Category Archives: Memoir

Kiyo’s Story by Kiyo Sato

Title:  Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream (A memoir)
Author:  Kiyo Sato
Length: 352 pages

In this memoir, originally published as Dandelion Through the Crack, first generation Japanese-American Sato chronicles the tribulations her family endured in America through the Great Depression and WWII. Emigrating from Japan in 1911, Sato’s parents built a home and cultivated a marginal plot of land into a modest but sustaining fruit farm. One of nine children, Sato recounts days on the farm playing with her siblings and lending a hand with child-care, house cleaning and grueling farm work. Her anecdotes regarding the family’s devotion to one another despite their meager lifestyle (her father mending a little brother’s shoe with rubber sliced from a discarded tire) gain cumulative weight, especially when hard times turn tragic: in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Satos find themselves swept up by U.S. authorities and shuffled through multiple Japanese internment camps, ending up in a desert facility while the farm falls to ruin. Sato’s memoir is a poignant, eye-opening testament to the worst impulses of a nation in fear, and the power of family to heal the most painful wounds.

Kiyo’s Story is the OTHER book that I picked up on our vacation.   Purchased at the Manzanar National Historic Site, I expected the bulk of this book to recount the time that the Sato family spent in an internment camp (not Manzanar), but my initial expectations were totally incorrect.

The memoir starts with the narrator’s father, Tochan, as a young boy in Japan, he is sent over to America with the following instructions from his mother – don’t ever come back.  This isn’t because she doesn’t love him – no, on the contrary, she loves him very much and wants a better life for him.  Tochan arrives in America, finds work, and settles into life in California, eventually learning to speak english.  In the following years, his brother also comes to America, working in the fields with him.  The only time that he does return to Japan is to find a wife – which he does, though, he chooses for himself instead of following the custom of an arranged marriage.

Once back in America, the Sato family begins to grow… and grow and grow and grow.  Nine children are brought into the world, sharing in the duties on the farm and falling in love with Tochan’s many stories – each teaching a special lesson.  Like any parent, they want the best for their children and they want them to lead even happier lives than they have.

Unfortunately, no one is prepared for what happens in this country against Japanese Americans after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.  Out of fear and discrimination, all of the Japanese living on the west coast of the United States are forced to move to “relocation centers” under guard.  Kiyo’s Story only spends a small amount of time focusing on their time at Poston, but her retelling of the events perfectly conveys the confusion and fear that everyone felt.

This memoir is about family, love, religion, and personal strength.  Each member of the Sato family overcame so much and never wavered in their faith nor in their desire to be accepted as American citizens.  This book is a must-read – especially if you’re someone who doesn’t understand what happened in our country during WWII.  Prior to this year, I only had a vague understanding of the events.  I am grateful to now be a little more informed.

Check it out on Amazon.

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Books as Souvenirs

As you may or may not know/remember, I recently went on vacation.  One of the many exciting things to do on vacation is acquire some stuff that you probably don’t need, but that you swear will always remind you of your trip.  Well, I would like to say, that people ALWAYS need books and what better way to remember and commemorate your time somewhere than with a geographically appropriate book?

Luckily, there were many options for me to sift through in the Death Valley and Eastern Sierra gift shops that we wound up in.  I didn’t wind up with anything too scientific (there were plenty on the night sky or rocks of Death Valley), but I wound up with two of the best titles for me…

Title:  Soiled Doves
Author:  Anne Seagraves

Soiled Doves – Prostitution in the Early West is about… well… prostitution and the women who were prostitutes in the early West.  I haven’t read anything past the introduction yet, but the first page sucked me in with its very brief, very surface-only glimpse at the history of prostitution.  The first time that I saw this book, we were in a very family oriented gift shop and I was just kind of shocked, amazed, and delighted by its existence.  I didn’t jump the gun and fork over the $12.95 that night, however.  No, no… I had to let the idea of it stew.  For days.  In the desert heat.

On our final day there, however, I knew that I had to have it.  En route to Las Vegas, we stopped back into the gift shop and I picked it up.  Fortunately for me, they hadn’t sold out of it yet.  With that said, this will probably be one of my next reads, so keep a lookout for my review and thoughts on here in the next few weeks.

SOILED DOVES tells of the grey world of prostitution and the women who participated in the oldest profession.  Colorful, if not socially acceptable, these ladies of easy virtue were a definite part of the early West – wearing ruffled petticoats with fancy bows, they were glamorous and plain, good and bad and many were as wild as the land they came to tame.

