Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories by Amy E. Wallen.
About the Book:
When Amy E. Wallen’s southern, blue-collar, peripatetic family was transferred from Ely, Nevada, to Lagos, Nigeria, she had just turned seven. From Nevada to Nigeria and on to Peru, Bolivia, and Oklahoma, the family wandered the world, living in a state of constant upheaval. When We Were Ghouls follows Wallen’s recollections of her family who, like ghosts, came and went and slipped through her fingers, rendering her memories unclear. Were they a family of grave robbers, as her memory of the pillaging of a pre-Incan grave site indicates? Are they, as the author’s mother posits, “hideous people?” Or is Wallen’s memory out of focus?
In this quick-paced and riveting narrative, Wallen exorcizes these haunted memories to clarify the nature of her family and, by extension, her own character. Plumbing the slipperiness of memory and confronting what it means to be a “good” human, When We Were Ghouls links the fear of loss and mortality to childhood ideas of permanence. It is a story about family, surely, but it is also a representation of how a combination of innocence and denial can cause us to neglect our most precious earthly treasures: not just our children but the artifacts of humanity and humanity itself.
“Lyrical and haunting.” —Booklist
“With deadpan humor and youthful incredulity, Wallen explores a series of strange events, each more bizarre than the last: stepping over dead bodies on her way to school, witnessing a cook stab a clerk with a knife at her school and declining an invitation to attend the execution of a predator, who had, as the story goes, turned himself into a goat after being apprehended by the authorities. . . . Wallen investigates these memories with the mordant wit of a wisecracking detective as she excavates the crippling loneliness and fear of abandonment that followed her from country to country.”—Jim Ruland, San Diego City Beat
“In When We Were Ghouls, the reader lives with Wallen through her precarious childhood as she faces odd customs, random violence, death, and a somewhat uncertain future. It’s a view that’s unsettling, but a reminder of how vulnerable it is to be an outsider.”—Debbie Hagan, Brevity
On the blog:
- A Closer Look at the American Lives series
- #AWP18 Preview
- Miami Book Fair
- The Marketeers Club: Best of 2018
A Word From the Author:
Maybe I should have called it a Ghost Tour. I filled my dance card with every invitation I received from giant book fairs to intimate bookstore readings. Near the end, exhausted and overwhelmed, I decided to switch it up. For Day of the Dead I was invited to Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a book titled When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories, what better holiday to do a reading? After almost a year of being asked questions I was pretty sure I couldn’t come up with any more clever answers. That night, I turned to the audience instead and asked the dozen or so women gathered a question: Can you tell me a ghost story? Every single one of them had an incredible tale to tell. All true, of course. I’ll never forget that night. I’ll never forget those stories. I’ll never forget those women.