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Australian born Geraldine Brooks spent many years as a foreign correspondent covering the Middle East. I loved her book, "Nine Parts of Desire" which was about Muslim women, and I have followed her life somewhat as she is often mentioned by her husband, Tony Horwitz, in his books "Confederates in the Attic", "Baghdad Without a Map," and "One for the Road." I find her an excellent reporter and in this memoir, "Foreign Correspondence," she turns the spotlight on herself.
As a child growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood on a street actually called "Bland Street", she yearned for a larger world. And so she developed pen pals. There was a girl from New Jersey, another one from France, and even one from an upper class neighborhood just a few towns away. And then there were two Israeli boys, one an Arab and one a Jew. As an adult, she found these old letters in her father's basement and, now more than twenty years later, she decided to look up each of these people. What follows is the result of her quest and some wonderful insights into world events from a personal one-on-one perspective. It was fascinating.
As a teenager in the early seventies she was aware of the new consciousness developing, even reaching her in her protective Catholic school. She had an active imagination and the gift of using words well. It's not surprising that she developed pen pals and that they influenced her life so much. Her gift of words certainly reached me too. I shared her sense of wonder and enthusiasm as she looked forward to each letter. I felt her straining to break the bonds of her loving but restrictive world. I felt her hopes and dreams and frustrations. And then, later, I shared her discoveries as she searched out the people who had meant so much to her early life. She writes with a clear voice, painting a picture with details, taking me on her quest to discover the world and eventually to discover herself. The book is short, a mere 210 pages but she sure does pack a lot into it. It's a wonderful read. Highly recommended.
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on May 29, 2000
I, too, am an Australian now living in the USA. I found many parallels between the author and myself. As a child growing up in Sydney, I had many, many penpals from the USA and Europe - I still remember the excitement of receiving letters from places far away (In fact, two of my penpals were at my American wedding and we are still in contact 2 decades later.) The book perfectly captures the essence of growing up in Australia and the sense of isolation one feels being so far from other countries. The author made me truly miss my homeland. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about Australia and what makes its people tick - this book is a wonderful read.
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on August 13, 2002
I bought this as an "airplane read" but couldn't put it down. Geraldine Brooks has done us a great favor by not only illuminating the process of finding one's long lost penpals, but also by educating many folks about Australia in the process. It's fascinating to see her perceptions of the world, and particularly America, based on the letters that come in her mailbox each month.
While I read this one on my own, I have since leant this book to several friends and we've engaged in some interesting discussions about our own penpal experiences, so I recommend it for book clubs.
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on August 27, 2000
I read this book in one day - it is beautifully, intelligently written with well developed characters and a true story that reads like fiction. It is a rare gem of literature that provides insight into the dreams of a young girl that many people can identify with - male or female. I have read a lot of books lately, but this was one of the finest books I've come across in a while.
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on July 7, 2000
I bought this book over a year ago and recently, when I saw it in paperback at my local store, I decided it was time I read it! I don't know why I demurred, because I found this book to be delightful! It is a slight volume that contains more information and humanity than you would think could be printed in these sparse pages. By that I mean we get a memoir spanning the author's family's lives (as well as her own) along with humanizing stories of her global pen pals, including updates. I thought it was quite interesting as a "prologue" to histories of the Middle East and Europe as well as the United States and Down Under. Geraldine Brooks is a good writer who says in a few words what many writers have written chapters about. For instance, "Scientists have discovered that all human beings have a "happiness set point" . . . Thus, the mood-altering effects of winning a Pulitzer or losing a spouse will rarely endure. Within a year, most people are again either the happy or morose persons they always were." And, "I wondered aloud whether our generation really did mark the end of the era when people thought they had to go away to prove themselves." Not to mention a complete description of the anorexia nervosa suffered by one of her pen pals, before anorexia was understood in any way by professionals or lay persons. Highly recommended to all who love an honest and thought-provoking memoir.
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on February 28, 2015
I started reading Geraldine Brooks' books when another Author recommended "A Year of Wonders" - a fascinating look at the plague-village in the UK. Since then I have been addicted to her intelligent style of writing. My only disappointment is that this wonderfully skilled author hasn't written more. As this is a memoir rather than a historical novel, I didn't know what to expect. But as I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, I found myself transported back to my childhood as the fine details of her early years are explored. As so often is the case, it is the small details that give these memoirs poignancy...and Geraldine Brooks is consistently accurate with the details. You can almost smell the home cooking and feel the excitement of exploring new things as a youngster as you read through the early pages.
As her book progresses, lightly touching on her amazing career, I became more aware of just what a person with a vision can achieve. When she explores what happened to some of her friends from those years, and how their lives diverged it left me wondering about the things which shape our lives, for better or for worse.
I personally found that this book took me on a journey that was thought-provoking, sometimes sad, and at other times inspirational - but always interesting.
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on September 22, 2013
In addition to the fact that Geraldine Brooks can write like a dream, this is such a great story (a non-fiction story) of growing up -- she chases down 5 of the penpals she'd had as a kid in Australia. Her travels take her to rural France, to a Palestinian home in Israel (people are oppressed, but joyful), to an Israeli home in Israel (people are paranoid and scared), and to a couple other places. Anyone who has had penpals or who is interested in an inside-out sort of understanding of the world would enjoy this. It made a great book for my wild-women-talk-about-books circle.
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on November 8, 2015
I have always enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' stories an writing. This story was unique because it was her biography of her very active life as a journalist and reporter for the Wall Street Journal and others. She traveled all over the world to cover war stories and other important stories. She had a very unique family life lived mostly in Australia. She had pen-pals in various places around the world, because of her worldly curiosity as a child, and followed up later by visiting all the pen-pals about twenty years later. A good read!
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on February 3, 2013
I have read quite of few titles by this author, and I like her writing style. This was an autobiographical book, and I thoroughtly enjoyed learning about her. Her style is easy, and the content of the book is very interesting.
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on July 18, 1998
I too grew up in Sydney and had many penpals, so I connected with the basic premise (by the way, one of the initial blurbs calls it 'provincial Australia - hardly! - suburban might be a better description).
Although purchasing the "Australian" edition, I found the most irritating aspect was that it obviously hadn't been re-edited for an Australian audience. The book is chock-a-block full of Americanisms, which clang and grate.
Page 1 - Australian houses don't have basements. Page 5 - we fly in aeroplanes, not airplanes Page 10 - we would never be born or live 'on' a street, it's 'in' Bland Street, and the suburban 'lots' are 'blocks' Page 17 - no Aussie would organise a 'closetful' of paperwork, more like a cypboard or wardrobe.
It goes on and on.
Cheap production and marketing, especially seeing as the Australian edition doesn't have the photos. A good reason to buy from Amazon!
Overall, I liked it. I thought her exploration was sensitive and moving! . It could have been an excrutiatingly linear account, but as in the best autobiographical work there is an examination of wider themes and connections.
Obviously written for a North American audience, so it is a bit dislocated from its puported setting by the jarring use of language.(I don't have a problem with American English per se,just that it doesn't ever sound as if its written in an Australian voice)
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