The Tribal Knot: A Family Saga of Love, Violence, and Survival

The Tribal Knot: A Family Saga of Love, Violence, and Survival

The Tribal Knot: A Family Saga of Love, Violence, and Survival

The Tribal Knot: A Family Saga of Love, Violence, and Survival

Synopsis

Are we responsible for, and to, those forces that have formed us--our families, friends, and communities? Where do we leave off and others begin? In The Tribal Knot, Rebecca McClanahan looks for answers in the history of her family. Poring over letters, artifacts, and documents that span more than a century, she discovers a tribe of hardscrabble Midwest farmers, hunters, trappers, and laborers struggling to hold tight to the ties that bind them, through poverty, war, political upheavals, illness and accident, filicide and suicide, economic depressions, personal crises, and global disasters. Like the practitioners of Victorian "hair art" who wove strands of family members' hair into a single design, McClanahan braids her ancestors' stories into a single intimate narrative of her search to understand herself and her place in the family's complex past.

Excerpt

To read another’s diary is to enter a private chamber. When the diarist is a sixteen-year-old girl, the trespass takes on another dimension. and when that sixteen-year-old girl is a long-dead aunt, the world flips on its axis. in the life we lived together, Bessie was seventy years my senior—always, and only, it seemed to me, old. My life stretched before me; hers, I supposed, was already gone. in the diary life we now share, she is nearly young enough to be my own great-niece. Even more disturbing is the time-warp quality of our encounter. Though her words toss me one hundred and ten years into the past, she abides in the pulsing, present-tense now. Sometimes, in the middle of an entry, she disappears for a few hours to attend to ironing or churning, or to answer her younger sister’s call, returning to the page as if out of breath or flushed from the weedy garden’s heat, or rapturous from a sleigh ride with cousins and friends.

Each page of a diary fills only with now. So, Bessie’s diary of 1897 muscles along, day by calendar day, an inchworm making its blind progress with little care for what has gone before and no knowledge of what lies ahead, beyond a girl’s vague landscape of hopes and dreams. I cannot reach through the pages and take her hand, warn her of what is to come. and if I could, would it change her course of action? the global things, of course, will be out of her control: the four wars she will live through, the bread lines, foreclosures and riots, the 1920s march of the Klan through Indiana towns, the assassination of a beloved president. But there are choices closer to home that she might make, roads diverging. If she knew in advance how the lives of those she loves would play out, would she choose not to grow so close to them? Not to visit . . .

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