Kendra Atleework grew up in Swall Meadows, in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, where annual rainfall averages five inches and in drought years measures closer to zero.
Kendra’s parents taught their children to thrive in this beautiful, if harsh, landscape, prone to wildfires, blizzards, and gale-force winds. Above all, they were raised on unconditional love and delight in the natural world. After Kendra’s mother died of a rare autoimmune disease when Kendra was just sixteen, however, her once beloved desert world came to feel empty and hostile, as climate change, drought, and wildfires intensified. The Atleework family fell apart, even as her father tried to keep them together. Kendra escaped to Los Angeles, and then Minneapolis, land of tall trees, full lakes, water everywhere you look.
But after years of avoiding her troubled hometown, she realized that she needed to come to terms with its past and present and had to go back. Miracle Country is a moving and unforgettable memoir of flight and return, emptiness and bounty, the realities of a harsh and changing climate, and the true meaning of home. For readers of Cheryl Strayed, Terry Tempest Williams, and Rebecca Solnit, this is a breathtaking debut by a remarkable writer.
The mention of the California desert conjures up an image of barren, dry, and arid land. What is it like to grow up on such a land? What is it that drives people to make it their home? Miracle Country is a debut memoir by author Kendra Atleework about a part of California that few people talk about.
Through a non-linear narrative, it follows the author’s journey as she and her family struggle with the loss of her mother. Escaping to Los Angeles and then Minneapolis (that is more bountiful) before making peace with the memories and returning back home.
The book is as much a memoir as it is about the history of California. The transformation of the desert into a city. The author shares how it was growing up in such harsh terrain. She also discusses wildfires, droughts, water wars, how nature can be unforgiving, the Paiute people and the injustice they suffered. The amount of research is evident.
The writing style is poetic and a good attempt by a debut author. She manages to combine the two narratives (family history and the history of California) effortlessly. Also, nature is more of a character in the book that I found interesting.
Every family cultivates a culture and lives by its own strangeness until the strangeness turns normal and the rest of the world looks a bit off.
What did not work for me was the pacing of the book. Due to the non-linear narrative, it does take a while to get into it. Since it is not a memoir in the truest sense, it would appeal more to history buffs than those who enjoy memoirs.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. It is moving and at times thought-provoking. If you enjoy reading memoirs with a generous dose of history, I would recommend you pick this book.A book that is as much a memoir as it is about the history of California. Blog Tour: Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework Book Review #MiracleCountry @algonquinbooks @KendraAtleework #BookReview Click To Tweet
About the author
Kendra Atleework was born and raised on the dry edge of California at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. She moved away for eleven years, mostly spent being homesick and researching the place she left behind. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. An essay that formed the basis for a chapter of Miracle Country was selected for The Best American Essays 2015. She is the recipient of the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award and the AWP Intro Journals Project Award.
I would like to thank Algonquin Books for providing a digital copy of the book for the blog tour. All opinions are my own.
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