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You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of June 2017: Sherman Alexie's memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, is an extraordinary look at the complicated relationship between a remarkable mother and an equally remarkable son, set, mostly, in the Spokane Indian Reservation where Alexie spent his childhood. His whip-smart, sometimes cruel mother saved the family when she stopped drinking, but was inexplicably tough on her kids – something Alexie traces back to mental illness, sexual assault, and the Indian experience of violence and oppression. Family memoirs often seem like an opportunity for score settling, but Alexie is so aware of his own fallible memory and his own imperfections that this one won’t make you bristle. His style is idiosyncratic – passages of verse lead to passages of prose -- but it’s readable, unpretentious, funny and deeply compassionate. --Sarah Harrison Smith, The Amazon Book Review
Praise for YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME:
"With brazen honesty and humor throughout, Alexie writes about the many facets of his mother and her addiction's effect on his family and childhood."
―Jarry Lee, BuzzFeed, "22 Exciting New Books You Need to Read This Summer"
"Blends poetry and prose, and varies widely in tone as he explores old memories and new grief."―Entertainment Weekly, Summer's 20 Must Read Books
"He specifically focuses on his late mother, showing the many sides of her multifaceted character through dozens of poignant poems and essays. Their relationship is as complicated as Alexie's stories are enthralling."―Stephanie Topacio Long, Bustle, 14 Best Nonfiction Books Coming Out in June 2017
"Sherman Alexie makes poetry out of the darkest parts of his (and his mother's) life... It's all a mighty attempt to understand who his mother was, who she is to him, and how to make peace with her."―Jaime Green, Google Play, Summer Reading
"There's straight personal history here, as well as fable, poetry, and raw and mordant accounts of life....Unexpected revelations are a constant throughout this memoir"―Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "Fresh Air", 6 Books That Will Carry You Away
"Resonant and occasionally gut-wrenching."
"Evident throughout are humor and rage, respect and loving irreverence."
"The overwhelming takeaway from Mr. Alexie's memoir is triumph, that of one writer's ability to overcome hardscrabble roots, medical bad luck and generations of systemic racism--all through an uncommon command of language and metaphor."
―James Yeh, New York Times
"If candor is Alexie's superpower, accuracy might be his nemesis.... Throughout, Alexie is courageous and unflinching, delivering a worthy and honest eulogy by showing us his mother and himself in full, everything spectacular and everything scarred."―Michael Kleber-Diggs, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a marvel of emotional transparency."
―Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune
"These pages are scored by resentment, hurt, guilt, anger, fear, but they are also full of gratitude, admiration, and tenderness."
―Priscilla Gilman, The Boston Globe
"Alexie is so aware of his own fallible memory and his own imperfections that this one won't make you bristle...It's readable, unpretentious, funny and deeply compassionate."
―Erin Kodicek, Amazon's Omnivoracious Blog
"He's compulsively readable, a literary writer with the guts of a stand-up comedian."
―Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"This is an essay, a memoir, a history, a cry from the heart, a challenge to other Indians and a baring of his soul."
―Michael Giltz, Huffington Post
"Sardonic, raw and moving...powerful."
―Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com
"Tough material, shot through with lyricism, insight and wit."―Mary Ann Gwinn, The Seattle Times
"Full of compassion and wonder, pain and beauty and is a searing testament to the ways in which our parents and our pasts fully make us who we are as adults."
―Kristin Iversen, Nylon
"Alexie's writing is raw, funny, smart and unapologetic. His use of metaphor expertly crafts a visual to accompany his stories that leave them unforgettable."
―Catherine Rubino, Book Reporter
"Everything you love about Alexie's writing is here: he still manages to find honest human comedy in the darkness of America's genocidal past, and our deeply racist present" and also raves "His personality is large and, as he survives each passing trial, it's only getting larger; from his adoring audience's vantage point, Alexie is now a giant."
