Book Review: They Left Us Everything

When author Plum Johnson’s mother passes away, she is given the dubious honor of going through her parent’s belongings to prepare the family home to be put on the market. She moves in temporarily, prepared to buy garbage bags and purge. What was supposed to take six weeks ended up taking sixteen months, and what Johnson learns about herself, her parents, and the complicated relationship she had with her mother makes for a spellbinding read. Yes, once again, I finished an entire book in one sitting.

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They Left Us Everything  is heartbreakingly sad one minute, raucously funny another. Johnson, who’d cared for both her ailing father and mother, delves into a somewhat eccentric childhood, as she searches for answers to her questions about her mother, in particular. She wishes for diaries.

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Instead, what Johnson is looking for she finds in packets of letters stuffed into plastic bags in one of the 23-rooms of her parent’s house. Hundreds of letters; written by her mother and to her mother. A treasure trove of letters she arranges chronologically, then slips each into archival plastic sheets that fill more than 40 binders.

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What will my children find after I’m gone? This book convinced me they’ll find it all; the letters I’ve saved, my journals, and the daybooks I filled while I was raising young children. I won’t have 23 rooms to clear out, but there will be plenty of paper I’m trusting my daughters to go through with a discerning eye.

“Am I my mother’s biographer? Do all daughters become their mother’s biographers, taking her history and passing it on to future generations? Writing letters was one of Mum’s greatest talents, and here is the record of her life. At the end of our lives, we become only memories. If we’re luck, someone is passing those down.” (page 259)

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