Heart Berries: A Memoir

Heart Berries: A Memoir

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 he...

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Title:Heart Berries: A Memoir
Author:Terese Marie Mailhot
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Edition Language:English

Heart Berries: A Memoir Reviews

  • Roxane

    Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here, is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small. She writes of motherhood, loss, absence, want, suffering, love, mental illness, betrayal, and survival. She does this without blinking but to say she is fearless would be to miss the point. These essays are too intimate, too absorbing, too beautifully written, but never ever too much. What Mailhot has accomplished

    Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here, is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small. She writes of motherhood, loss, absence, want, suffering, love, mental illness, betrayal, and survival. She does this without blinking but to say she is fearless would be to miss the point. These essays are too intimate, too absorbing, too beautifully written, but never ever too much. What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined, testament.

  • Janet

    Terese Marie Mailhot’s poetic, shapeshifting memoir

    , a series of tiny impressionistic essays of self-exploration into the very roots of trauma and madness, is as impossible to describe as it is to shake off. Mailhot is a woman at odds with herself and the world, and her book is in a soul-searching dialogue moving towards self-acceptance by means of the creation of a new definition of self. Reading her book is a dangerous activity, as I’m sure writing it was. A First Nations woman,

    Terese Marie Mailhot’s poetic, shapeshifting memoir

    , a series of tiny impressionistic essays of self-exploration into the very roots of trauma and madness, is as impossible to describe as it is to shake off. Mailhot is a woman at odds with herself and the world, and her book is in a soul-searching dialogue moving towards self-acceptance by means of the creation of a new definition of self. Reading her book is a dangerous activity, as I’m sure writing it was. A First Nations woman, the product of equal parts early trauma and cultural fortitude, she wrestles with her need, her greed, her hunger, her longing, desperate for love and yet trying the very people she loves the most—unapologetically, cutting to the bone with it all. I wanted to protect her as she interrogated her life and her actions, examining issues of grief and prolonged trauma, the naked craving for love and acceptance, a life disrupted by mental illness and the ongoing question of identity, the rage to matter—to herself most of all.

    Here’s just a bit from the very beginning: “The ugly truth is that I lost my son Isadore in court. The Hague convention. The ugly of that truth is that I gave birth to my second son as I was losing the first.”

    The matter of factness of the voice belies a blistering grief.

    “I packed my baby and left the reservation. I came from the mountains to an infinite and flat brown to bury my grief, I left because I was hungry.... I’m a river widened by misery, and the potency of my language is more than human. It’s an Indian condition to be proud of survival but reluctant to call it resilience. Resilience seems ascribed to a human condition in white people.”

    She is both self-defining and enraged at her self-definition. ‘I feel like a squaw. The type white people imagine: a feral thing with greasy hair and nimble fingers wanting. My earliest memories, and you , and the baby, have turned earth in my body. I don’t know what I am anymore.

    You have made me feel sick of myself.”

    Her specificity eludes blame, not for an unwillingness to take responsibility but because of the sheer vividness of the description and the acceptance of pain as part of life, foundational.

    Although the language is very simple and straightforward, the mind behind them is anything but. The juxtaposition of exceptional intelligence and intense wounded need is as compelling to read as it was/is to live, and the resulting images and simple statements provides a resonant poetry, the impressionistic treatment of time and place reveals layers, circling back as memory does.

    It is a tiny book to hold such intensity—there were times I could only read a few pages at a time before needing to let what I’d read sink in. It reminded me most of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women in its depiction of messy lives that can’t be packaged and judged.

    Mailhot questions everything, and gives frank admission to the jaggedness of her nature, the passion and the yearning, the ugliness and the beauty and the desperate need, her complex and at times contradictory feelings about herself as a contemporary Native American woman and writer--pride and veneration warring with culturally induced shame and a rage against performance and trying to find an authentic way to be.

    For all its intensity, it is a quiet book, intimate as a confessional. The paragraphs are short, the sentences short and modulated. There is no overstatement. It’s this contradiction that makes the book so memorable. It’s as if the writer and the broken woman are working their way towards one another in front of your eyes.

    I didn’t feel ‘done’ when I was finished—it dared me to come back and see whether my initial reactions shifted in a second reading, a third, maybe more.

    will hit the bookstores in February 2018.

