Unknown history, invented history

An 11-year-old named Clara wants to learn more about her own past. Her mother isn’t forthcoming, so she visits an elderly man in town, under the guise of a school oral history project. South Carolina’s The State discusses Shadow Baby, a novel by Alison McGhee.

No, I haven’t read the book. Just saw a mention. I’m intrigued by a story where the process of doing oral history is part of the plot of a novel. A girl seeks answers to questions she has about her life. This resonates because it’s the reason I stumbled onto oral history in my family. To explore the question, “What happened?” But probably ultimately to explore the question, “Who am I?”

Here’s a bit about how Clara, the protagonist of Shadow Baby, describes it:

“We started out as interviewer and interviewee, but that changed,” Clara says. “There were things the old man and I knew about each other. After a while, I just visited him, compadre to compadre.

“I used to write down his life because much of the time he was in a dark lantern world. You could see it in his face. Somewhere, there might still be a person who wants to know about the old man’s life. Somewhere, someone who doesn’t know he is gone might still be looking for the old man.”

Alison McGhee, the author, says,

“As a writer, I am interested in that which cannot be seen or defined easily, with a straight-on gaze. I’m interested in the landscape of the human heart, its shadows and valleys, as reflected in the landscape of my roots.”

Allison McGhee’s website.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on November 01, 2005 in • General
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