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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
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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 of what 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
This book is compassionate and gentle.
This book is sarcastic and funny.
This book is sober and candid and take-your-breath-away, break-your-heart honest.
This book is a "Native American" memoir.
This book is not a "Native American" memoir.
This book has much love and only a little lust.
This book has much anger, only a little hate, but enough animosity to fill a few buckets.
This book will make you laugh.
This book will make you cry. And if it doesn't... my heart will grieve for you, too.
This book is filled with words that tell stories and make poems and repeat the stories only this time with an all new spin, all new heartache.
This book is Sherman Alexie at his absolute best, his most broken... his strongest self.