  • Hannah

    I don’t think I have the words. I have been trying and failing to write a proper review for days. This book has rendered me speechless, so this will be a super short review.

    Terese Mailhot packs an unbelievable punch into a book this short. I could not stop reading it: her language is hypnotic, her turn of phrase impressive, her emotional rawness painful. This book does not follow conventions, Terese Mailhot tells her story the way she wants to and needs to. She is unapologetically herself. She b

    I don’t think I have the words. I have been trying and failing to write a proper review for days. This book has rendered me speechless, so this will be a super short review.

    Terese Mailhot packs an unbelievable punch into a book this short. I could not stop reading it: her language is hypnotic, her turn of phrase impressive, her emotional rawness painful. This book does not follow conventions, Terese Mailhot tells her story the way she wants to and needs to. She is unapologetically herself. She bares her soul and hides it at the same time. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

    I have been reading and loving many memoirs the last few years, but this is definitely one of my favourites. I cannot recommend this enough.

    First sentences: “My story was maltreated. The words were too strong and ugly to speak. I tried to tell someone my story, but he thought it was a hustle.”

    You can find this review and other thoughts on books

  • Kathleen

    My review from the Chicago Tribune:

    Sherman Alexie’s introduction to Terese Marie Mailhot’s debut memoir, “Heart Berries,” is incandescent with glowing praise, all of it deserved. “I was aware,” he writes, “within maybe three sentences that I was in the presence of a generational talent.” If that weren’t enough, in his blurb, he calls the book — centered on Mailhot’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia and later as a

    My review from the Chicago Tribune:

    Sherman Alexie’s introduction to Terese Marie Mailhot’s debut memoir, “Heart Berries,” is incandescent with glowing praise, all of it deserved. “I was aware,” he writes, “within maybe three sentences that I was in the presence of a generational talent.” If that weren’t enough, in his blurb, he calls the book — centered on Mailhot’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in British Columbia and later as a writer — “an Iliad for the indigenous,” invoking Homer’s classic saga.

    Although this slim and devastatingly calibrated memoir which features brief, impressionistic and carefully modulated essays tops out at 160 pages, “Heart Berries” truly does provoke the reader to reconsider what it means to be epic. For an epic is traditionally defined as a long narrative poem in an elevated style, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of a heroic figure or the history of a nation.

    Here, in her fragmentary and interconnected narratives of family love and trauma, neglect and healing, mental illness and recovery, Mailhot offers her own quest for autonomy and self-determination in a milieu in which “Indian girls can be forgotten so well they forget themselves.” In blunt yet lyrical prose, she depicts struggles and stories — of herself, her mother, her father and her grandmother — that are at once singular and sovereign, yet also representative and collective, portraying the travails and quotidian heroism required to be “a woman wielding narrative now,” particularly in a world where “no one wants to know why Indian women leave or where they go.”

    The book opens with the tone-setting “Indian Condition.” Without apology, arrogance or sentimentality, Mailhot divulges key features of her autobiography, including her teenage marriage and decision to leave her reservation. “I left my home because welfare was making me choose between my baby’s formula or oatmeal for myself,” she writes, admitting, “The ugly truth is that I lost my son Isadore in court. … The ugly of that truth is that I gave birth to my second son as I was losing my first. My court date and my delivery date aligned. In the hospital, they told me that my first son would go with his father.”

    The collection’s epigraph comes from Maggie Nelson’s genre-bending book “Bluets,” and that choice is apt. Not unlike Nelson, Mailhot chops and loops her narrative threads, pausing to rest on aphoristic truths and rhetorical questions. In the middle of the epistolary “Indian Sick” — set inside the hospital where she has committed herself and directed at “Casey,” her white fiction professor, erstwhile lover and eventual father of her third son — she stops and states, “If transgressions were all bad, people wouldn’t do them. Do you consider me a transgression?”

    Sharp and scorching, her approach walks the knife’s edge between accessibility and experimentation, rendering in exacting detail what it’s like to be “ill and alone and intelligent,” trying to make a life as an artist and a single mother with post-traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder and bipolar disorder.

