The arresting title of Elliott’s powerful essay collection is the English rendering of a Mohawk word for depression. Asking, “is there a language of depression” or is depression the “opposite of language,” Elliot draws on her experience as a biracial Haudenosaunee/white woman and the daughter of a mother with bipolar illness to explore the legacy of “centuries of systemic racism” that has marked the lives and the very genes of Indigenous peoples. As she traces the myriad economic, educational, and nutritional deficits that have beset Native Americans—due first to genocidal policies, then to the official and cultural denial of them—Elliott shows that Indigenous trauma can’t be healed by empathy, however well intended. Rather, it requires that people do the work necessary to meet on a ground of true understanding, respect, and love for each other. Elliott accepts this challenge, mediating her anger in order to view her heritage not as “a curse meant to tear me in two; …[but] a call to uphold the different responsibilities that came with each part of me.”
In an almost unimaginably tumultuous political time—when politics invades every moment of our private and public lives—the most politically searing book of 2019 was a graphic memoir. If you have awake, compassionate people in your life (and if they aren’t—why are you buying presents for them?!) give them Mira Jacob’s Good Talk (One World, $30). When her young biracial son started asking difficult questions during the 2016 election cycle (“are white people afraid of brown people?”) Jacob needed a new language to try to answer some unanswerable questions and this uniquely intimate but universal document of drawings, conversational snippets, and challenging dialogues was forged.
In what is definitely the biggest music book of the year, Sir Elton John follows the release of his biopic Rocketman with Me (Holt, $30), his first and only official autobiography. Elton John does not need an introduction, but this book is a cathartic, no-holds-barred memoir. There are dark years of addiction and recovery, losses of friends, and a battle with cancer. The memoir was written with the help of British music critic Alexis Petridis, but John’s voice comes through clearly in the final version. He is a candid and warm narrator of his own struggles and actions, good and bad, and his passion for life, his friends, and his music shines throughout the volume. Ultimately, Me is about hardearned wisdom and life changes, and while many of us might not carry on such a star-studded dramatic existence, we can definitely appreciate recognition of mistakes and coming to face the darkest parts of our lives. This is a wonderful account of an incredible life.