―Paul Constant, The Seattle Review of Books
"A master class in memoir."―Sarah Murdoch, Toronto Star
"Written in his familiar breezy, conversational, and aphoristic style, the book makes even the darkest personal experiences uplifting and bearable with the author's wit, sarcasm, and humor...a powerful, brutally honest memoir about a mother and the son who loved her."
"Alexie is a consummate, unnerving and funny storyteller...pouring himself into every molten word. Courageous, anguished, grateful, and hilarious, this is an enlightening and resounding eulogy and self-portrait...all will be reaching for this confiding and concussive memoir."
―Booklist (Starred Review)
"[A] poignant, conflicted, raucous memoir of a Native American family...a fine homage to the vexed process of growing up that vividly conveys how family roots continue to bind even after they seem to have been severed."―Publishers Weekly
"Honest, wrenching, and incredibly moving....Highly recommended for all readers. Alexie's portrayals of family relationships, identity, and grief have the universality of great literature."―Library Journal (Starred Review)
Bookseller Praise for YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME:
"'How does one deliver an honest eulogy?' Alexie asks. And 'how does one commemorate/ the ordinary?' The answer is to remember, confess, pray, rant, and ask more questions. Alexie does all these and more in this powerful, poignant memoir of his mother, a woman so complex she's an entire tribe of contradictions. Did she love him? Did he love her? He answers yes, but worries the questions through stories by turns angry, funny, and raw, and through a dazzling range of poems that include everything from ballads to rhymed couplets to a tour de force sequence of 52 haiku, each as perfect as the squares in the quilts his mother sewed to support the family. While his father steadily drank himself to death, Alexie's mother was a recovering alcoholic who kept her family alive, if often hungry, in an unfinished HUD house on the Spokane Indian Reservation. She was honored by her tribe for her strength and generosity, yet she was often cruel to her children. With this jarring inconsistency at the heart of his brave, compassionate, book, Alexie traces a lineage of violence so powerful it causes victims to become perpetrators."―Laurie Greer, Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)
"I am mesmerized by this book that is painful as they come yet has me hooked. [...] I cannot put it down as his raw honesty and quirky style has gripped me in some kind of way that is hard to describe. [W]hen I do things like drive to work or make dinner I keep thinking about it..."―Sheryl Cotleur, Copperfield's Books (Sebastopol, CA)
"To say that I was moved by Sherman Alexie's memoir is a terrible understatement; in fact, there is a pulse in this book that has worked its way into my being and irrevocably changed how I think about my own life. Alexie's kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling is so representative of the feeling of being human, with childhood memory, relationships, love, trauma, and art all moving in and out of focus at once. At the center of YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME is a deep grieving, for Alexie's mother, for the ways in which parental love is imperfect, for unthinkable personal and cultural traumas. But Alexie's brilliance is in holding multiple truths, that one can experience simultaneously both trauma and hope, grief and humor, violence and love. I, like Alexie, "tend to fall in love with the unnamable," that nebulous complexity at the heart of the human experience that can only be understood by holding on to all of the pieces of your life at once, a practice both beautiful and terrifying. Alexie achieves this exquisitely, and YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME is an unforgettable work.―Kelsey O'Rourke, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)
On Reservation Blues:
"His talent is immense and genuine.... Sherman Alexie is one of the best writers we have."
- The Nation
"Hilarious but poignant...dead-on accurate with regard to modern Indian life."
On Indian Killer:
"A haunting, challenging articulation of the plight and the pride of contemporary Native Americans."
- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Characters in Mr. Alexie's work are not the usual kind of Indians...They are not tragic victims or noble savages...they listen to Jimi Hendrix and Hank Williams; they dream of being basketball stars...And unlike most Indians in fiction, they are sometimes funny."
--The New York Times
On The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:
"A Native American equivalent of Angela's Ashes."
--- (starred review), Publishers Weekly
"Sure to resonate and lift spirits of all ages for years to come."