    It’s exciting to think that a person might be able to write their way out of seemingly insurmountable personal, cultural and historical trauma. It’s even more exciting to actually watch someone appear, at least partly, to do so. Even as her book resists the oversimplified arc of pain and suffering followed by redemption and happiness, the bittersweet progress that Mailhot makes by the end feels hard-won, precarious but hopeful. “I become an editor. They pay me for my work,” she writes. “I became a fellow. Words I never knew to be — I am.”

    The afterword takes the form of an unsparingly frank Q&A with Mailhot, conducted by the Inupiaq poet Joan Naviyuk Kane. Replying to Kane’s question about her assertion that “indigenous identity is fixed in grief,” Mailhot says, “I don’t feel liberated from the governing presence of tragedy. The way in which people frame our work, and the way our work exists, or is canonized — we are not liberated from injustice; we’re anchored to it.” And that’s an excellent point: No amount of literature can remedy or reverse the colossal injustices perpetrated against indigenous people by white individuals and institutions. Nevertheless, this unconventional epic should be part of the canon.

  • Evelina | AvalinahsBooks

    A book written

    is a raw, heart-breaking and sobering memoir of what it means to grow up as a poor, abused, robbed of her own culture native American woman who suffers from depression. This is like no other memoir of the Native American (or First Nations) Experience, for the simple reason that it won't cater to your white-folks needs of painting indigenous culture with frills and sparkles, New Age and spiritual. The 21st century Native Expe

    A book written

    is a raw, heart-breaking and sobering memoir of what it means to grow up as a poor, abused, robbed of her own culture native American woman who suffers from depression. This is like no other memoir of the Native American (or First Nations) Experience, for the simple reason that it won't cater to your white-folks needs of painting indigenous culture with frills and sparkles, New Age and spiritual. The 21st century Native Experience is much different - and it is told the way it is. This is a story for you, if you want to hear it. But if you're not indigenous yourself, it will be more like peeking through a keyhole than watching it enfold in front of your eyes. And that's the way it should be. Because, I repeat -

    But it doesn't mean you can't learn from it. Or glimpse at another person's reality.

    Like it or not, not all books are, or should be, written for the dominating majority.

    Having really dysfunctional parents, and yet loving them - trying to remember them well, despite knowing society remembers them ill, and your own logic does as well, but not your emotions. Figuring out why you are where you are, and what brought you there.

    If you want to find out how a depressed, even a manically depressed person feels, you'll find it here. Although, chances are, if you have never experienced anything of the like, you will not comprehend it.

    It took me about 20% of the book to get used to it, but once I did, it told me the stories in pictures, in scenes. It truly is the only way to write about manic depression.

    - if not for the afterword, I would have thought this is 'just her being her'. But no - it's intended, and it's true art. The very contrast between the book and the afterword is what gives you the shock and understanding.

    The book is more about being an unloved, depressed woman who suffers from PTSD. But - if you know where to look for it, you will understand that none of this would have even happened, had Terese not been Salish and lived on 'the rez'. Her parents would have not been emotionally (and financially) damaged, and she might have had a different childhood.

    This book isn't The Indian Experience. It's more like What You Come Away With After The Indian Experience. Or if you're Born Into The Indian Experience. (I use "Indian" here only because Sherman Alexie has used this in the preface to describe the phenomenon!) So if you're looking for tradition and heritage, you won't find it. History though - you will find history here. And lots of reality. Brutal reality that you should not cover your eyes from.

    I can't believe how much strength it must have taken to write this book for Terese. To open herself up so much. It's pretty unbelievable, and incredibly worthy of respect.

    Depressive thoughts, experienced and suicide attempts are written in great detail, and if you are happy yet fragile, do not try to be a hero and read this. Anyone with a fragile mental state should think about what they're reading, and I know what I'm saying from experience, sadly. So just take my word on it.

    Also: if I am using names/indigenous terms wrong, please forgive me - I am from Europe and I've never even been anywhere outside of it. So anything terms related is purely because it's out of my realm (and feel free to suggest corrections)

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  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This memoir is unnerving from the very beginning. Rather than going back in time or providing some background, it starts with a letter to a boyfriend from a mental treatment center, full of emotions. The reader has to distill what has happened through the wall of pain. It is not easy to do. The author steps back from there and starts looking at memories of her childhood, which are also largely trauma narratives.

