Book Review: The Tenth Island by Diana Marcum

I’m writing my own memoir so I’ve been reading memoirs. However I’m not necessarily restricting myself to memoirs about overcoming health obstacles or healing. Even though that is the topic of my own memoir (since it’s about recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury and coma). I have always liked to read people’s stories. No matter if they are similar to mine or dissimilar. I suppose it speaks to my overwhelming curiosity I have about everything and everyone. And I also have an overwhelming curiosity about everywhere. That’s where this month’s book comes in, Diana Marcum’s travel memoir “The Tenth Island: Finding Joy, Beauty, and Unexpected Love in the Azores.”

I must admit I knew nothing about the Azores. So when Marcum’s memoir came up in my recommendations on Amazon I had to wonder why something about the Azores? However, this was exactly my kind of book: a story about an independent female who finds strength within herself in unlikely circumstances. Kind of sounds like the the premise for my memoir! Marcum is a journalist for The LA Times, writing narrative pieces primarily about small town California. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for her coverage of the droughts in California. She happened upon going to the Azores by meeting a large population of Azore immigrants in rural California.

To me the true test of a good memoir is if it puts me in a time and place that I wouldn’t ordinarily be. “Tenth Island” does that. Would I ordinarily be on a archipelago in the mid-Atlantic about 850 miles West of Portugal? No. Am I glad I went there at least in my imagination? Yes.

One of my favorite chapters and stories is when she talks of her dog Murphy in the chapter entitled “The Cão Who Ate The Pão.” When she was in the Azores for the second time (she writes of visiting the Azores twice but the second time is more significant) she brought her endlessly hungry and over exuberant dog with her. She writes of the Azorean tradition of ordering fresh bread to be delivered regularly from a local bakery. Everyone in the neighborhood has the bread delivered and hung in a bag on their front door knob. One morning Murphy made it to the bread before anyone had pick there’s up. I can see my little pup Selby doing that!

To me it’s chapters like the Murphy and the bread chapter that are the mark of a good memoir. It’s a story that stays with you and lingers for quite a while in a very good way.

It’s books like these that remind me that my passport is expired and I need a new one. Pronto! And now I’ve added the Azores to my list of places to see.

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