About 4 years ago, a friend told me about a little-known book I just had to read because, according to him, it might as well have been my biography. That’s what I love most about books: at one time or another in the cycles of your life, a cherished, good book can be your biography. At the time, for one reason or another, I did not inquire further about the book he mentioned. Lucia told me to read it a few weeks ago. For some reason I became curious this time.
Much to the chagrin of the occupants of my life, I finished the 624-page book in two fevered week days. I cannot write a review. I read it too quickly, too emotionally, and too much in awe. Wherever I stopped to consider the depth of truth in a thought or absolute miracle of a perfect, tangibly, piercingly photographic description, I did so completely immersed in the moment, with no consideration for anything other than the utterly transforming experience itself. When I dreamt of the protagonist, Eveline, I was not surprised; when I found her, in more than one incarnation, seated beside me at breakfast or at my desk, I was not surprised. Words uttered by and about the characters, each of whom was someone I got to know so well I began losing sight of the barrier that is the paper upon which they were birthed, would come to me throughout the day in whispers, just on this side of my lips.
I am a naturalized American with no first-hand knowledge of what it is to be a woman shaped by the textures of this culture, its pungent, toxic and bewildering whims, nor its soil nor its skies. I got a glimpse. A shocking, shivering one. The book is anthropological in the truest, basest sense; it’s about a girl becoming a woman in a society of other people and an inner world populated by many selves impatiently queued on a journey to merge. It’s about a love that is so hellishly difficult to render into words– I don’t know how the author kept her senses in tact in order to go on living, after remembering and reliving such a love for the purpose of preserving it here. It’s about how a caterpillar doesn’t just sprout wings but must disintegrate, turn to mush — only then, after festering as a non-entity, can it begin to transform.
This is not a review. This is only how I feel. I think many will discuss this book at great and learned length. I am not interested in that– I just wanted to tell you that I, one person, had an experience with this one book and it was a memorable one.
The book is Anthropology of an American Girl. The author is Hilary Thayer Hamann. You can find more information here. Listen to an interview with the author here. Purchase it here and at Portrait, where it will be released Tuesday, May 25th.
Posted by Aida
[Photographs by Hilary Thayer Hamann, taken from the book’s Facebook page.]