Synopses & Reviews
Author of the widely acclaimed New York Times Notable Book The Gutenberg Elegies, distinguished critic and essayist Sven Birkerts explores in this brilliantly written memoir what it means to be an American with roots in a distant culture. The son of Latvian immigrants, Birkerts describes how his struggle to find his own path thrust him up against the myths of his origins-the turbulent lives of his grandparents, whose artistic ambitions played out against a backdrop of revolution and war-as well as the excesses of the 1960s counterculture. A moving saga of a writer's painful-and comic-coming-of-age, My Sky Blue Trades is an absorbing chronicle of the circuitous path Birkerts took to becoming one of America's foremost literary figures.
"Before he was a respected essayist and literary critic, Sven Birkerts was a boy who preferred to be called Pete, squirmed under the weight of his Latvian heritage, and longed to be average. Growing up in 1950"s suburban Detroit, Birkerts was obsessed with an ideal of American boyhood that contrasted painfully with his own weirdly European household, dominated equally by the ways of his grandparents and the moods of his volatile architect father. When the 1960"s arrived, Birkerts enthusiastically joined the ranks of the contrary. In college he skipped classes, smoked pot, and lent his personal anger to the public causes. Eventually (like his mother) he found both escape and salvation in books. The warts-and-all approach of this satisfying memoir is a mark of the author's honest curiosity. Even as Birkerts gradually understands more of his own story, he retains a sense of the self's foreignness: 'Odd,' he writes, 'how we make our way into our lives.'" Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"[Birkerts] has the kind of grace achieved only through the combination of hindsight and exceptional writing skill....Although the realm of early experience is overly trod terrain, Birkerts makes it fresh, compelling and well worth another trip." Publishers Weekly
"Keen, affecting, suspicious, evocative, subtly cool....A piece of hard work, dredged and sifted often to the dregs of misery but it registers and holds." Kirkus Reviews
"Birkerts excels at documenting the intensity of childhood impressions....But when Birkerts turns to self-portraiture, the lights dim." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"[S]plendidly crafted....[His] gifts are evident here, as Birkerts takes us on a journey at once deeply reflective of American culture and touchingly his own." Library Journal
About the Author
Sven Birkerts is the author of The Gutenberg Elegies, Readings, American Energies, and other books. He teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars and is the editor of the journal Agni.