I just finished Catana Tully’s memoir Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity. This book makes for fascinating reading, in part because Tully’s story is so unique. She was a Guatemalan child of African origin adopted (sort of) by a German family living in Guatemala. Raised to be a socially polished European woman, Tully belatedly desires to learn more about her origins. The book not only chronicles her search, but how she comes to terms with the loss of her birthright.
What I learned from this book: While the various cultures that Tully inhabited piqued my interest, what I learned for my writing was most valuable. This memoir does something rare: although the first half of the book is engaging and an excellent read, the second half gets even stronger.
Why do I say that is rare? Most memoirs, even those by the greats (Tobias Wolff, for example), tend to weaken in structure in the latter portion of the books. It’s very hard to pull a memoir to a close, and so often they don’t seem tightly structured, except (oftentimes) by chronology. What Tully does is structure the book so well that the book increases in suspense in the latter half. I could not put the book down once I got into that part of the book.
That doesn’t happen by accident, but by carefully planning the interactions of the various scenes. I suspect that in the first half, she “set up” all the “threads” so well that after a certain point, the reader is prepared to just follow the protagonist as she learns more and more.
Note: I love to read memoirs with good structure because (and I’ve said this before) structure is the most difficult part of memoir writing.
On Monday I posted a review of this book on the blog my daughter and I write about adoption.
For more from Catana Tully, you can read her book blog here.