A Memoir about what it’s like to move home

After Donald Trump came to power, Rebecca Mead couldn’t shake her annoying personality. For months, long New york The author felt that his life was “reduced to a small way of life.” When he realized that “darkness was beginning,” he began to think about his escape. Unlike other fantasizers of the time, as a British citizen he could turn a strange reality into reality. (Having a mobile phone business also helped.) So in the summer of 2018, Mead and her American husband, also an author, seized the opportunity to give their second child a an experience of England rather than a tourist.

Ever the writer, Mead jumped at the chance to get a book out of his move. In Home/Country: A Memoir of Departure and Returnhe juxtaposes historical research with autobiography to dissect familiar notions of return—and memoir.

It is no surprise that Mead was restless to those who read his experimental notes. My life in Middlemarch, an account of her love for George Eliot’s masterpiece. When he first encountered the novel as a 17-year-old living in the sleepy seaside town of Weymouth, England, he identified strongly with Dorothea Brooke, the provincial protagonist who “wanted a serious life. ” In his own search for a meaningful life, Mead moved to Manhattan at age 21, intending to get a journalism degree and return to England. But he fell for the city and stayed after graduation, progressing through a variety of jobs (editing assistant, inspector, New york witness). Every five years, he rereads it Middlemarch, He finds that “the questions that George Eliot posed in his martial arts make me last,” and wants to see new wisdom with old eyes. One question in his latest book: “What are the satisfactions of private interest, and how are they weighed in relation to and responsibilities to others?”

Reading Middlemarch it’s Mead’s way of looking into the crystal ball, a Home/Country served a similar function for me. I left Australia in 2012 as a serious 19-year-old, convinced there were more options out there (although my role model was more Rory Gilmore than Dorothea Brooke). After college in America, I was offered a job at The Atlantic and I ended up sitting… and sitting. I miss my family and my community, but my new life in America’s capital is fun and I can’t see more than what I will get in Sydney. Mead’s speech is played out in foreign language: Her status as a foreigner (meaning white, educated, English-speaking with a welcoming accent) is a dangerous asset, both professionally and personally. “Maybe this is what beauty looks like,” he wrote, paraphrasing the surprise I felt as a new transplant when Americans remembered me after brief meetings. . My feelings of love for DC have waned in the Trump years, but I have continued to associate the prospect of returning to Australia with failure – failure of will, failure of imagination. A question was asked: Would going home be like a fallback plan?

I found the right book. Mead’s memoir takes issue with the common sense of homecoming as one that chooses simplicity, comfort, and roots over travel, growth, and control. . What she struggles to explain to friends and strangers is that she was motivated less by the idea of ​​returning to her hometown than by the idea of ​​moving her 13-year-old son. His youthful desire to explore was nurtured by “not feeling at home in my home,” and he felt a duty to provoke and expand his son’s knowledge of the world. “The idea of ​​immigration is fundamental to my own nature and I am compelled to pass on my son’s legacy,” he wrote. Although New York City, he knows, “a young person can believe that there is no other place in the world that is important. I want to make my son against that provincialism.”

Mead braced himself for a challenge. When he returned to London, he was a stranger again. It is difficult to make a living in Britain after 30 years. A dip in the blissful pools of Hampstead Heath brings to mind evenings at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, reading books and eating at a Russian restaurant on the sidewalk. But he wants to prove himself. He turned swimming into “daily training,” continuing as the temperature dropped and his “clavicles and ribs were ready to break” when he was released. For him, the practice of this new work is a sign of a space “about this dry and protected land.”

Now “a deracinated New Yorker,” Mead finds himself for the first time “captured by a grandchild of the ancestors.” As he wanders around London, he sees his “dead bodies … walking these streets like figures in search of a story.” His own search was not easy because of the fixed nature of the root. Her husband comes from a wealthy family, Boston is associated with a “storehouse of history” dating back to the early 19th century. Mead has humble ancestors (barman, carpenter, painter) and only a few files: a pencil sketch, military files, small letters, a family tree, and a handful of birth, death, and marriage records.

Looking for a clearer sense of place, he turns to cultural practices. The result is a collage of London—with a focus on working life in the 20th century—where class is “less like a system and more like a miasma.” Walter Sickert’s pre-World War I portraits, for example, became “a snapshot of the life of my grandmother and her parents and siblings – so many sought after people in very small rooms, searched for money to finish.”

In a wild twist of luck, the man Mead hired to build the bookshelves in his new home was the stuff of stories. A 70-year-old ex-con carpenter, John reveals the great dangers and rewards of swerves in life – more than Mead’s writers can encompass. Until his release in 2018, John was Britain’s longest-serving prisoner, convicted of murder for shooting a bouncer after a fight in a pub in the 1970s. (he said the man cut his friend’s face with a broken bottle). He and Mead became friends. They share the experience of coming out of exile—a “liberation and justice” in his case—into a changed London, a city they haven’t seen since their 20s. .Although John’s Cockney accent marks him as part of the previous generation. Many young Londoners, Mead learns from his son, speak a language that combines the main characteristics of the languages ​​of his immigrant groups, and marks their “position in the style of London.” For Mead and John (who is currently compiling his own memoir), finding a place in flux means finding connections to the past.

John is a warning about how a bad decision can change a life, but it proves that stasis can be the worst outcome of all. While in prison, he won his experiences of freedom: He told stories fit-for-TV of his escape, climbing out of the window or hanging fencing with only a “rope made from netting he stole from prison”. to visit sick relatives (he was 64 when he served that last sentence; The Guard). Once, with the help of a private plane, he reached Spain. These interludes kept him from getting angry, he told Mead. But he paid them back, more than twice his previous sentence.

“We chose to move, because moving is a kind of freedom,” Mead wrote of his family’s decision to leave their comfortable neighborhood in Brooklyn. However, the move has its share of pitfalls. The clay in London is soft, he learns, so the city’s buildings are constantly shifting and stacking in lopsided shapes. A historic move That’s how marketers and observers describe the scene — a phrase, Mead writes, “that seems to sum up the time in the land I’ve left and the one that where I return, where the ground underfoot moves in different directions.” At a time when little seems to hold true, Mead’s book is a reminder of finding a place to return to, and a history to explore, which is beautiful. More than that, Home/Country gives me the hope of returning to Sydney one day as boldly and refreshingly as moving away.

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