I’m always excited to review books for the Left Hand Valley Courier! While this is not explicitly an Inkberry Book, it was a book recommended by one of the paper’s readers. I’ve said before that I enjoy memoirs and expressed hope that I’d read more nonfiction, so I was excited at the chance to read local Colorado veterinarian Patrick Kalenzi’s Book Tears Run Dry.
(Before you go on, here’s a link to my vlog too!)
There are so many things that I could point out as reasons for why I enjoyed this book. It’s well written, descriptive, (mostly) engaging. If you’ve stuck around for a while, you’ll know how much I appreciate good characterization. Of course, with memoirs–and other nonfiction for that matter–obviously those characters are real people. However, I think there’s a clear distinction between simply telling an assortment of facts that describe a chain of events and taking those facts and combining them with detail and emotion, weaving them into a story.
We’re storytellers by nature, so to read Kalenzi’s account of his life almost felt as though I was sitting with an older friend asking about their experiences and hearing their life story. Kalenzi describes his family in such great detail that I felt a deep sense of affinity for his parents and grandfather in particular. Hearing about how much his family cared for him made me think of my own–so not only were his descriptions realistic and evocative, but they were relatable. The people in his story were totally accessible, which only made the action that much more engaging and believable.
So, on the note of action, I will admit that the first few chapters were a bit slower pace. Even though parts of his reflections on his early adolescence–like his recovery from polio–were extremely interesting, it was a little tricky for me to really be engaged in his descriptions of various school days or chores on the family farm. That said, speckled throughout even some of these seemingly mundane anecdotes were interesting and exciting stories. My heart seemed to swell with pride, for example, when he wrote about essentially being the underdog and winning a poetry contest at his small village school.
Moreover, this context building, while not always exciting, was important because it set up other events later on. That poetry contest comes back later in the book at a similar scholastic event, for instance. It’s very clear while reading the book just how much Kalenzi’s life and outlook were shaped by his early experiences of cattle herding, military training, and even being shipped around from family member to family member just so that he had a chance at a better education.
It goes without saying that our early experiences influence our later ones, but I feel like when I usually hear tales of hardship, of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, many other successful people seem to push their initial struggles away out of the spotlight.
So, there is no doubt in my mind that Kalenzi has a fascinating story and I really think most everyone would enjoy it. Other than the descriptive characters and events I’ve already mentioned, I really like how Kalenzi included phrases and words from his childhood in both Rwandese and Swahili. For me, it was a simultaneously gentle and powerful nod to his heritage but also an excellent literary device as it served as some subtle foreshadowing.