Category Archives: Autobiographies

Two Stories of Cambodia and Great Reads

We were seated in Happy Lucky’s Teahouse in Old Town Fort Collins just a few days before Thanksgiving and Kari Grady Grossman, co-owner of the teahouse, stopped by. We were chatting with a mutual friend, Dr. Bill Timpson, and he introduced us to Kari. Our book, The Leopard Tree, came up in the conversation and we gave her a copy. She then gave us a copy of Bones That Float, her book about adopting their child from Cambodia. We had heard that a percentage of profits at the Teahouse go to support of a school in Cambodia but did not know the deeper story.

I was already started on the Kindle book, In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree by Vaddey Ratner at home on my iPad. Raami, a 7-year-old girl from a Cambodian royal family, narrates the story. She walks with a brace due to polio and is the apple of her poet father’s eye. When the Khmer Rouge overrun Phnom Penh in 1975, she and her family are placed on a forced journey to a remote village, while hiding their identity as privileged royalty. To be discovered is certain death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The book tells the story of four years of desperate struggles with hunger and abuse. Raami is a survivor despite her disability, but she ages emotionally as she is forced to grow up and live without parental protection.

In the epilogue to the book the author explains that the book is fiction that closely parallels her actual growing up years in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge domination. The poetry of Vaddey Ratner’s language is charming and offsets to some degree the pain of the story. People suffered greatly and died in great numbers form 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia. I finished the book with a sense of relief and appreciation of the arduous journey many people have had in that nation.

Bones That Float: A Story of Adopting Cambodia is not a Kindle book so as soon as I finished In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree, I picked up the hard copy Kari gave us and began reading. For two days I could only put it down to do chores and necessary work. Her non-fiction story follows her own journey from unsuccessful attempts to have a child with her husband, George, through their decision to adopt a boy from a Cambodian orphanage. They would slowly find they were adopting a very troubled nation as well.

Kari learned that many orphans in Cambodia are actually the child of a family or parent who feels ill-equipped to raise and feed the child. She learned her son might have living family in Cambodia. Would he want to know them one day? Would his sister end up in a brothel for the lack of opportunities now available to her younger brother living in Colorado? Kari reveals her inner thoughts throughout the book, which follows her journeys to Cambodia to find their son’s family. In the process she becomes friends with an endearing taxi driver, who helps them as they start a school in rural Cambodia.

Bones That Float is a braided story of Kari’s search for her son’s family, the hardships faced by friends from Cambodia before immigrating, and the challenges of starting a school in a nation where corruption is the norm. Some names were changed to protect people in Cambodia, but the story is true, compelling and important.

The story is shared in local schools in Fort Collins in a reading program under an appropriate version for young people entitled, Teacher Absent Often. Sales of the book help with support of the school in Cambodia through the nonprofit, Sustainable Schools International.

Happy Lucky’s Teahouse is a regular stop for us to meet friends and talk. It has an even more special feel with the knowledge of the journey behind the family and their work in Cambodia. Healing is a process that does not end in months or even years after genocide, but people who help with the healing and restoration are a treasure.

– Tim Merriman

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A Biography and a Memoir That Read Like Fiction

I have preferred fiction over biographical books all my life. I find it very difficult to pick up a biography or autobiography and stay in it, but there are exceptions. Some biographers and autobiographers tell a true story so well that it pulls you along like a great novel.

My favorite biography in recent years is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the bestselling author of Seabiscuit. The book description on Amazon describes Unbroken as . . .a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit. It is the story of Louis Zamperini, who had been a juvenile delinquent with a defiant nature. He directed that defiance into becoming a world-class runner, competing at the Berlin Olympics and coming close to breaking the four-minute mile.

Zamperini became an airman in World War II. His plane was shot down over the Pacific. Captured by the Japanese, he endured incredible conditions as a POW to survive beyond the war. Hillenbrand’s poignant retelling of his story pulled me along without hesitation. Her skill with this genre of books is extraordinary. It has 4.5 stars average on Amazon with 2,997 reviews. Almost all who read it find it amazing.

Like others who read Kindle books, I cruise the FREE lists each week for great reads and new authors. I use the Amazon review average scores and the written reviews to evaluate a book before downloading it. I noticed that many who buy our book, The Leopard Tree, also buy Jeri Parker’s A Thousand Voices. It has 24 reviews of a 5.0 star average, a testament to its appeal to readers.

This is the compelling story of a teacher who befriends a deaf boy who is both difficult and amazingly bright. The story is more powerful when you realize that it is Ms. Parker’s memoir. She became a second mother to this challenging child, finding that she received as much as she gave in being with him. She writes, . . . when his mother had troubles, I more or less stole him. Or that’s what I always said. He was the son I always wanted, and I did get him for a while.

 

Oddly the book begins with the death of Carlos Louis Salazar, the deaf boy grown up. You meet him through Ms. Parker’s vivid memory and engaging narrative about their entangled lives, dating back to 1964. Her honesty about her feelings and the up and down journey with Carlos is captivating. Jeri Parker demonstrates her commitment to Carlos at every step of the way.

I still like fiction more than non-fiction, but both of these rank among the best books I have ever read. They are available as Kindle books and I think they are worth the investment of your time and money.

–      Tim Merriman

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