    I actually feel like I gained the most understanding about what the author was trying

    This memoir is unnerving from the very beginning. Rather than going back in time or providing some background, it starts with a letter to a boyfriend from a mental treatment center, full of emotions. The reader has to distill what has happened through the wall of pain. It is not easy to do. The author steps back from there and starts looking at memories of her childhood, which are also largely trauma narratives.

    I actually feel like I gained the most understanding about what the author was trying to do from the FAQ at the end, and it redeemed some of it for me. A frustration that men think women's trauma narratives are "all the same," and she pointed out, this is only because the same things happen to women, repeatedly. By refusing to write about another subject, she claims her history. She discusses the indigenous narrative and what has been expected from them previously, and how she wants to move from using them as a way to examine history to a lens through which the present can be examined.

    Very difficult subjects are explored - sexual abuse, abortion, cutting, suicide, etc.

    There is some beautiful writing here, and that is why I am giving it four stars instead of three.

    One example:

    "With you, things don't feel right sometimes. I believe you obstruct my healing. What I notice with you is that I look outside whenever I am close to a window, and I wonder how many women feel that way. I feel things I would rather feel alone."

  • Emily May

    It took me a while to settle into the rhythm of Mailhot's writing in

    . It’s very poetic, dreamy and beautiful, though often fragmented and edging towards stream-of-consciousness in parts. It requires some patience and close attention - for, though short, this is not the easiest of reads - but it really does pay off.

    is a Native American woman's memoir written in short, hard-hitting essays. I'm not

    It took me a while to settle into the rhythm of Mailhot's writing in

    . It’s very poetic, dreamy and beautiful, though often fragmented and edging towards stream-of-consciousness in parts. It requires some patience and close attention - for, though short, this is not the easiest of reads - but it really does pay off.

    is a Native American woman's memoir written in short, hard-hitting essays. I'm not surprised it received praise from Roxane Gay because the style reminded me quite a bit of Gay's

    (not quite as polished, but I would watch this space).

    With stunning, introspective writing, Mailhot makes the most intimate of confessions. It's one seriously brave memoir, stripping back layer after layer and exposing all the author's pain and struggles underneath - as a woman, as a Native woman, as a survivor of abuse, as someone who has dealt with manic depression, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder and self-harm.

    Heavy with metaphor and personal meditations, Mailhot's story is unveiled. We learn about her affair with a professor, a teen marriage that fell apart and lost her custody of her first son, and her time in a psychiatric hospital. Throughout, she makes observations on human nature - on men, on Native Americans, on white people - that are sometimes darkly comic and often sad.

    I didn't love every part of the book. Sometimes the stream-of-consciousness wandered too much for my tastes, and I was relieved when we returned to a more coherent narrative. I didn't always follow the metaphors being used, even though I read them several times and tried to envision what the author wanted to communicate. But that's okay. There were so many powerful moments and quotable sentences that they vastly outnumbered the parts I had issues with.

    There's just so much pain in this book. So much honesty and humanity and abandon. Mailhot has created something special here; I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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  • Debbie

    Mailhot is an indigenous woman with a traumatic past, and her heart-wrenching, raw story starts out as cool poetry. I felt like she was sharing her soul. Her jazz was getting me all jazzed. The voice in my head was screaming: She’s brilliant! Such intense language! Will you just look at the way she can so beauteously describe her off-kilter reality?! Wow, such a unique viewpoint! I’ve never read anything like it!

    Mailhot is an indigenous woman with a traumatic past, and her heart-wrenching, raw story starts out as cool poetry. I felt like she was sharing her soul. Her jazz was getting me all jazzed. The voice in my head was screaming: She’s brilliant! Such intense language! Will you just look at the way she can so beauteously describe her off-kilter reality?! Wow, such a unique viewpoint! I’ve never read anything like it!

    I scribbled notes frantically, feeling like she was trying to turn me into a poet. Upside down, inside out, somersaults in the soul. Language standing on its head! Legs like scissors in the sky. Breathe in, breathe out. Tear apart, cling close. Yes, she had me all ga-ga. This was 5 stars all the way, baby.

