Stories of Our Lives: Memory, History, Narrative

Stories of Our Lives: Memory, History, Narrative

Stories of Our Lives: Memory, History, Narrative

Stories of Our Lives: Memory, History, Narrative


In Stories of Our Lives Frank de Caro demonstrates the value of personal narratives in enlightening our lives and our world. We all live with legends, family sagas, and anecdotes that shape our selves and give meaning to our recollections. Featuring an array of colorful stories from de Caro's personal life and years of field research as a folklorist, the book is part memoir and part exploration of how the stories we tell, listen to, and learn play an integral role in shaping our sense of self. De Caro's narrative includes stories within the story: among them a near-mythic capture of his golden-haired grandmother by Plains Indians, a quintessential Italian rags-to-riches grandfather, and his own experiences growing up in culturally rich 1950s New York City, living in India amid the fading glories of a former princely state, conducting field research on Day of the Dead altars in Mexico, and coming home to a battered New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Stories of Our Lives shows that our lives are interesting, and that the stories we tell--however particular to our own circumstances or trivial they may seem to others--reveal something about ourselves, our societies, our cultures, and our larger human existence.


With individual stories, the statistics become people.

—Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I am… ambivalent about memoirs because of what I have learned about memory. Yet I
also realize that we are constantly constructing our memoirs, polishing and tweaking our
life stories, making order out of randomness every time we recount the events of the day

—Laura Lippman, “Shut Up, Memory”

This book is partly a memoir, but a memoir with a difference and a premise: that our life memory is informed by and greatly influenced by the oral stories that we tell or have told about our lives and the stories others have told us about their lives or the past or the nature of culture and the world. Such stories may coexist with more generalized memories and documentary sources, like letters and diaries, that help us to remember or reformulate our pasts. But certainly the stories we tell and listen to play an integral role in constructing our temporal selves. This premise may be selfevident—especially to folklorists, who are aware of the social importance of personal narratives, family saga, and communal legends—but seldom has it been demonstrated for individual lives.

This book, then, in part attempts to demonstrate and use some of my own life memories and stories as specimens to suggest the applicability of the premise. If all memoir is to some degree a self-indulgence, I further indulge myself as a folklorist by calling attention to the centrality of oral narration in my own life. Thus, in addition to providing the types of recollections found in all memoirs, this book includes my thoughts on the meanings of certain stories to my life and my sense of self. This admittedly makes for an odd sort of book.

This memoir relies heavily on bits and pieces of oral history and oral narratives, accounts of past events that were passed on to me, accounts that . . .

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