You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir

National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) is one of the most prominent literary voices of the Native American community. And You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, his powerful, if unconventional, memoir of life growing up on an Indian reservation, is another important work from the author. Seamlessly blending prose and poetry, Alexie captures with unsparing clarity how the harsh reality of his early life both scarred him and shaped his way through the world.

Alexie grew up on a Spokane Indian reservation in rural Eastern Washington. Born hydrocephalic, he underwent surgery at five months to relieve pressure on his brain, and experienced the symptoms of bipolar disorder (undiagnosed until 2010) for most of his 50 years. At the heart of Alexie's story is his relationship with his mother, Lillian, a "wildly intelligent, arrogant, opinionated, intimidating" woman who, alone, was an "entire tribe of contradictions." He describes her as an "undiagnosed bipolar grandiose fabulist," and it's fair to conclude that Alexie--who characterizes himself as an unreliable narrator with an excellent memory--inherited at least some of his prodigious storytelling talent from her.

That talent is vivid in a memoir that's blunt, profane at times, but never lacking in insight. It swings from pathos to humor, the episodic chapters of prose spiced by poems with titles like "How to Be an Atheist at a Spokane Indian Christian Funeral." Readers looking for a memoir that expertly entwines regret for the damage inflicted by one's heritage with pride in that same culture will find what they need in You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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