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There Was A Fire Here: A Memoir Paperback – May 17, 2016
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“What would you take with you if your house was about to burn? What would you regret leaving behind? Risa Nye's searing memoir of loss is ostensibly about objects―the pictures, the shoes, the beloved baby blanket―but it's really about the love that holds a family together in its darkest moments. Told with humor and grace, Nye's story demands that we each take a moral inventory, then hold on tight to what truly matters most.”
—Zac Unger, Oakland firefighter, and author of Working Fire
“As Nye vividly and poignantly details the physical and emotional devastation of the 1991 fire that razed her home, erased her community, and reduced her memories to 'a past with nothing left to mark its presence,' she compels each of us to wonder, What would I take? How would I bear up? What does home mean to me?”
—Jill Smolowe, author of Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief
“Risa Nye’s lyrical, literate and beguiling voice ignites the fear of fire, love for children, and our powerful attachments to home and neighbors. With radiant language that describes the devastating Oakland hills firestorm, she hastens the pulse as an unstoppable catastrophe threatens all and alters reality. With fine memory, this remarkable writer brings us into the intimacy of sudden loss, the wonder of precious family, and the vibrancy of hope.”
—Gus Lee, best-selling author of China Boy and With Schwarzkopf
“You can go home again, as Risa Nye demonstrates in this memoir of before-and-after the Great Oakland Firestorm of 1991which destroyed over 3000 homes. While her blue house with a white door and daffodils in front was a still smoldering mess, she and her husband determined they'd build it back. Home became homecoming, and now with this artful tale Nye embroiders her own life story anew with loving recollections of unique artifacts lost, from her pale pink wedding dress to a secret box of letters between herself and her husband. Home again, with memories of happy earlier days, of devastating loss and the strengths that can arise from adversity.”
—Deirdre English, Professor, Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley
About the Author
Risa Nye lives and writes in Oakland,CA. Her essays and articles have appeared in a number of local,national,and online publications and anthologies,including Fine Homebuilding, The San Francisco Chronicle, Skirt!Magazine,You and Me Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, Chicken Soup and Not Your Mother's Books, and Oh Sandy! She is co-editor of Writin' on Empty: Parents Reveal the Upside, Downside, and Everything in Between When Children Leave the Nest. She earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Saint Mary's College. She blogs at www.risanye.com and writes a semimonthly column about cocktails under the name of Ms. Barstool for Berkeleyside.com. After a one-year blogging experiment, she wrote Zero to Sixty in One Year: An Easy Month-by-Month Guide to Writing Your Life Story. In her memoir, There Was a Fire Here, she details the events surrounding the devastating Oakland Hills firestorm of 1991 while sharing with the reader her recollections of what she lost and what she learned.
Top customer reviews
I was especially touched by the "In Memory" page that paid homage to the 25 people who lost their lives in the fire. Although the firestorm is a hugely important chapter of bay area history, this book is a must read for anyone, ANYWHERE who has ever wondered, "how do I go on when I have lost everything?". Kudos to Ms. Nye, a skilled storyteller, for such a brave retelling of her family's personal journey back to their life "before".
"There was a Fire Here" was enthralling, moving, heartbreaking, funny, insightful, horrifying, inspirational….
Some of my favorite passages:
“A hot, dry wind blowing from the wrong direction, a demonic force, the devil’s breath you cannot see makes trees sway, sparks fly, and embers leap from treetop to treetop, bringing heat and fire; and the fire, snapping like a fingernail on a match head, raged through anything in its path-anything at all. Everything.”
“…houses collapsing onto themselves, imploding one floor, then another, until they piled on their foundations like smashed layer cakes- splintered, ruined, unrecognizable.”
“It is gone, beyond my concept of gone.”
“I used to lie in bed and watch as he shook his booty, creating amniotic tsunamis in my belly.”
“I imagined them [the cats] pooling their knowledge in order to calculate the precise amount of thrust and velocity required to leap up and take a whack at the duck,”
“Eventually, the cats sensed the futility of their duck watch.”
I’m not a writer, so all I can manage to say in conclusion is “WOW! Just…….WOW!”
This great read compellingly conveys ranges of emotions and physical changes experienced by the author and her family arising out of this disaster – a firestorm of epic devastation and loss of lives and ways of life that occurred a stone’s throw from the University of California, Berkeley, campus. And, woven throughout the well-chosen descriptions of the environments old and new, and mechanics of surviving having lost virtually the entire material fabric of their lives, the author gently shares with us the central relationships and love stories that allowed Ms. Nye and her family not only to survive, but to continue to gain strength through their experiences. It is sensitive in its treatments of the many losses – of those who lost their lives and of others who had not only lost their homes but whose families dissolved in the aftermath of the disaster, as well – and it provides some of the best descriptions of events around the Fire itself in its several forms that I have read to date.
Like other readers, I found the book to be insightful about the events and how people act and recover in a crisis situation. It causes one to think about what things are the most important to save in a situation where there is not much time to plan. There are some funny stories about what some people saved and what they forgot to save. Some of the things most valued have little monetary worth, but are treasures that may not be replaced. From a larger perspective, I wonder about other parts of the East Bay where there are plenty of eucalyptus trees that can cause similar problems.