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In this moving and unexpected book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history, and ours. Where I Was From, in Didion’s words, “represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, confusions as much about America as about California, misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely.” The book is a haunting narrative of how her own family moved west with the frontier from the birth of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in Virginia in 1766 to the death of her mother on the edge of the Pacific in 2001; of how the wagon-train stories of hardship and abandonment and endurance created a culture in which survival would seem the sole virtue.
In Where I Was From, Didion turns what John Leonard has called “her sonar ear, her radar eye” onto her own work, as well as that of such California writers as Frank Norris and Jack London and Henry George, to examine how the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement led to the California we know today—a state mortgaged first to the railroad, then to the aerospace industry, and overwhelmingly to the federal government, a dependent colony of those political and corporate owners who fly in for the annual encampment of the Bohemian Club. Here is the one writer we always want to read on California showing us the startling contradictions in its—and in America’s—core values.
Joan Didion’s unerring sense of America and its spirit, her acute interpretation of its institutions and literature, and her incisive questioning of the stories it tells itself make this fiercely intelligent book a provocative and important tour de force from one of our greatest writers.
“Compelling. . . . A love song to the place where her family has lived for generations, but a love song full of questions and doubts.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“An arresting amalgam of memoir and historical timeline. . . . Exquisitely crafted, as subtle as the slow waking from a pleasant dream.” —The Baltimore Sun
“One beautiful sentence follows another. . . . This is a book about history, about what we learn from genealogy and history books, novels and old newspapers, and how we square all that with what we see around us. . . . Didion has remained a clearheaded and original writer all her long life.” —Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
“Succinct and quite beautiful. . . . Its rewards are many. If anyone needs further confirmation that she is one of the finest essayists currently at work, this book will nail it.” —The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
“One of the most recognizable–and brilliant–literary styles to emerge in America during the past four decades. . . . [Didion is] a great American writer.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Didion has written a brave little book . . . a fine book that must be read with as much care it was written. . . . [Didion is] an implacably honest writer.” —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
“Valediction and elegy alike, Where I Was From is a storm-tossed book. Its history is dense . . . its prose sharp, direct and chiseled.” —The Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Eloquent, spare, and rendered without sentiment.” —Boston Globe
“[Didion is] a latter-day Walt Whitman, singing of America by singing of herself.” —Slate.com
“Joan Didion is a brilliant explicator of the American political and cultural consciousness.” —Rocky Mountain News
“Many of us have tried, and failed, to master [Didion’s] gift for the single ordinary deflating word, the word that spins an otherwise flat sentence through five degrees of irony. But her sentences could only be hers.” —Michael Gorra, Chicago Tribune
“[A] fascinating, informative, obscure—and yes, moving—little book.” —San Jose Mercury News
“A bracing mix of personal and public history.” —Benjamin Kunkel, Newsday
“Odd, elliptical and ultimately revealing. . . . Didion discovers the exact locus where geography and personal journey intersect, and has produced a work as compelling and enigmatic as its subjects.” —Time Out New York
“Where I Was From is a beautifully written and intensely personal tome. . . . One of the country’s most intelligent writers . . . Ms. Didion’s prose is like a razor cutting straight to the bone.” —New York Sun
“[Didion's] appraisal is cool, her eye is sharp, and her turn of phrase is wicked.” —Time
“How odd that bad news can be so much fun to read. Her essays are as sinewy as her novels, written in the same ice-pick/laser-beam prose.” —Harper’s