Saturday, March 14, 2009



In his memoir, ‘Jigsaw’, author Tim Ricker tells an emotional story about his tumultuous journey through life. He shares a reflective and personal account of a painful childhood in the 1950s and 60s followed by a life filled with intriguing events and people. While on his journey, Tim grows to be wiser and achieves a sense of peace.

In 1959, Tim’s journey begins when his family moves to Florida. For a nine year old, life becomes extremely difficult. An alcoholic and abusive father and an alcoholic mother have a profound effect on him that lasts for years. He faces such traumatic events as the death of his baby sister and his father’s severe physical abuse inflicted on his mother. Tim was forced to grow up quickly as he took on the role of his mother’s protector. At a very young age, Tim learns a valuable life lesson: “You deal with the hand life deals you.”

At age 14, Tim’s mother is badly hurt leaving him at the mercy of his father. One night while in a drunken rage, his father comes after him. He escapes and is eventually adopted by his Aunt and Uncle who live in Washington. On the bus ride to Washington, he has his first gay experience.

Tim tries to put the gay experience behind him and focus on living a traditional life. At 17 he marries, and at 19, he and his wife Debann have a child. He works hard to maintain a traditional family, but struggles internally with his true self. The marriage eventually ends, and his journey charts a new course to find his true identity.

Tim’s life story is that of a young boy who entered adulthood too soon. With no parental role models, readers will observe how Tim’s chaotic childhood affected his choices as an adult. With each experience and relationship he encounters, Tim is able to overcome his own demons and gain insight into his own sense of self. Whether it was Dennis, a partner for 17 years and eventual life friend, or Bob, who brought chaos and confusion into his life, Tim is able to process the experiences to better understand his own complexities. He shares a number of deeply personal experiences such as his suicide attempt and the pain he felt when his son rejected him. He comes to his own personal realizations:

“It was all about proving to me that I would never let fear and loneliness keep me captive or away from everything that life may bring my way.”

During Tim’s turbulent life, he lost many friends and family members. Throughout it all, he was able fit the pieces of his life together. Over the years, he acquired many valuable life lessons such as making every moment a precious memory, the importance of loving yourself before you can love another, and finding the courage to stand up for yourself in both your work and personal life.

The story is very detailed in its description of experiences that took place over a fifty year period. I would have liked to have seen more details about significant life experiences and less on details on his work life. His relationship with his son was an engaging part of the book. I would have liked to have read more about their intense interactions to get a better understanding of his son’s feelings.

With thoughtful writing that is sometimes witty and sometimes sentimental, ‘Jigsaw’ tells the story of a man, who is not just gay, but also a son, husband, father, lover, care taker, friend, and grandparent. It is a story that shows we are truly the sum of our parts. It is highly recommended to readers who enjoy compelling memoirs.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Days Like Floating Water: A Story of Modern China


When learning about China from the news media, we tend to only hear negative information about the Chinese Government and its practices. The bits of information we receive tend to be political in nature. We never learn about the life of Chinese citizens. In her book, ‘Days Like Floating Water,’ author Susan Edwards McKee tells a true story about her experience volunteering as an English instructor in rural China.

After years of an exciting military life, Susan and her husband Robert decided that retirement does not mean that life is no longer an adventure. In February 1999, they leave the comforts of their home in San Luis Obispo, California and go to China to volunteer at the Zheijiang Rural Teacher’s College. Susan and Robert’s initial reaction was that of culture shock. Unable to speak Mandarin and faced with unsanitary housing conditions and food that could possibly make them quite ill, they decide to put their uncertainties aside and become immersed in the culture As Susan states,

“I may be assigned to teach here in China, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn, maybe much more than I can teach.”

This realization became the foundation of Susan and Robert’s year and a half long exploration of the Chinese culture.

The story Susan shares is one of embracing a culture without reservation or judgment. As the students congregate at Susan and Robert’s apartment, they capture their hearts. A surprising revelation is the student’s adoption of English names. Readers will meet Jenny, a liaison to foreign volunteers. Jenny is an independent woman who knows how to get things done. Then there is Lucy, a shy but bright student who develops a passion for the keyboard. King Lake and Barbara are two young sweethearts who dream of a life filled with love and happiness. Readers will discover King Lake’s anxieties about being accepted by Barbara’s family. Readers will not only gain an insight into the customs of the Chinese people, but also their personal lives. The belief that education is the most important tool to success is such a major part of a young student’s life that it causes intense anxiety resulting in stomach aches and even cheating.

Throughout the story, many myths about the Chinese people are dispelled. Readers will learn of the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit and that equality does not exist in Communist China. Through emotional and uplifting experiences, Susan comes to her own personal realizations:

“I honor the human spirit when it rises above poverty and connects with others and with what’s most important in a life well lived”

The descriptions and attention to detail makes the reader feel as though they are traveling with Susan and Robert. As a bonus, readers will learn of the changes and growth of this little agricultural community when Susan and Robert return seven years later to attend Lucy’s wedding. Readers will also enjoy the many pictures of the people and places peppered throughout the book. As well, there are a number of Susan’s paintings at the end of the book highlighting personal memories of a time well spent in China.

‘Days Like Floating Water’ gives an in-depth and personal account of a community filled with remarkable individuals. It is highly recommended to readers who enjoy learning about other cultures and people.

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