Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father―an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist―who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.
“Observation is a skill. Observation isn’t easy, and the right eyes can make me feel like a deer, while the wrong ones make me feel like a monster.”
This might sound odd, but I love literary fiction, psychological thrillers, and memoirs all for the same reason: they are thought-provoking. I love books that make you think.
HEART BERRIES, a memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot, is one such book. It’s painfully honest and shows a very authentic perspective of the human condition. It’s no coincidence that Emma Watson chose it for her Our Shared Shelf March selection, which I one hundred percent agree with.
“In white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution. I don’t even know that white people see transcendence the way we do. I’m not sure that their dichotomies apply to me.”
Mailhot is a Native woman, who checks herself into a psychiatric hospital as a last resort. She struggles with loss, insatiability, abandonment, past abuse, desperation, and mental illness. Her writing style is poetic, lyrical, and at times stream of consciousness. It’s written in short impressionistic essays so it took a few pages for me to get into a rhythm, but at some point you find you’re almost finished with the book and wonder where the time went.
I was swept up in Mailhot’s introspective, descriptive language and when it ended I wanted to learn more. It is really difficult for me to put into words how I feel about this book so I’ll sum it up like this: it’s beautiful, unapologetic, emotive, insightful, picturesque, and unveiled.
“Sometimes I know part of me is still a ghost, walking next to my mother, looking for something to make an offering to, holding her hand. Either this feeling means that part of me is dead, or that she’s alive, somewhere inside of me.”
My rating is 5 / 5 outstanding stars!
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