‘Without a Map’ Is a Compelling and Uplifting Memoir

January 24, 2013

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what draws us to memoirs in which the author is confronted with, and overcomes, terrible hardship. And yet, if you look at best sellers in the memoir category, nearly all of them paint a picture of life lived on the edge in some way. Likely we find such stories compelling for a variety of reasons. Some of us can relate because we have had similar experiences while others are keen to plumb the depths of human experiences they haven’t had. But the truth is that all of us have faced hardships in life, and so all of us can appreciate themes of loss and redemption, even if they are more extreme than our own experience. In ‘Without a Map: A Memoir’, author Meredith Hall relates her own story of heartbreak, her search for love and acceptance, and ultimately, an unexpected reunion that is both difficult and rewarding.

Listeners may at first have trouble following the story line of this memoir, which is delivered in a non-linear fashion. But the author has so carefully woven together the narrative that you won’t be distracted by her leaps back and forth through time. The story ostensibly begins in 1965, when Hall becomes pregnant at the age of sixteen. The tale that unfolds from there is one that many listeners will be stunned by, even though it is a fairly common occurrence. When Hall’s pregnancy is discovered, she is virtually shunned by her close-knit, New Hampshire community. She is kicked out of school and the children she has known all her life avoid her like the plague. Further, her mom kicks her out of the house, leaving her to shack up with her reluctant father and stepmother, who hide her away until her baby is born. Then she is forced to give up the child for adoption and is sent to a boarding school to finish her education.

After this horrifying turn of events and the depression and despondency that follow, Hall spends the next several years wandering the world, including a year spent penniless in the Middle East, and searching for the love and acceptance she now seems incapable of receiving. Along the way she falls in love and builds a family and a life for herself, although she ends up raising two sons on her own. And eventually she is found by her now 21-year-old first child, who ended up being adopted into a household with an abusive father.

It sounds like a lot to take in, and Hall’s tale of woe is not an easy one to digest. But with a thoughtful and unsentimental approach to her life, Hall takes the edge off and delivers a narrative that is both engaging and rewarding for listeners. Plus, it’s not all bad. While Hall suffered terribly at the hands of a family and community more interested in preserving appearances, and her son certainly didn’t have the benefit of high-end fostering agencies in Essex on his side, the meeting between mother and son, and the healing process they go through together, makes this audio book far more palatable and lends it the happy ending that every listener will be hoping for.

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