Sunday, April 15, 2007

A.M. Homes article and genealogy


I don’t read magazines very often, unless I’ve somehow walked out of the house without a book and I’m captive in a hair stylist’s or dentist’s chair. But the other day I was flipping through O Magazine (one of Oprah’s many media) at the supermarket checkout, and I threw it in the cart when I saw that A.M. Homes had an article in it called “Finding My People”.

I’ve never read A.M. Homes, but I’ve been meaning to, because one of my book peeps, Cousin Rog, says I should. And I listen to Rog.

The article is from her new memoir (with a great title), The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir which is about her search, as an adoptee, to find out about both her families, adoptive and birth.

I’ve heard Homes’s work described as “shocking” and “twisted”, but the article (which I can’t find an online link to, but which is from the memoir) is neither—it is a lovely piece. In it she says, “Along the way, it becomes apparent to me that I am searching not just for biological history but for my combined history—the intertwined narrative of how I became who I am.”

She talks about the addictiveness of genealogical research, which has become a very popular on-and-off-line hobby in the U.S. I know this myself, because my mother is such a hobbyist.

And like Homes, I’ve become intrigued by my own past, by the many stories of the many people I had no idea that I was connected to, but whose collective experiences have in some way shaped me.

Homes writes: “I am back in time, wading across a clear running creek, I am a farmer on a plantation, I am captain of a ship, I am the woman in a long white dress, my curly hair high up on my head…I am conjuring sea captains and drinking glasses of bloodred wine. This is the stuff of poems and strange fever dreams.”

I’ve been inspired that way, too. My mother’s research tells me that I’m related to several women who were executed as witches during the Salem witch trials in 1692. The little bits I have pieced together of their lives has inspired me to write about them. Like Homes, I’m inspired by digging through this history, listening to the stories my family tells about itself, and finding the narrative.

I’m also inspired to read A.M. Homes, finally. Her most recent works are The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir and This Book Will Save Your Life. Here’s a link to an interview she did with Powell’s books about her book This Book Will Save Your Life.

5 comments:

Matt said...

I have taken the time to speak with my grandmother about her and my grandfathers past. I learned things I felt I should have known. It's amazing what turns up when you attempt to find out your history.

I think one of the reasons genealogy is huge is because people want a sense of identity and it gives them that.

a.book.in.the.life said...

I have recently read 'This Book will save your life' and although I started out hating it I wound up loving it! As for genealogy I know little about my family, mostly as a result of me losing touch (out of choice) with my fathers side and my grandfather on my mothers side saying very little about his past and the family.

Gentle Reader said...

matt--I agree about genealogy helping people find, or create, or define identity. Powerful stuff.

a.book.in.the.life--you've intrigued me about This Book Will Save Your Life, I may have to pick it up--thanks!

And on genealogy, one of the reasons I responded to the A.M. Homes article was that she found power in using information to redefine herself, and chose not to let the few negative things she knew before she started her research define her. Does that make any sense?

Plus, sometimes the past is too painful, and it's best to just look to the future :)

Robin said...

Coming out of a cultural background where geneology is a duty, I have access to an amazing amount of information about who and where I come from. It's an interesting view of the world (and oneself) across numerous generations.

Gentle Reader said...

Robin--it's been fascinating for me, at this point in my life, to find out all this family history that I never knew. It's wonderful and strange and of course some of it is horrible.

It gives me some historical context, but I think that context is more beneficial for my imagination than anything else! Like A.M. Homes, I like to imagine the worlds of my ancestors--that's what's been fun for me about genealogy.