Women like “Molly b’Dam,” Mattie Silks, and “Chicago Joe” blended into the fabric of the American Frontier with an easy familiarity.  Others, such as “Sorrel Mike,” escaped through suicide, Lottie Johl chose marriage and the Chinese slave girls lived a life without hope.

Title: Kiyo’s Story
Author: Kiyo Sato
Published by Soho Press, Inc.

The other book that I picked up was purchased at the gift shop located in the Manzanar National Historic Site, which is a historic site of a Japanese Interment Camp from the WWII era.  We found out towards the end of our trip that this Site was nearby (about an hour drive from where we were staying) and I knew, immediately, that I had to get there.  Over the past year, I’ve read a few titles about the Japanese Internment Camps (something that I wasn’t 100% aware of previously) and it was incredibly important for me to get there.

The stories and information available at Manzanar is moving, maddening, inspiring, and eye-opening.  Their gift shop contains many titles for further reading (including plenty for children and teenagers), but I really wanted a memoir.  Kiyo’s Story popped out of me, first and foremost, because I liked the design of the book.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that this is really the best book for me to read.  Again, I’ll be reading this one sometime over the next few weeks, so keep a lookout for my review.

Kiyo’s father arrived in California determined to plant his roots in the land of opportunity after leaving Japan.  He, his wife, and their nine American-born children labored in the fields together, building a successful farm.  But at the outbreak of the World War II, Kiyo’s family was ordered to Poston Internment Camp.

Throughout their trials, the family pulled together to survive.  Kiyo managed to work her way through college; her brothers served in the army.  After the war they returned to a ruined farm and a despoiled house.  They began again.


Have you ever picked up a book as a souvenir?

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Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen

Title:  Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom
Author:  Yangzom Brauen (
Length: 320 pages
Loved it!

When choosing my first read of 2012, I thought that I was potentially choosing my last read of 2011.  I began this book during the last week of December, but then I turned into the laziest sloth of a woman and spent most of my time watching The Tudors on Netflix, so I didn’t finish this before New Year’s.  I’m happy for this, though, because reading this memoir is the perfect type of read to kick off a new year.

I was drawn to this book mainly because I adore Tibetan culture and religion.  I cannot eloquently explain why, but I first became enamored with learning as much as possible about the Dalai Lama, Buddhism, and Tibet’s history/culture around my freshman year in high school.  I was potentially influenced by all of the Free Tibet rallies and concerts that were televised on MTV at the time, which leaves me thankful that I grew up during a time where MTV had some semi-educational stuff on-air.

I fell in love with this book for the three women’s lives that are the focus – Kunsang, Sonam, and Yangzom.  Three generations of Tibetan women, each with very different childhood experiences, and all struggling with the cultural diaspora that resulted from the Chinese occupation of their country since the 1950s.  We are given an honest look at Tibetan culture, both pre and post Chinese occupation, as well as a small glimpse into what it was (and probably still is) like for those who fled to India.

The stories shared with readers in this book are both incredibly sad and inspirational.  It makes me feel like I need to go and do something more with my life.  I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Tibetan culture, strong and creative women, or to anyone who just really needs a wonderful and inspirational read.
Check out Across Many Mountains on Amazon.

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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title:  The Glass Castle
Author:  Jeannette Walls
Length:  288 pages
Another amazing Memoir!

So, I apparently was on a memoir kick for a few weeks there.  It started with Running with Scissors and then continued with Some Girls.  Last week, I wrapped it up (for now…) with The Glass Castle by Jeannette. Walls.  This is yet another book that I’ve seen around and recommended for years, but, for one reason or another, I never bothered to take a closer look at what the book was actually about.  Thanks to Bookmarks Magazine, however, I took the opportunity to read a short blurb about the Walls family.

The appeal of reading about an eccentric, nomadic, and highly dysfunctional family caught my interest right away.  The Walls parents both struggle with their own ideals, addictions, and caring for their family.  At many times throughout the nearly 300 pages, the point that the children were more adult and put together than the parents is really driven home.  Regardless of everything that happens, however, a love permeates, and a hope in tomorrow stays strong.

The Glass Castle is another good read if you want to laugh, cry, and feel outraged all within the same chapter.

Check it out on Amazon.

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Quotable Monday: The hope in tomorrow

The Arizona desert at sunset ❤

But there’s something in me that just keeps going on.  I think it has something to do with tomorrow, that there is always one, and that everything can change when it comes.

Quote from:  The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Buy on Amazon.

