- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; New Ed edition (6 Sept. 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0007178875
- ISBN-13: 978-0007178872
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 366,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Where I Was From Paperback – 6 Sep 2004
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‘Her tough, beautiful, surgically precise prose is like nothing else I’ve ever read.’ Donna Tartt
‘She is a voice like no other in contemporary journalism.’ New York Times
‘Everything Didion writes has a land’s end edginess to it- a hyperattentiveeye on the dramas of the human condition. She writes as someone who has come through great shudders of the earth with a fundamental understanding that everything is subject to instantaneous and complete revision.’ Village Voice
‘She is the best chronicler California has.’ Vogue
‘Valediction and elegy alike, WHERE I WAS FROM is a storm-tossed book… Some writers see Californians as brilliant dreamers; others see failures, seeking a second start. Didion steps over both arguments and portrays the settlers of the state as shrewd entrepreneurs who would stop at nothing to turn dirt into dollars.’ Thomas Curwen, LA Times
About the Author
Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York. She is the author of five novels and six previous books of nonfiction: among them the great portraits of a decade in essays, Sentimental Journeys, The White Album, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem.
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Top Customer Reviews
Didion is clearly upset, like a variety of folks ranging in age from those of tender young years
to fossilized old fogies. They are hurt, bewildered, confused and made mad by change.
Arizons is flooded with refugees from California who want to go back to "the good old days"
-- they have utterly restored Prescott into a brand new Victorian town of the 1890s, and
they are now restoring the glory of the 1920s and 1930s in central Phoenix.
Like many of the elderly in mind, spirit and outlook, Didion regrets what is past. She doesn't
seem to understand that even if the future is different, it may be better. It's a story of her
family intertwined with modern California; both her ancestors and California are examples of
people constantly on the move in the search for something better -- even if they don't know
what that "something" might be, and even if they lose their heritage by moving.
Granted, Didion is the "intellectual" of the family. This book gave me the distinct impression
she'd be much happier, fulfilled and content if her ancestors had never left Alsace. Somehow
I doubt if she speaks German -- she wouldn't go back to Alsace unless she spoke German,
just to show the Frenchies that her past is more important than their conquests. So she did
the next best thing, and now lives in New York.
As a genuine New Yorker, which is not "her" city so she doesn't mind how it changes, she
offers a long recital of California happenings as seen by an original family and finds the state
much lacking since her departure. Any one of us, and I'm no exception, can return to our
"hometown" and find similar faults.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I can't think of any writer could do a better job than Didion at examining the weird admixture of passion and ambivalence that a native Californian may have for her state. I share it, and I admire this book especially because I know the terrain she dissects and lays bare. Her spare prose is a joy to read.
Anyway, I've had a lifetime spent drinking in the reality that is California. Reading Joan Didion's book has furthered and edified my knowledge, thoughts, and intuitions of this region. Reviewers who think she is upset or complaining are missing the point. Didion delves deep and helps people like me fill in some blanks to this fascinating human comedy.
No one could possibly achieve a personal portrait of California and include every iconic landmark or quirk. The film industry does not figure into this, LA's waterworks is not here. This is not Steinbeck's California, or Kerouac's or Dashiell Hammett's. It is, however, the landscape of Frank Norris's THE OCTOPUS, Jack London's VALLEY OF THE MOON, Faulkner's short story, "Golden Land," and Henry George's prescient essay, "What the Railroad Will Bring Us," to which Didion brings a close reading. The settling of California was made possible by the government and the sense of entitlement still resounds, as does the seemingly contradictory rugged pioneer individualism that claims the right to do as one pleases without strings attached. There is a pioneer code, "kill the rattlesnake," meaning to act in the interest of the greater good so others are not hurt, but there is also the overwhelming theme of development, the meaning of which Didion finds in the act of selling the family cemetery, along with the ranch. The lesson about development is also played out through the history of the Lakewood community tangent to LA, one that did not exist until the 1950s when it was created on former ranch land and became a whole town with a resident employer, the defense contractor McDonell Douglas, with whose fortunes, given and taken away by the federal government, it rose and emptied, spewing forth a notoriously violent, purposeless youth culture.
This book resonates deeply with me--as a child, I watched my animal-loving mother weep as she killed the rattlesnake, and the ranch and the winery were gone by the time I was born--but I have to think that this beautifully crafted book should be of value to all Americans because, as John Donne said, none of us is an island and what happens to one part can bear significance for the rest.
Where I Was From circumvents this dilemma. A native California has decided to tell us some of the secrets of the place: how it has shaped its people and how they in turn have shaped it. One of Didion's revelations is that California has enormous amounts of agricultural land and yet very few Californians call themselves "farmers". Golden State land owners treat their land purely as a commodity and do not have the visceral attachment to the land itself that is found in farmers in the rest of the country. You see how a lot of other things could cascade from this basic difference between Californians and everyone else.
Didion's long discourse on the Spur Posse of Lakewood at first seemed like a digression. But it soon became clear that she sees the nature of the Lakewood community to be a logical latter-day expression of the California socio-historical phenomenon. Lakewood was built only to provide a place for aerospace workers to live. It is housing, not a real community. It is planned rootlessness. And this has consequences.
By relating some of her own family history, Didion reminds us that all Californians are from somewhere else and so must have been more like the rest of us at some point. She suggests that it was the isolation of being on the far side of the Sierras in a land of enormous natural wealth that unmoored and, to some extent, unhinged Californians and their culture. I believe her.