Friday, April 4, 2014

Review of Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

"Memory - a rebel force, a synaesthesia that storms the senses."

Frances Mayes, after her relocation to Tuscany, makes a impulsive move back to the south.  She grew up in Georgia and moved to North Carolina, but just the same, it triggered a wave of memories and emotions that she turned into this memoir of her childhood.

I connected with this book from multiple perspectives.  As someone who has been away from "home" for almost ten years and is returning home this summer (although not the south and not permanently), I definitely identified with how the feeling of a place can practically change you back into the person you were.  She captures the memories of the place triggered by certain trees, foods, even poems.  There are little details that I still see present in the very southern university where I work, such as Saturday classes to keep people out of trouble (which we had in the 1960s too!).

Another point of interest is seeing the south through the eyes of one of its children, after returning back to it.  I only know the south as an "outsider," and the mention of the Lane Cake "which no northerner could ever hope to emulate" made me want to run to the kitchen just to try.  Actually I wish this memoir came with recipes because of how much time is spent on the food memories!

Frances grew up in the south during a very interesting time, and she explores the changing landscape as it pertains to civil rights and birth control, but then also how it changed her life.  The coda in particular puts a lot of the south into perspective for me - what remains after all the change, and what remains in the author after leaving where she grew up and forging her own life. She even seemed to let go of trying to be who she wasn't, after all the "south always has enjoyed its eccentric people."

I received a copy of this book in print from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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