Recommended Reading: Random Family

In Books, Nonfiction on February 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm

(A friend told me about this band a few weeks ago, and something about their slow, metally trudge has really caught my ear. This song in particular has really camped out in my brain. The Germans call it an Ohrwurm, or earworm. I hope it’s long enough to get you through this entry.)

Music aside, I wanted to tell you about a book that meant a lot to me last year. It was recommended to me by one of my favorite college professors, Don Aucoin, when I took his feature writing class my junior year. I read several books last year that I truly loved (Broom of the System, Tin Drum, Freedom), but Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx is the one that really moved me.

Random Family is a nonfiction narrative by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. She spent ten years deep in the ghetto of the Bronx observing most of the scenes that take place in the book; some historical scenes were stories told to her by the people she got to know when she was there, and others were supplemented with transcriptions from government wiretaps or public records. “There are no conflated events or composite characters in this book,” LeBlanc writes in the Author’s Note. “Only the names of some individuals have been changed, principally to afford the children a measure of privacy.”

This is truly remarkable because of the intensity and depth of the stories she tells. Decades of tragedy, perseverance, regret, hope, brutality, and love unfurl page by page as you follow the characters from childhood to sudden adulthood, from the sidewalk games of their youth to the shames encountered as they try to fight their way out of poverty. In the voices of the determined young mothers, I can hear my own iron-willed mom, struggling against seemingly unbeatable circumstances and pressing on despite crippling betrayals. In the strong-willed hopefulness of the young men, I see my father, stepping out on his own to follow his dreams and find his path, even if it means making sacrifices and mistakes along the way. And yet the lives of Jessica, Coco, Cesar, Mercedes, and the other members of this extensive “random family”  are so very different from my own. That their homes exist on same continent as mine, much less within the same country and in the most famous city of the world, continues to astound me.

Anyways, I don’t know why I decided to write about it. Guess I was just thinking about the book and it’s (very real) characters this afternoon and decided that if I’m going to write on this thing it might as well be something useful.

Would love to know if anyone gets around to reading it. And whether or not it makes you cry.


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