{Guest Post} Eleanor Stanford: The Gift of Distance

  • Thursday, April 11, 2013

História, História by Eleanor Stanford
Amazon.com: Kindle Edition

I was quite intrigued by this memoir because I too look back at myself of ten years ago and have really tender feelings towards my younger self. Sometimes I wish I could've given her some advice; other times I feel that I should let things be ... because how would've it have turned out? So please join me in welcoming Eleanor Stanford, author of História, História.

The Gift of Distance by Eleanor Stanford  

My book began on a hillside a mile above the Atlantic Ocean, four hundred miles off the coast of West Africa. It began with jottings in the spiral notebooks the Peace Corps gave me, about the taste of hominy and sour goat’s milk, the percussive beat of iron on a Fanta bottle’s ribs, the feel of my own body attenuating as I ate less and less, and sank deeper into anorexia.

When I returned from my two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Cape Verde Islands, I spent a year or two, off and on, shaping my writing into a book. I got an agent, and she sent it off, and I waited. And waited. I turned twenty-five, then twenty-six. I went to grad school, had a baby, moved to a different state.

Finally, fifteen years after I thought I’d finished the book, I found a publisher for it. The manuscript, which had been gathering dust for so long on my hard drive, was going to be published.

When I went back to look at it, I felt the raw energy of a young woman grappling with identity, with language and culture and her body and the relationships between men and women. I saw a twenty-two year old who was scared of her marriage dissolving, terrified of disappearing behind an eating disorder, trying to figure out how to speak Creole and wash clothes on a washboard and teach classes of forty ninth graders without textbooks.

But with fifteen years of distance, I had more compassion for that young woman, for her confusion and suffering. I saw that in my writing I could be as hard on the place and people around me as I’d been on myself during those years. In retrospect, it was easier to let things be what they were--to accept the stark, beautiful islands and my complicated, generous friends there without judgement, with a gentler, less bitter sense of humor.

It was also easy, fifteen years later, to discern the arc in the fragments of scenes and sketches. When I’d lived on that island, I could only see it close up: the tiny yellow flowers on the hillside, my friend Gustinha’s crooked teeth, the soft dust obscuring the road. Now, at last, I could see the long view as well--the contours of the peaks and valleys, the jagged coast, and just how small it really was, that island where I’d lived.

In a week, I rewrote the book, pulling it together into a story, stitching the fragments together into a narrative whole. Just as I had done, slowly and painfully, with my body, with my marriage, with my own imperfect, patchwork self.
Synopsis: Twenty-two and newly married, Eleanor Stanford and her husband join the Peace Corps and find themselves on the West African islands of Cape Verde. In this beautifully alien place, as she teaches her students and struggles to come to terms with the island's fascinating yet frustrating culture, Eleanor watches everything she knows about relationships get flipped upside-down and attempts to hide the eating disorder she's developed, which threatens both her marriage and her life. Part travelogue, part cultural documentary, História, História combines journalistic excellence with the gripping style of personal memoirs to bring you this lyrical, moving portrait of an enchanting, little-glimpsed geography. Fans of factually informative and emotionally moving nonfiction will be drawn towards this haunting meditation on love, fidelity and self-image. 

História, História by Eleanor Stanford
Amazon.com: Kindle Edition

Check out my Friday 56 & Book Beginnings post!

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