*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Heart Berries
Author: Terese Marie Mailhot
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Publication Date: March 13, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II, Terese Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father–an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist–who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot “trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain and what we can bring ourselves to accept.” Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people and to her place in the world.
This memoir is poetic and moving. It is at times hard to accept or wrap one’s mind around. Mailhot confronts her demons and her pain head on in this book, as the synopsis states, “seizing control of her story.” These pages although brief, are powerful, tumultuous, and vivid. Mailhot claims her past as hers, owning her hurts, reliving her difficulties, and embracing her Indigenous culture. It is in her pain that she finds strength and agency, not running from it or bearing it like a burden, but using it as fuel to form herself and to cement her story. In this book, she explores her own language and way of expression, learning how to communicate abuse, alcoholism, self-destruction, and inner dialogue page by page.
What I really like about this story, as Mailhot states in the amazing Q&A that you’ll find at the back, “I realized that I had been using the guise of fiction to show myself the truth, and the process of turning fiction into nonfiction was essentially stripping away everything that didn’t actually happen to me, and filling those holes left behind with memory.” Mailhot talks about how two of her stories began as works of fiction, but in editing those stories into something more real, the truth began to emerge. This book has this very beautiful and artistic feel to it, despite being about some terrible acts and some very dark struggles. Through her writing, the author takes this darkness and turns it into art–something she can share with the world. It’s an exploration of memory and self. It’s a very eye-opening read.
My one criticism is that it was very quick. Her writing is very poetic, but because of that, it starts to feel wandering or tangential. It moves too quick, flitting from one thing to the next; I assume the authors intent was to create a sense of stream of consciousness, to flow fleetingly from one memory to the next. I did find it sometimes hard to grasp onto her stories, but then again, I don’t know if I’m really in the intended reader. It is not my language or my way of understanding and as an outsider reading this touching book, although I was sometimes lost in the thought, that thought may not have been meant for me.
I would highly recommend this book. It’s a very open and honest portrayal of one woman’s struggle as an Indigenous woman, as a daughter, a mother, and a lover.