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Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren

Title:  Some Girls – My Life in a Harem
Author:  Jillian Lauren
Length: 352 pages
Loved It!
This book was one that I’ve been eying for the past few months, but was never “ready” to buy it.  When the local Borders was closing, however, I came across it again – the last copy, misplaced in the remaining Biography books – and snatched it up.  I’m not entirely sure how to describe why I was interested in the book so much, but I suppose that the easiest response could be that the subject matter seemed intriguing.

At the start of the book, I didn’t know if I was going to care too much for the narrator.  I was worried.  It sounded like she had a little bit of an attitude and spoke harshly about her parents with very little context as to where that was coming from.  All I had to do was sit tight and keep reading, though, and the context revealed itself.  The deeper you get into the book, the deeper you get into Lauren’s emotions, fears, and, ultimately, the full force of her strength is revealed.

Reading a book about a woman who chose to work in the sex industry and to live in the harem of Prince Jeffri from Brunei, being treated to very high-end shopping sprees, and an almost limitless access to any “thing” that she wanted, one would think that most girls would have no way to relate.  That, at most, this would be a sensational glimpse into a world that most of us would never know or be in.

Underneath all of these details, however, is where you’re going to find the aspects of Lauren and her life that almost any woman can relate to – insecurity, loneliness, destructive relationships, catty girls, desire, attempting to attain one’s dreams.  I love this book not for the sexy parts, not for the parts that reveal a reality entirely different from anything that I’ll ever know – though, those parts are interesting to read.  I love this book because it forces home the point that you can never judge a book, or especially a person, by the cover.

Check out this book on Amazon.

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Smashed: Story of a Drunked Girlhood by Koren Zailckas


Title:  Smashed:  Story of a Drunken Girlhood
Author:  Koren Zailckas
Length:  368 pages
Loved it — again!  I need to start hating books

When this book first came out, I was employed at the bookstore, studying English Literature and Writing at school, and yearned to, one day, have something, anything published myself.  I, also, at that point, had never tasted more than a drop of alcohol.  I resented the fact that this local girl was making headlines and praise for writing about her own transgressions with alcohol.  I was a “good girl” and, idiotically, felt both mentally and creatively penalized for this.

Fast forward to a few years out of college – I went through a year (at least) of reckless behavior and guzzling copious amounts of alcohol.  Finally, I got it.  A friend recommended this memoir to me and actually let me borrow her copy, already loved with passages underlined — well, borrow might now be the right word…  I still have it on my shelf.  I don’t believe that I read it right away, but I do know that I devoured the pages during the two weeks that pneumonia had knocked me down for the count.

Immediately, I loved the narrator.  While our stories and experiences were very different, I could see me woven throughout the lines.  She voiced similar struggles, fears, and frustrations.   And, finally, as cliché as it may sound – I didn’t feel so alone.

This memoir isn’t only an excellent read for people who have suffered one too many nights intoxicated either.  If you have ever felt that you exist only on the fringe, struggled with friends/family/school/yourself.  Or, honestly, even if you haven’t.  If you’ve never experienced any of the aforementioned blights, Smashed is an excellent literary companion to get a glimpse into what other people live through.
Buy Smashed on Amazon.

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Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Title:  Running with Scissors:  A Memoir
Author:  Augusten Burroughs
Length:  352 pages
Loved it!

Yet another book that I should have read when it first came out, but, for some reason, I didn’t.  I did, however, see the movie when it first came out on DVD.  At this point in time, I cannot recall how similar it is to the book, but I do recall enjoying it.  I’m not even really sure what drew me into reading this book now, but I was browsing for the next title to consume, saw this, and bought it without a second thought.

While reading this it is difficult to really wrap your head around the fact that this is supposed to be a memoir — meaning, these events supposedly really happened.  There is even a point in the book where one of the individuals tells our narrator that he really needs to write a book about all of this — to which he agrees, but points out that nobody would believe that it’s true.  And, based off some legal action taken by the real-life family against Burroughs, it could be argued that maybe the details AREN’T 100% true.

However, a part of the revised author’s note calls out that the memories of the other members of the family may differ from the author’s.  Given this detail, I still feel that it is fair to call this a memoir.  I’m sure that my memories and perception of certain events in my childhood are very different from anyone else’s, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less real.

Running with Scissors is entertaining, disgusting (at times), and always, always shocking.  If you are planning on reading this book, keep that all in mind, and commence comparing his bizarre upbringing with your own.  And I certainly hope that you can’t conclude that your history is crazier than his.
Buy Running with Scissors on Amazon.



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