If there is one genre of book that’s surged in prominence in recent years, it’s the memoir. And yet it’s few and far between that those books are nearly as expansive, inclusive, and intriguing as LEAVES IN THE WIND (HOJAS AL VIENTO). Ricardo Suárez-Gärtner has told both his own and his family’s story in this anthology-style memoir, composed of brief vignettes, photographs, and artifacts. The arc of these stories is impressively digestible as such; this effect is only compounded by Suárez-Gärtner having written it both in English and Spanish. This is by design, of course, given that the author was born in Venezuela and got his education in Berkeley, California, but it’s an enjoyable addition that strengthens the theme as a whole.
A project of this scope could appear overwhelming to the casual reader, but it’s frankly inspiring to see all of the different layers that make up LEAVES IN THE WIND (HOJAS AL VIENTO). Suárez-Gärtner’s willingness to approach his ancestral story with an open mind is apparent throughout. It not only means traveling to Europe to learn more about his family’s background and historical context – it also means speaking of people with a potent combination of awe, interest, and love–all of it genuine. The honest care combined with a detached biographer’s eye makes each chapter go down easily, and sends the reader onto the next tale with a sense of curiosity as well as a very strong sense of place in space and time.
Each of the people featured in LEAVES IN THE WIND (HOJAS AL VIENTO) is presented as fully human, in all of their colors; the sociopolitical climates and tensions that surrounded them are recounted in detail, refreshingly free of bias but still infused with the very real distress that would have been present. The balance of interesting factoids and more personal elements is strikingly well-done, and it does a great deal to make a story of this nature compelling to outsiders. Beyond that, what’s perhaps the biggest draw of this book is the consistent thread of people who are faced with immense pain and struggle, and who choose to live their lives to the fullest anyway. It comes across as something of a redemptive work, actually – a wholehearted reclamation that speaks to what is important to Suárez-Gärtner’s family, and is important to humanity in general.
While some aspects of the formatting and aesthetics could stand to be improved to make for a smoother reading experience, and the narration jumps around a bit towards the book’s end, overall these points do not take away much from what is otherwise a smart, well-written, and creative book. LEAVES IN THE WIND (HOJAS AL VIENTO) is an excellent example of how to tell a family history in a way that is all-encompassing yet accessible, as well as noble and beautiful.
Ricardo Suárez-Gärtner’s LEAVES IN THE WIND (HOJAS AL VIENTO) is an intriguing, unique journey through the author’s lineage, using brief stories and two languages to concoct a timeline that is easy to follow while incorporating the beauty and color of several other cultures.
~Jennifer Weatherly for IndieReader