Diversity, Edelweiss, Essays, Memoirs, Non-fiction, Other-cultures, Rising star, Women's

One Of The Most Anticipated #OwnVoices Nonfiction Books Of 2018 Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

It is a truly interesting experience, starting a book obliviously and only then realizing that the entirety of the publishing world is holding their breaths over its release. I requested Heart Berries ages ago, back when ARCs just surfaced, and tuned out of the circuits – only to remember it days before its publication date, and suddenly notice it everywhere. Which is great – cause I had the chance to read the book before I knew it had received so much praise. And it was a sobering, painful, and yet very important experience.

A book written by the indigenous, for the indigenous, Heart Berries 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 – it’s a book by the indigenous, and for the indigenous.

Your Relationship With This Book

If you’re white, or a man, this book might not be for you. But it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it. Or glimpse at another person’s reality. What’s more, it shouldn’t be for you. Like it or not, not all books are, or should be, written for the dominating majority. More than anything, this memoir enforces the fact that Native Americans (and First Nations people) need to write FOR THEMSELVES.

Heart Berries And Mental Health

Heart Berries is a monument to the hurt and the trauma that creates a mentally ill, suffering human being. 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. And that you were destined to come to that exact point – because society and order will not allow you to step a foot on a different path.

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. But you can try to believe it and grasp it. It might help learn how NOT to judge.

The Writing Is Art

The writing is very specific, raw, and yet beautiful. 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. The most interesting thing is that this is precisely the way Terese intended it to be – 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.

Heart Berries And The Native American Experience

If you’re looking for Native American wisdom or tales though, this is not what this book is about. 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. Perhaps it isn’t for us outsiders to understand how this meshes into Native American experiences, but it IS for us to accept. 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. The author mentions in the afterword too, that Native Americans are not relics – and they should stop trying to be who they’re forced by stereotypes to be. Let them write their own. Talk about the way they are and not be romanticized. That is what #ownvoices is all about.

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.

But Beware Of The Triggers

I must warn though – if you’ve had mental health problems in the past, you shouldn’t read this. You might get triggered very, very easily. 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!)

I thank Counterpoint Press for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. You can buy the book here at Book Depository and buying using this link supports the blog.

Have you read Heart Berries? Have you heard about it? What is some of the fiction or nonfiction literature you’ve read recently on the topic of any indigenous people and their experiences?