Friday, March 22, 2019

Two Very Different Autobiographies

For my library reading challenge I had to read both a book by an author with a disability as well as a book from a list of books by indigenous authors.  So I chose the following two autobiographies.  I was not a big fan of the first, but quite enjoyed the second.

My Brief History by Stephen Hawking

This is a memoir written by the renowned scientist, Stephen Hawking.  He covered his childhood, teenage and college years and early marriage, before he was diagnosed with ALS.  The latter part of the book is after his diagnosis and talks a bit about how his disability impacted his life.

While the details of his life were interesting, he focused a bit too much on the science for my liking.  I realize it was a hugely important part of his life, it just wasn't what I was interested in.  And he got quite technical - so I skimmed over those parts.
I wouldn't really recommend this unless you don't mind a memoir that's heavy on physics.

A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby

I had never heard of Chacaby, but I was intrigued by the book's synopsis.  Chacaby's early life was spent in a very remote Ojibwa community.  Early on she didn't even know her parents - she was raised by a supportive grandmother who taught her many Cree spiritual and cultural traditions.  When her mother appeared on the scene with a step father, he passed on many Ojibwa bush survival skills.  But these were the positive aspects of her childhood - the community was plagued by alcoholism which made her mother abusive and led to her sexual assault by numerous different adults. In her teen years she herself became an alcoholic.  

While she was a teenager Chacaby's mother forced her into a marriage with a much older man.  He was extremely physically abusive so at age 20 she took her two young children and fled to Thunder Bay.  There she was also subjected to abuse and racism, even finding herself homeless for a time.  But eventually she found the support she needed to become sober (though some of her more upsetting stories were the men in AA who preyed upon the women in AA leading to more abuse).

Once sober she trained and worked as an alcoholism counsellor while raising her children and, after a second marriage, came out as a lesbian.  She describes two long term same sex relationships as well as raising foster children in addition to her own.  She also deals with the impact of losing her eyesight.  Her triumph came with being asked to lead the Thunder Bay gay pride parade in 2013.

I found this to be an incredible story of strength and resilience - she overcame nearly impossible odds.  It is also a lesson on how much further Canada still needs to go in reconciliation with our Indigenous population.

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