Reviews for Private History of Awe

Booklist Reviews 2006 January #1
Sanders, a sage of the Midwest, uses autobiography as a vehicle for far-reaching reflections on nature and humankind. Here he considers awe, that "rapturous, fearful, bewildering emotion." Writing with the plainspoken precision and wholesomeness he's cherished for, Sanders revisits his boyhood, singling out moments of awe instigated by the glory of nature, his tempestuous father and steadfast mother, and painful awakenings to death, racism, and war (during the 1950s they lived within a heavily guarded bomb-making compound in Ohio). As Sanders comes of age, he struggles to reconcile his budding passion for science with his family's religious practice. Then in college, he drops physics, appalled by science's connections to the military and the Vietnam War. Interleaved among vivid memories are graceful present-day reports on the joy radiating from his baby granddaughter and the sorrows attendant on caring for his Alzheimer's--afflicted mother. Sanders' thoughtful reflections on the cycles of life, the flashpoints of awe, and our quest for meaning are quietly revelatory. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2005 December #1
A graceful memoir of a Midwestern life, with frequent leaps to stories about the author's granddaughter and mother, now suffering from Alzheimer's in a nursing home.Memoirist and essayist Sanders (English/Indiana Univ.; The Force of Spirit, 2000, etc.) has crafted here a fairly traditional but nonetheless emotional narrative of his own coming-of-age. With an initial grudging nod to "that notorious trickster, memory," the author tells about his Tennessee childhood, his Ohio boyhood and adolescence, his collegiate years at Brown, his graduate studies at Cambridge and the beginning of his teaching career in Indiana. We learn about the struggles of his alcoholic father and the frustrations of his mother. We learn about books the author read, his sexual awakening, his astonishing love affair with his wife, Ruth. They met at a summer high-school science camp, wrote passionately to each other for five years (their correspondence comprised thousands of letters), then married shortly before sailing to England. In Cambridge, he became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement; he writes affectingly about the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. He writes well, too, about suffering and disappointment and despair. His young wife had a lumpectomy in London (benign) and suffered a miscarriage the night before he had to defend his dissertation. His anti-war and other leftist sentiments threatened to estrange him from his family. Sanders writes candidly about how Christianity bore him along for a while, then left him. But at its core this is a love story. Sanders responds with awe to the forces of nature (his text begins and ends with a thunderstorm), and he believes that love is how humans connect to them. Permeating all is the author's love for the natural world, and, even more intimately, for his parents, his wife, his children, his granddaughter.An eloquent exploration of life and love by a writer with a most inquiring mind and capacious heart. Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 October #5

Sanders attempts to transform what is in many ways a typical baby boomer experience--adolescence in the shadow of the cold war, a struggle with faith in college, conscientious objection to the war in Vietnam--into something archetypal, and very nearly succeeds. Much of the book deals with Sanders's early life in "a family more afraid of shame than of silence," with undercurrents of tension between an alcoholic father and a moralizing mother, but he continually returns to the present, where his mother is going through the final stages of physical and mental decline just as his infant granddaughter begins to discover the world around her. Sanders, an accomplished novelist and essayist (The Force of Spirit ), is enamored of the "magical power" of words and occasionally succumbs to ponderousness ("lovers do not so much make love as they are remade by love"). But in the most moving passages--when he describes the revulsion he felt as a teenager witnessing a deer hunt, or marvels at his granddaughter's first steps--he floods the reader with the raw emotional power of his memories. His generational peers will find themselves nodding in silent recognition early and often. Agent, John Wright. (Feb.)

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