mystify the reader, by the far different chaos that I have welcomed to my Island Life.

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    • You have a great family, Faye, answers blossoming all around you. I like the direction of your story already. From chaos to chaos! Really, I can’t wait to read it, especially the absurdities. I think I will feel right at home.

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  8. Has Sara passed? I can’t imagine a daughter controlling and destroying her mother’s legacy like that. How sad to be so fearful. Thank you, Diane. Nicely told.

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  9. Parents are often characters of their children’s creation – heroes or monsters or a bit of both. When the real person shows through with all their little faults and amazing attainments, it can be more than the child can bear. They are not interested in this other life, this stranger that then knew nothing about. Perhaps Sara’s daughter just wanted her mother back? Sally

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  10. Dee, such a very beautifully written piece, and equally poignant. Well done! I gasped at the news as I read your post, wondering what the daughter could have felt that would inspire her to take such measures. Embarrassment? Mortification? And how painful for the mother to not even know why her daughter did this deed, for books are an author’s children, too. So glad you kept a copy! I suspect you opened to the relevant pages and your insights are on spot. Also, your mention of Fahrenheit 451 is a bit of synchronicity, as I am currently in the midst of reading Hidden Truth Forbidden Knowledge, by Steven Greer, a book that reveals the suppression of astounding knowledge that would cause people not only to question, but to overturn the existing order. I’m finding it utterly gripping; I encourage others to read it and decide for themselves.
    Thanks again for you magnificent post.

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  11. Thanks, Kathy, for the kind words and for the interesting insight that a book is an author’s child, too.
    I will get a copy of Hidden Truth Forbidden Knowledge from the library!

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  12. I found this very shocking and sad. I hope ‘Sarah’ was able to find comfort from your support in her writing. I am somewhat astonished that all the friends and relatives obeyed her daughter and handed over their copies. Whatever reason could she have given that would persuade them to give in to this demand?
    One of my neighbours (very religious) kindly proof-read a copy of the book I have edited of my parents memoirs and letters of the last war. My mother who was always open and honest, admitted that she had not behaved at her best when meeting someone. Historically the reflection is an interesting comment on the period, but my neighbour was concerned that my mother, looking down from heaven, would be embarrassed to have this published. Happily, I am quite sure that my mother would be fine with this wherever she may or may not be.

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    • Good question. Quite extraordinary that they complied. Maybe one day the explanation will surface and I might undertake a little sleuthing.
      You have looked at that question of what to include and not include in the book (soon to come out) of your parents memoirs. I’m sure you know your mother better than your neighbor, and have done the right thing.

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  13. What a great story. Leaves so much to your own thought. I think a good mystery story with many scenerios. (spelling)?

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  14. Diane, this is heartbreaking. I’m glad you still have a copy of it. Maybe a day will come when she feels safe to have it reprinted. In writing my own memoir I’m finding I need to skip sections of my life, for now, so I won’t ignite any angry flames in others. Thankfully I have enough to write about that I can save the omitted years for part II; I will write it for me at the very least. But part I is probably safe to be published. Memoir is a courageous endeavor—that’s for sure.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

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    • Wendy, that’s a good idea to leave the potentially flame-inducing parts for Part ll. To not deny hard-to-face truths and find a way to honour them. Sorry to say, ‘Sarah’ died earlier this year. However, another of the daughters knows I have this secret copy, so maybe one day …
      I remember you mentioning your paternal grandfather in one of my earlier posts (Death as a Doorway to Memoir), coming from Ukraine as a young man, and how he sent money back to family every year until his death. I hope to see him in Part l.

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      • Diane, thank you for your encouraging words. Yes, I did include my grandfather in Part I. It was hard-but because I was able to find peace and end that section with joy-I knew it wouldn’t burden the reader.
        Glad to hear one of ‘Sarah’s’ daughters has the book.

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    • It’s now May 22. And you left a reply for me on another post, and I wanted to tell you that I couldn’t access it. It was about a poem you wrote, I think in response to something I’d written in Gift of Memoir. Just now I tried to find it, but couldn’t see it. I want to thank you for the poem … and I’d love to see it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Diane, would you believe I can’t remember which blog post that was. If and when I do, I’ll let you know. I’ve been inspired more than once to write something based on what another writer has written. I tried to find it–but I can’t recall which one. 🙂

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  15. Thanks, Wendy. One of those little mysteries.

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  16. Great story

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