Top customer reviews
I expected it to be personal, and it was... But in none of the ways I thought it would be.
The blurp on this book says it's about families, love, loss, and forgiveness, and it is about those things. Certainly. But what it didn't say was that it would be a book that would challenge everything I think I know of white privilege, or that it would sweep me away into a world I didn't know existed. Or that I would discover, that for all I care about equality, diversity, and tolerance, I still know so little about those who aren't like me. This IS a book about families, love, loss, and forgiveness. But it's also a book that taught me about who I am, and who I'm not, and who I want to become.
And who I want to become, is someone who is not blind and ignorant to the injustice and suffering of those around me. No matter what shape that happens to take.
I know this review is small and pathetic. It expresses nothing I feel, when what I feel is so large and all-consuming. But at least I can say that no book has moved me this much since I read the one written by the mother of one of the Columbine shooters.
Alexie’s mother died from small-cell cancer on July 1, 2015. The memoir Alexie wrote as a result of her death follows a grieving son as he tries to come to terms with the tumultuous relationship he had with his abusive yet affectionate mother, Lillian. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME is an unflinching memoir composed of poems, reflections and stories revealing flashbacks from Alexie’s childhood growing up on the reservation to his present struggle to forgive his mother. Lillian Alexie was as complex as she was ferocious. She was the type of woman who would throw a soda can at her son’s hydrocephalic head but would also give food from her family’s limited supply to help an even poorer family.
Alexie believes his mother saved his life twice. First, in 1973 when Lillian quit drinking after a violent New Year’s Eve party. And again, in 1979 when she agreed to let Alexie leave the reservation and attend school in Reardan. These decisions allowed him not only to survive, but to become the writer he is today. However, this memoir isn’t limited solely to reflections about his mother. Her death is the center from which his writing revolves around. He discusses some of his most traumatizing and profound moments of his life, from being bullied and abused on the reservation to his most recent brain surgery. He doesn’t shy away from the topics that have plagued his life, such as alcoholism, racism, colonialism and rape culture.
In the book’s final chapters, Alexie reveals that the child who appears on the cover with Lillian is not him, as most readers would assume, but his older half-sister, Mary, who, in 1981, was killed in a trailer fire with her husband; she was only 27. In the six months leading up to her death, Lillian had also lost her brother and mother. After listening to his mother’s desperate wailing at Mary’s funeral, Alexie believes something broke inside of her. Both women, Lillian and Mary, are believed to be products of rape, which Alexie learns while conducting his research for this book. He arduously struggles to understand his mother and the anger she inflicted on him and those around her. In his quest to forgive her, Alexie remembers the violence and pain that she came from and endured. He also recalls the violence and pain that have been committed against his tribe for generations.
Alexie unconventionally starts YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME by asserting himself as an unreliable narrator and simply a storyteller. He doesn’t construct a linear memoir as most are framed. He also doesn’t follow one style of writing. The memoir jumps from one story to the next; from the past to the present; from poetry to prose. Alexie shares a conversation he had with his wife after she read his book for the first time. She compares its construction to the fabric squares from which his mother had constructed for years her famous quilts --- the same quilts that at times were the family’s only source of income. Alexie admits that he only realized he had “constructed a quilt of words” after reading it for the first time. Then he saw the patterns and repetition, which play a major role in his storytelling. He often repeats words, lines and stories to demonstrate their impact and meaning.
This is unlike any other memoir I’ve ever picked up. Alexie’s writing is raw, funny, smart and unapologetic. His use of metaphor expertly crafts a visual to accompany his stories that leave them unforgettable. I highly recommend YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME to both fans of the author and newcomers. For those familiar with Alexie’s work, his memoir will add insights into their favorite stories and will lead to epiphanies about one of their favorite writers. For first-timers, the book will welcome you into his world and compel you to pick up more of his work immediately after turning the last page.
Reviewed by Catherine Rubino