Thursday, October 31, 2019

The 10 best memoirs of the decade

Emily Temple is a senior editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, will be published by William Morrow in 2020.

Temple and the Literary Hub staff picked the ten best memoirs of the decade. One title on the list:
Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House (2019)

Before I picked it up, Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House was intriguing to me precisely because it blends memoir with so many other forms. In her review of the books, Angela Flournoy describes it as “part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life.”

The oral history component is drawn from Broom’s interviews with her mother and her 12 siblings about their lives in New Orleans East, an area of the city once vaunted as “a ‘new frontier,’ ripe for development,” which by the time Broom was coming of age there had been largely abandoned by the city. Her brothers and mother tell their stories of Katrina, “the Water,” which Broom experienced from New York, in one of the most wrenching sections of the book. The hurricane destroys the titular Yellow House and scatters the Broom family across the country. Broom herself lives for some months in Burundi before returning to New Orleans to work as a speechwriter for the mayor, then back to New York, then to New Orleans once more.

Broom is a master of sentences, but she also knows precisely when to hand over the floor. The result is a gorgeous pastiche of histories that is at once deeply personal and incredibly wide-ranging. Home—both the physical and the intangible sorts—are at the center of the story. The question of who gets to have a home in America, in the face of vast income inequality, institutional racism, and climate change, is ever-present. In his review, Dwight Garner predicts that The Yellow House “will come to be considered among the essential memoirs of this vexing decade.” I couldn’t agree more. –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue