It is often said that your past defines your present, but in Mimi Schwartz’s When History is Personal this idea is given a slightly different turn. Through her collection of essays Schwartz examines how your life influences how you perceive history and in some cases even your own memories. Through the course of the novel she discusses different moments in her life and breaks down her understanding of them and the events that surrounded them. This work provides a look into how a life is made and how your identity is crucial to shaping everything around you.
When History is Personal delves into a variety of topics ranging from light hearted family stories to brutal loses and tragedies. In her first section titled “Family Haunts,” Schwartz highlights stories from her childhood, including one that focuses on a beloved pet, “The Coronation of Bobby.” In this story she discusses how she remembers this dog once saving her from a snake while on her grandparent’s farm as well as a number of other events, including doing a mock coronation. As she has gotten older she realizes that there was no coronation at the time she so vividly remembers one happening that inspired her to crown Bobby. She also cannot remember when he died, though obviously he must have. Schwartz can see that aspects of her memory must be skewed or have been influenced in some way, but she cannot clearly define when these changes or alterations happened. “The Coronation of Bobby” acts as a way of examining how we form memories and how accurately we truly are at creating our own internal histories of ourselves.
There are also elements in which Schwartz focuses on the power of story itself and discusses how following her diagnosis with breast cancer she sought out what she considered to be success stories. She found hope in these positive tales of women being fully cured, but as time went on she realized that those stories were not the only ones to take strength from. Within her final section she exams love and close relationships and in “Lyrics and the Way We Love” she examines how music portrays love as well as how music impacted her relationship with her husband. Schwartz opens herself and her life up to be examined and used to compare to your own life in a way that will allow you to see how you have influenced your own history and the world around you. I found her blending of light and fun stories with deeper and more emotional elements to really balance the work and create something engaging and relatable.
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