Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Orphans' Nine Commandments

When I met William R. Holman last month, the author of The Orphans' Nine Commandments (TCU Press, 2008), I couldn't have known of the overwhelming adversity this man had to overcome to be where he was at that point in time, telling me about the broadsides in my hands that he and his wife designed, about the books he had designed and printed, his work with libraries, and even showing me his wife's picture in the book and speaking so lovingly of her.

As he talked about the book, a narrative began to unfold that could have undermined the success and happiness so evident in my brief meeting with him. He showed me the book mark with its teaser about his incredible journey and a quote from Larry McMurtry. And then he asked me to please let him know what I thought of the book. He indicated his contact information on the bookmark with red notation.

I would encourage anyone to read this powerful and engaging memoir and let Mr. Holman know your thoughts. I did and what follows is a modified version of that correspondence with Mr. Holman.

The first chapter of The Orphans' Nine Commandments will knock the wind out of you and lay the foundation for the emotional, gut-wrenching journey a young boy (Holman) is forced to take through orphanages and foster homes during the 1930s and the Great Depression.

As you recover from the shock of what happened to William, who starts out in life as Roger Bechan and is given new names along the way, you'll learn of the human spirit to adapt and survive, even in a little boy stripped of his family, home, and name. This compelling memoir is fraught with cruelty from adults and countered with the resilience and adventure of a young boy growing to manhood, carving out, painstakingly, an existence and new identity for which he seeks meaning and worth and, above all, love and acceptance.

Larry McMurtry calls Holman's book "an important and compelling memoir." Of Holman's struggle and private hell, McMurtry states further that Holman will take his readers along in a way "that will move you, inform you, and haunt you."

This is a horror story as well as a success story. It's repugnant and poignant, humorous and jubilant. Mr. Holman succeeds in taking us lockstep through his darkened childhood with vivid detail against a backdrop of characters, good and evil alike. At times, it reads like a picaresque novel with the pathos and humor of Dickens and Twain.

The reward in the reading is the triumph of the spirit with threads of hope for love and understanding woven into an achievement of family and success, against overwhelming adversity in the formative years.

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