So, I need to transition away from non-fiction for a while after this… although Heart Berries is certainly not to blame for my slowed reading pace — that honor falls to The Greatest Story Ever Told – So Far: Why Are We Here by Lawrence Krauss. Which I will discuss only to say that I am wildly unqualified to discuss this book. The one thing I can tell you is that I feel the title is misleading. This isn’t exactly about why we’re here. It’s about the history of particle physics (i.e. our understanding of particle physics). And I guess Krauss’ point is, if the universe worked differently, we, humans as we are constructed, wouldn’t be here. I kept reading this book because I refused to allow it to defeat me, not because I actually found it to be an accessible book on physics. Although, to be fair to this book, there may not be a book on physics which I would find accessible… Thanks for nothing public school education!

Heart Berries is a pretty different book. It’s a memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot, who grew up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation and is Native American. It’s a little awkward to read this book because Mailhot was one of Sherman Alexie’s students, and I always loved Sherman Alexie, but now, with the #MeToo allegations he faces, it’s hard for me to know what to think about him. Obviously, he himself was the victim of violence and sexual abuse. But that’s not a free pass to sexually harass or abuse others. Fortunately, Mailhot does not seem to have had a negative relationship with him and she thanks him for his support in this book.

The book itself is very odd, which if you’ve read Sherman Alexie, you may not find surprising. Mailhot doesn’t tell a straightforward story, rather tells the reader about the last few years, while also flashing back further. Much of the book is written to her significant other (so it is addressed to ‘you’), but it is BRUTALLY honest, like if I were him I wouldn’t be thrilled about how I’m portrayed. Also, Mailhot is bipolar/has PTSD/has a lot of different diagnoses, and one full chapter is written from a stay in a mental hospital. Her style is hard to convey, it’s not exactly flowery, but there is a sense of poetry in her words.

The book is largely about Mailhot’s pain, which sounds dismissive as I write it, but I don’t mean it that way, Mailhot has a lot of pain, and she writes about it beautifully:

In white culture forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure their dichotomies apply to me.

I like the idea of framing pain as something other than a problem, although I certainly don’t live that way. Mailhot’s description of herself and her pain is interesting, because she understands when she’s behaving in a way that isn’t socially acceptable, she just doesn’t really care because she doesn’t accept that if she behaved in some other way that would be ‘right.’

I didn’t agree with Mailhot, or I didn’t identify with her on a lot of things, but I agreed with her about dying right:

Indians aren’t always allowed to rest in peace. I want to be buried in a bone garden with my ancestors someday. I’d like to belong to that. ‘If we can’t die right, how are we gonna live right?’ my mother would have asked.

I love the phrase “I’d like to belong to that.” The sense of belonging in death, is kind of beautiful. Even if you don’t think there’s anything else, to know that what’s left of you, is in the right place. I think there can be a peace in that.

This is a hard book to summarize. It is beautifully written. It is only 123 pages long. If you enjoy short, painful, beautifully written memoirs, this is for you. And hey, even if it isn’t, at 123 pages, it’s not going to take you long (certainly not as long as a pop science book on particle physics!)

Currently reading: Call Me Zebra and still A House Full of Females.