    I think I know where she lost me. After the initial poetry, she went more into straight narrative. I liked that too, liked the feel of a concrete story after the dreamy beginning. It wasn’t linear, but that didn’t bother me. She was giving the facts of her life, infused with emotion. I admired her willingness to share her difficult story. Her struggles with mental illness and abuse were well-told, and I could feel her pain. For a while. Because then it turned into stream-of-conscious ramblings, which seemed disjointed as she jumbled up time periods and events. I didn’t even mind that, for a while. But this is where she lost me—suddenly, her language seemed stilted and stoic, devoid of emotion. She also spent time explaining her culture. As soon as I felt like I was in class, I started losing interest. Reading her story became tedious. It’s bizarre to me that I thought she did show her emotions, and then I thought she didn’t. I don’t get it. It’s weird that mid-stream, I can change how I look at a book.

    Just to see if I could recreate the magic, I went back and reread small paragraphs, and as stand-alones, they were beauts. Little disconnected pieces of magic. But if I read the entire book again, I’m pretty sure the big magic would not return. It was like I was hypnotized at the beginning and I was in, 100 percent. But once the spell was broken, I couldn’t go back to the good place. The good place didn’t look so good any more. Now I think of the beginning part as sort of a self-conscious creative-writing-class exercise. Mailhot knows how to write, we know that. I just think she concentrated on creating perfect and beauteous prose-poetry instead of writing about her feelings. Her emotions got buried in her cool sentences. The book indeed lost its magic as a memoir, but I can swoon, if I let myself, over her many wowsy sentences.

    Lidia Yuknavitch endorsed this book. She’s the author of one of my favorite memoirs,

    . Now there’s where stream-of-consciousness worked. Poetry galore, yet emotions spilling out everywhere. So that’s what I was expecting in this book. Plus I wanted to be in the in-crowd of gushers, of course.

    On a lighter note (though it is a little traumatic for me, I must admit), I lost my innocence about ladybugs. A total bummer!!! All my life, I’ve happily thought that ladybugs were the sweetest little things. It was okay to let the beautiful orange bugs with black dots saunter across my palm, climb cutely up my fingers. We treated those little beings with the utmost respect. Parents and friends taught me from an early age that ladybugs were not like other mean, annoying, and dangerous bugs. Ladybugs were chill. They were harmless. They were charming. Well, guess what? Ladybugs BITE! Mailhot was raised in a house that was infested with ladybugs and these guys repeatedly BIT her! She is still traumatized by them. Of course, reading this sent me straight to Google, where I read that, yes, indeed, ladybugs bite. Oh god, it’s like discovering that Santa Claus doesn’t exist! I will never think of ladybugs as cute little fellas again!!! Ignorance was indeed bliss.

    The way Mailhot interprets and describes her world is unique, and it completely seduced me. But then she lost me. It turned into a disjointed dreamy thing. Even so, I admire her for living through hell and having the strength to write about it. And I liked getting a peek into her culture. But it doesn’t seem like anyone would describe their life in the way she did—she talks symbols and myths and adds a little social commentary. I know many people are okay with including this stuff, but that’s not what I want to see in a memoir. Perhaps she was intellectualizing her story, creating distance, in order to handle her pain. She obviously has this gigantic mind and a tremendous ease with poetic language. Read other reviews, please. I’m the outlier on this one.

  • Chantelle Dixon

    Oh man. THIS BOOK. The writing is poetic and stream-of-conscious-like, which takes it to the next level but also is its downfall. You have to read s.l.o.w.l.y. to really appreciate the style, and she has these incredible one-liners that will just ZING you. And the guts of the story itself were beautiful and searing and terrible. Mailhot is a passionate, emotional narrator. Those are all good, incredible things.

    But it just didn't come together. It rambled and wound in and around itself, and meand

    Oh man. THIS BOOK. The writing is poetic and stream-of-conscious-like, which takes it to the next level but also is its downfall. You have to read s.l.o.w.l.y. to really appreciate the style, and she has these incredible one-liners that will just ZING you. And the guts of the story itself were beautiful and searing and terrible. Mailhot is a passionate, emotional narrator. Those are all good, incredible things.

    But it just didn't come together. It rambled and wound in and around itself, and meandered into the past and back to the present five times in the space of one page, and then did that over and over again. It felt unedited -- like she had sat down and spilled everything in her that was raw and hurting, and this is the result. So it is a beautiful book -- but not one that's close to being polished. The beginning in particular was difficult. I would get pulled in and then her rambling would pull me right out again. My lasting impression of this book is: "A woman shatters herself for a guy over and over and over again."

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