Book club members frequently ask “What challenges did you face when writing books about your family?”
There should be no illusions. Writing a book about family is complicated. It can be controversial, often touching emotions that are raw and personal. At least it is a little easier to write about a past generation. There are fewer family members still standing to offer their criticisms and observations.
I think anytime one unearths old relatives and attempts to bring them back to life on the written page, it is safe to assume that there will be many opinions, impressions, and recollections to sort through.
That is a risk the author takes. Not everyone will agree. Family members will view the past through different lenses – and certainly with different emotions.
I can argue that having different views of the past creates the kaleidoscope that history requires. Memoirs and biographies are rarely intended to be instant replays or videotapes. Stories, because they are told and retold, are subject to the teller’s interpretation.
Obviously one needs to be sensitive and respectful to the feelings of others. And, of course, there is a balance and a true historian (which I do not claim to be) does not have the luxury of rewriting history to accommodate the personal sensitivities of others.
As I wrote my books, I had to keep reminding myself of what I was trying to do. There was and remains a very distinct purpose to my writing. I want to use my family’s story to shine a light on the immigration debate taking place in the world today – and I only have my family’s history to offer.
My parents and grandparents lived in a different era. They were part of a different generation and were faced with a different set of circumstances . What they had in common with many of today’s refugees was that they were trying to make their way to America hoping to find safety, security, and opportunity for their family.
By sharing my family’s stories in such in a personal way I hope readers will experience the anxiety, fears, uncertainty, isolation, hope, disappointment, and dreams of those forced to leave their homelands for reasons none of us will ever begin to understand. Perhaps we can all learn from my family’s determined perseverance – how they put one foot in front of the other one step at a time.
If I can craft books that make readers feel that they were there in the moment, that they were there living this immigrant story, then I have accomplished what I set out to do – to make us all remember that refugees are the victims. Let us never cast them as the enemy.