The Tribal Knot

The Tribal Knot

A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change
Distribution: World
Publication date: 03/18/2013
Format: Paperback 35 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00859-6
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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.

Author Bio

Rebecca McClanahan, the author of nine previous books, including The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings, which won the Glasgow award in nonfiction, is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Wood Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council.


Rebecca McClanahan’s multi-generational memoir artfully weaves together more than a century of family documents, oral history, and historical records. With poetic elegance, McClanahan transforms ordinary life events into meaningful life stories. The Tribal Knot is not only an engaging read, but a literary model for those who yearn to write their own family story.This lovely, unsentimental memoir spins the multiple strands of McClanahan's family past into a living tapestry going back into the nineteenth century Midwest. I have never seen the familial panorama captured as living knowledge in such a moving way. Tragedies lie alongside daily struggles with McClanahan's own formation becoming intuitively known to the reader as she conjures her knot. When her time rolls around we already know her well. This is an unsparing book that is pulled into true by enduring attachment.Book like no other I’ve read, The Tribal Knot combines genres to become something entirely new. Memoir, novel, genealogy, biography, survivor’s testimony, study of generations of women, love story, catalogue of precious quotidian details, and portrait of Twentieth Century American life, this book takes us where we’ve all been wanting to go but haven’t until now seen how to get there. In this brilliant revitalizing of the oldest narrative we know, Rebecca McClanahan demonstrates how our lives depend on the story of our human family and why we can never get enough of it.To enter Rebecca McClanahan's memoir is to truly enter her life—her history, her geography, her tribe. The blending of photographs, letters, and diary entries into McClanahan's intelligent, lyrical and thoughtful prose makes this one of the fullest reading experiences I have had in a very long time.Rebecca McClanahan has written a magnificent book. The Tribal Knot is a loving portrait of a family across its generations. More than a genealogical trail, this is the story of a distinctly Midwestern family who captured my heart. I fell in love with, quibbled with, and worried over these people as if they were my own. I celebrated their joys, grieved for their losses, and mourned their deaths. McClanahan does such a marvelous job of making her ancestors come alive in this loving reminder of the ties that bind.

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