Synopses & Reviews
An original and searching memoir from "one of America's finest essayists" (Phillip Lopate)
When Scott Russell Sanders was four, his father held him in his arms during a thunderstorm, and he felt awe--"the tingle of a power that surges through bone and rain and everything." He says, "The search for communion with this power has run like a bright thread through all my days." A Private History of Awe is an account of this search, told as a series of awe-inspiring episodes: his early memory of watching a fire with his father; his attraction to the solemn cadences of the Bible despite his frustration with Sunday-school religion; his discovery of books and the body; his mounting opposition to the Vietnam War and all forms of violence; his decision to leave behind the university life of Oxford and Harvard and return to Indiana, where three generations of his family have put down roots. In many ways, this is the story of a generation's passage through the 1960s--from innocence to experience, from euphoria to disillusionment. But Sanders has found a language that captures the transcendence of ordinary lives while never reducing them to formula. In his hands, the pattern of American boyhood that was made classic by writers from Mark Twain to Tobias Wolff is given a powerful new charge.
"Sanders attempts to transform what is in many ways a typical baby boomer experience adolescence in the shadow of the cold war, a struggle with faith in college, conscientious objection to the war in Vietnam into something archetypal, and very nearly succeeds. Much of the book deals with Sanders's early life in 'a family more afraid of shame than of silence,' with undercurrents of tension between an alcoholic father and a moralizing mother, but he continually returns to the present, where his mother is going through the final stages of physical and mental decline just as his infant granddaughter begins to discover the world around her. Sanders, an accomplished novelist and essayist (The Force of Spirit), is enamored of the 'magical power' of words and occasionally succumbs to ponderousness ('lovers do not so much make love as they are remade by love'). But in the most moving passages when he describes the revulsion he felt as a teenager witnessing a deer hunt, or marvels at his granddaughter's first steps he floods the reader with the raw emotional power of his memories. His generational peers will find themselves nodding in silent recognition early and often. Agent, John Wright. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Letter to Scott Russell Sanders, from Wendell Berry:
"I finished your book last night and I think it is splendid. Much in it is authentically beautiful, and it is beautifully and properly titled. It has gravity and pleasure and candor and gratitude and sorrow, all eloquent, and never a moment of ungenerosity. Every return of the theme of your love for Ruth put tears in my eyes. You matter so much to me that I have no idea what others will think of this book, but it is light and breath to me. Our poor country needs this book more than it knows, and I am anxious to find out how it will be received.
In many ways, this is the story of a generation's passage through the 1960s--from innocence to experience, from euphoria to disillusionment. The author chronicles his sense of awe which he finds in ordinary life.
About the Author
Scott Russell Sanders
has received the Lannan Literary Award, among other prizes. His many books of essays include Writing from the Center, Staying Put, The Force of Spirit, Secrets of the Universe
, and Hunting for Hope
. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.