Where I Was From by Joan Didion

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Synopsis

In this moving and unexpected book, Joan Didion reassesses parts of her life, her work, her history, and ours. Where I Was From, in Didion’s words, “represents an exploration into my own confusions about the place and the way in which I grew up, confusions as much about America as about California, misapprehensions and misunderstandings so much a part of who I became that I can still to this day confront them only obliquely.” The book is a haunting narrative of how her own family moved west with the frontier from the birth of her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother in Virginia in 1766 to the death of her mother on the edge of the Pacific in 2001; of how the wagon-train stories of hardship and abandonment and endurance created a culture in which survival would seem the sole virtue.

In Where I Was From, Didion turns what John Leonard has called “her sonar ear, her radar eye” onto her own work, as well as that of such California writers as Frank Norris and Jack London and Henry George, to examine how the folly and recklessness in the very grain of the California settlement led to the California we know today–a state mortgaged first to the railroad, then to the aerospace industry, and overwhelmingly to the federal government, a dependent colony of those political and corporate owners who fly in for the annual encampment of the
Bohemian Club. Here is the one writer we always want to read on California showing us the startling contradictions in its–and in America’s–core values.

Joan Didion’s unerring sense of America and its spirit, her acute interpretation of its institutions and literature, and her incisive questioning of the stories it tells itself make this fiercely intelligent book a provocative and important tour de force from one of our greatest writers.





From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Joan Didion

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Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction.
 
Published January 26, 2011 by Vintage. 243 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Where I Was From

Kirkus Reviews

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Didion tells a number of stories that would not in lesser hands appear to be related: the arrival in California of her pioneer ancestors, the nasty 1993 episode involving randy adolescents who called themselves the “Spur Posse,” the fall of the aerospace industry in the 1990s, her 1948 eighth-gra...

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The Guardian

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Where I Was From by Joan Didion Flamingo £14.99, pp240 Having failed to locate the house in Oakland where she spent her childhood, Gertrude Stein famously observed: 'There is no there there.' Joan Didion has spent her life steadily moving eastwards, against the historical current of those epic wa...

Mar 21 2004 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

The Guardian

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Where I Was From: A Memoir by Joan Didion 240pp, Flamingo, £14.99 Memoir implies not only remembrance but self-disclosure.

Mar 20 2004 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

Publishers Weekly

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California comes under Didion's captivating, merciless microscope in her controversial look at the greed, acquisitiveness and wasteful extravagance lurking beneath the state's eternal sunshine.

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Book Reporter

The WHERE in the title of Joan Didion's seventh book of nonfiction, WHERE I WAS FROM, is California.

Jan 24 2011 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

AV Club

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Not all of the associative leaps in Where I Was From make sense, and some of Didion's rehashed work has been shoddily shoehorned into the text, but by keeping the book's purpose vague, the author gives herself permission to leave California behind and focus on her personal life.

Oct 21 2003 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

Entertainment Weekly

The where is California, the subject of Didion's vexation and fascination in 40 years' worth of writing.

Oct 03 2003 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

London Review of Books

It’s too close to something Didion might have picked up shopping (and she is crazy about clothes – you rarely know what her people look like, but she tells you all about the colours and the fabrics of their clothes, and the shops they came from), and it may be unduly suggestive of the strictly fe...

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The New York Review of Books

She encounters many especially distressing illustrations of the effects of “pauperization,” connecting the decline in California’s system of public education and the rise in the California prison system to the bleak ignorance and moral defectiveness exemplified by a tawdry but emblematic incident...

Dec 04 2003 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

New York Magazine

Joan Didion has checked out of California—but as her new memoir, Where I Was From, shows, she can never leave.

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News Review.

According to University of California, Davis, Senior Lecturer in English Jack Hicks, co-editor of the two-volume Literature of California, she’s often been writing in a California tradition of examining “the Golden Dream.” California, he says, “has always been this larger-than-life place, an El D...

Oct 16 2003 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

Lonely Planet

It is when she begins to explore specific stories to illustrate the rot at the heart of the California myth that the book comes to life.

Aug 12 2010 | Read Full Review of Where I Was From

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