About Loss and Life Beyond It …

It wasn’t my intention to read three memoirs dealing with death and loss in January this year. The death of a husband, a mother and a father. All by very different people and written in quite different styles but all quite depressing.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I have always liked the writing of Joan Didion. Just a perfect mix of dry, matter-of-fact, yet still emotional writing. But this one was special. The essays I had read before were about other people, politics and yes, also relationships with friends, but family is different.

Didion conveyed the feeling of loss in a way that only an author of this magnitude could. Weaving together memories from different times, finding the words to express loss matter of factly, abstractly and bursting with emotions – all at the same time. A heartbreaking journey that is hard to sum up.

I am lucky that I have not yet had that kind of loss in my life, but I would imagine that a year detached from a great loss, this book would be a soothing read.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

A friend of mine gave me this book. I would probably never have read it otherwise, as I remembered it too clearly from when it was really popular.

It was an interesting contrast to Didion’s book. Zauner wrote the book in her very early thirties, while Didion was 70 writing hers. Didion focused on ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ after the loss of her husband, with memories of other times, interjected when they came to her. Zauner’s book was more of a classical chronological memoir, with the cornerstones of memories lying in the Korean dishes her mother used to make. I can relate to food being a big part of one’s childhood and memories of a mother. Though my mother hated cooking, she worked in a restaurant and my life is filled with food-related memories.

The book was well-written, a sad but heat-warming read and made me yearn for a good Korean restaurant.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin

I had read and loved Godwin’s first book Mukiwa. It was a fascinating look into a life I could hardly even imagine. And it was painful. As I wrote in that post, I had to put the book down every now and then and gather myself to continue. But that was nothing compared to this one.

Godwin managed to top this year’s two first books by adding to the death of his father the total horror of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe – brutal murders of white farmers, torture and starvation. And to make it even worse, descriptions of the Holocaust.

I know, I know, there is much good in this world – a lot of people giving their all to make this world better. But, damn it, people can be just unbelievably horrible. And there is no one to stop them once they have enough power. Godwin’s book was published in 2006, people knew what was going on and Mugabe still clung to power until 2017. Of course, reading it in 2024, Ukraine was on my mind – two years of death and destruction just happening before our eyes and no one to stop it. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has a new president – Emmerson Mnangagwa – who in July 2023 voiced support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to a 2022 report on democracy from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute at the University of Gothenburg, 70 per cent of the world’s population now live in dictatorships. Basically half the world is involved in some armed conflict.

I am sorry this post got so depressing, but losing loved ones is hard, terrible people cling to power and destroy lives everywhere, and there is just no bright side to look at. But sometimes it’s also good to read about these things to get some perspective and try to appreciate the people you love.

And no matter how hard it was to read some passages from Godwin’s book, it was wonderfully written and engaging. I can very much recommend it, together with his first book Mukiwa. And I will certainly read the next one.

Now go on – make some lasting memories with the people you love! So that both of you have some great stories for your memoirs.