Published by Temple University Press on June 26th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Discrimination & Race Relations, Personal Memoirs, Social Science
eARC provided by Copy provided by publisher via NetGalley
When Allan Johnson asked his dying father where he wanted his ashes to be placed, his father replied—without hesitation—that it made no difference to him at all. In his poignant, powerful memoir, Not from Here, Johnson embarks on an extraordinary, 2,000-mile journey across the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains to find the place where his father’s ashes belonged.
As a white man with Norwegian and English lineage, Johnson explores both America and the question of belonging to a place whose history holds the continuing legacy of the displacement, dispossession, and genocide of Native peoples.
More than a personal narrative, Not from Here illuminates the national silence around unresolved questions of accountability, race, and identity politics, and the dilemma of how to take responsibility for “a past we did not create.” Johnson’s story—about the past living in the present; of redemption, fate, family, tribe, and nation; of love and grief—raises profound questions about belonging, identity, and place.
Allan is on a quest to find the perfect place for his father’s ashes. His father told him it didn’t matter at all where his ashes went. To Allen, this just wasn’t good enough. He sets out to find the perfect place for his father’s ashes. Not From Here is his quest and reflections on where home might be for someone who traveled throughout his life.
I think this memoir was well written. Allan asks all the important questions in his journey. Is one place better then another? Who really owns the land we call home? It was so moving to see him try to understand the man born of immigrants on land that was not rightfully there’s to own. He goes off on a tangent about territory rights for Native Americans. He carries the guilt of his people, (whites in America), acquiring the land they called home in shameful ways. He goes through the history of the land and talks about it honestly. He tries to trace his father’s history, even going so far as to find the place he was born. It was an interesting journey for a man in his 60s. His desperation to figure out where to place his father’s ashes was palpable.
The problem with this memoir that will be felt by some readers, is that it moves very slowly. Life doesn’t happen too fast for someone in Allan shoes. Also, Allan rambles a bit. This isn’t a very long story and I finished it in two sittings. I felt like this will not appeal to everyone. I enjoyed most of this book. It was somewhat captivating to me, but my interest in family heritage and memoirs as a genre might have made me a bit bias. At some points I forgot the quest entirely and just went along with the journey. I think the last line really sums it up perfectly for me. I left this book feeling good about life, can’t really ask for more than that from a memoir.
About the Author
Allan G. Johnson is a nationally recognized writer, novelist, and public speaker who has worked on issues of privilege, oppression, and social inequality since receiving his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan in 1972. His nonfiction writing has been translated into several languages and excerpted in numerous anthologies. His novels, The First Thing and the Last and Nothing Left to Lose, come from a lifelong devotion to the art of writing coupled with a passionate commitment to understanding what it means to be a human being in a complex world full of unnecessary suffering. He shares his life with Nora L. Jamieson, a writer, healer, and gatherer of women. They live in the hills of northwestern Connecticut.