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True North: A Memoirby Jill Ker Conway
Synopses & Reviews
With all the openness to life, all the largeness of spirit, that made her girlhood memoir, The Road from Coorain, an acclaimed — and beloved — bestseller, Jill Ker Conway continues her story.
She was twenty-five when we left her, driven by a hunger to know and to understand, boarding a plane that would carry her far from her Australian homeland. As True North begins she lands, appropriately enough, in a hurricane, in New York. And is soon at Harvard, a graduate student in history experiencing both exhilaration and culture shock; discovering among friends of many backgrounds an easier sociability than she has ever known; delighting in classes that seem charged with energy, and in the perception that ideas were being taken seriously — yet still feeling like an extraterrestrial on the American planet. We see her joining with five other women to form a household that becomes an "almost magical," hilarious, and harmonious community — the community that functions as her family when she meets the Harvard professor and housemaster who will become her husband, John Conway, himself a historian, Canadian born and bred, decorated for heroism in World War II — the complex man whose mind and spirit complement her own.
We see them marrying and learning to live together — during a year at Oxford, in Rome, and as they settle into the new world of Canadian university life — happy with each other, while coping, not always well, with her classically obsessive thesis writing, her as-yet-unresolved conflict with her mother, his periodic bouts of depression, and her realization that even though John's integrity, courage, and devotion to humanistic learning have become the compass point — the true north — by which she steers, there will be times when she has to navigate alone. We witness the moment of her spiritual arrival on this continent and her discovery of her warrior self — fighting for equity in her own career and for other women.
This is how a most private woman found for herself a public persona that released in her a new creativity. How a passionate concern for the education of women opened the way to a new calling, and ultimately, as the memoir ends, to her decision to accept the presidency of Smith College. This is the true story, moving and enriching, of the author's own continuing education an education not only of the mind but of the heart and of the spirit.
"Like its predecessor, True North touches upon a wide range of experiences, including Conway's strained relationship with her possessive mother, her ambivalence about her national identity, her marriage to an eminently compatible, supportive older man prone to bouts of depression, and her increasing awareness of the gender discrimination practiced...by members of the educated elite.... Still, the focus of True North, covering the 15-year period between Conway's arrival in America as a graduate student in 1960, and her accepting the presidency of Smith, a women's college in Northampton, Mass., in 1975, is her life in academe, recounted with an appealing blend of enthusiasm and clear-eyed criticism." Merle Rubin, The Christian Science Monitor (Eastern edition)
"The product of a questing mind, informed by a postcolonial worldview uneasy with the colonial legacy, True North gives much food for thought." Kathleen Byrne, Quill & Quire
"Conway's life has been a fascinating, adventurous one. Yet the reader's sympathy may be tested by her frequent resort to benign ethnic stereotypes ('Gallic joie de vivre,' 'the wildly extravagant humor' of Jews, 'the Irishman's way with a story') as a substitute for the harder work of portraying individual characters." Kirkus Reviews
"Most of the time [Conway] gives enough detail so it would be possible to follow her path if one had her energy and intelligence (and, maybe, a little of her luck). The book is too brisk, though, to adequately do justice to Conway's thinking or her eye....In her academic and administrative work, and in the other books she's written for a general audience, Conway's done much good. The observation and instruction in True North are part of that accomplishment, but more, or more open, reflection and introspection would make the worlds she presents to readers more accessible." Madeline Marget, Commonweal
"Compelling...A fascinating life." --The Toronto Star
"Conway is a remarkable woman--spunky, intelligent." --The Globe and Mail
"A wonderful book...An immensely engaging storyteller." --Washington Post Book World
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jill Ker Conway was born in Hillston, New South Wales, Australia, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1958, and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1969. From 1964 to 1975 she taught at the University of Toronto and was Vice President there before serving for ten years as President of Smith College. Since 1985 she has been a visiting scholar and professor in M.I.T.'s Program in Science, Technology and Society, and she now lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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