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Transforming personal life tragedies into memoirs

In the introduction of her best-selling autobiography "A Stolen Life", in which she wrote about the prolonged sexual assault she encountered during her abduction and the stolen years of her life, with outstanding strength and hope.

10-1By Rana Khaled

Crafting novels from real life tragedies and true inspiring stories has been considered a unique literary genre, with millions of fans around the world. One reason for the outstanding popularity of this genre may go back to how the writers of those memoirs were just normal people who used to have ordinary lives, before they were thrust into disasters, sexual abuse, vagrancy and other forms of suffering. Some of them were old enough to deal with their troubles, and others were just powerless normal children whose crises changed their personalities forever.

Another reason for loving this genre is that it shows how those ordinary people could overcome what life threw on their shoulders, and could become positive and strong enough to share their inspiring tales with millions of people, aiming to raise awareness about some issues or give people hope to move on through their daily troubles.

“In the summer of June 1991, I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother that loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen,” said Jaycee Dugard, in the introduction of her best-selling autobiography “A Stolen Life”, in which she wrote about the prolonged sexual assault she encountered during her abduction and the stolen years of her life, with outstanding strength and hope.

Dugard was 11 years old at the time she was abducted by a sex offender from a street while she was on her way to a school bus stop. For 18 years, she was treated like a prisoner and a sex slave by her kidnappers, and was not allowed to say her own name. A few years after her kidnapping, she became the mother of two children whom she considers to be the best thing that happened to her. Despite all the misery, suffering and tragedy, Dugard doesn’t consider herself a victim, because she survived.

10-2Through the first chapters of her memoir, Jaycee was describing her normal life with her mother, sister and stepfather, to whom she wasn’t very close. The biggest problems she faced as a child were related to having a small dog or even being criticised by her stepfather for a while. The following chapters delved into the kidnapping, the first sexual assault, having her first babies and her efforts to be a good mother through everything. The last chapters tell of how her kidnappers were arrested and how she reunited with her original family after all those years, and tried to get in touch with her old friends and lead a normal life again, in a story that blends challenge, hope, faith and tolerance.

A similar true story about sexual abuse was published by Annabelle Forest under the title ” The Devil on the Doorstep: My Escape from a Satanic Sex Cult”. Forest tells the story of how she was inducted into a sex cult by her own mother when she was seven years old. The child lived a double life – a schoolgirl by day, a sex slave at night. Through the pages of the book, Forest explained how she was repeatedly raped by the cult’s leader, who threatened her with going to hell if she angered ‘the gods’ by refusing his demands. Annabelle’s mother joined in the sessions and even filmed them.

When Forest gave birth to her abuser’s daughter, Emily, her life completely changed. “The child gave me the chance to hope, the will to fight and the courage to live again,” she wrote. When her offender forced her into prostitution, Forest contacted relatives through Facebook on a computer in the public library and found the courage to report her abuser, her mother and the other cult members to the police,following which they were immediately arrested. Now, she leads a happy life with her daughter and partner, and her autobiography serves as encouraging material for other victims of sexual abuse around the world.

10-3Away from sexual abuse tragedies, Liz Murray gave a good example of how poverty, homelessness and abuse can help create a successful person, not a criminal, as most of people would think. In her memoir ” Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard”, Murray narrated how she grew up in the Bronx with drug-addicted parents and how she was bullied in school for her dirty clothes and lice-infested hair, which eventually led her to drop out of school.

“We ate ice cubes because we felt like eating. We split a tube of toothpaste between us for dinner,” she wrote, describing her state of affairs. Throughout the pages, Murray explained how her parents stole her birthday money, and even sold the family television to score another hit.

Despite everything, she loved her parents and was the perfect daughter, even supporting their drug habit. When she was 15 years old, she found herself on the streets after her parents died of AIDS. That was the moment her life completely changed.

Murray decided to go back to high school. She squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless, she won a New York Times scholarship, and made it into the Ivy League. Now, she works as an inspirational speaker, and talks to teenagers about resisting the temptations of drugs, and not letting hardship hold you back. Her memoir was later turned into an inspiring film.

Moreover, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” is another international bestselling memoir that was turned into a famous movie called “127 hours”. Aron Ralston retells his dramatic accident, in which he found himself trapped in a canyon in a Utah desert for five nights and six days when an eight-hundred-pound boulder tumbled loose, pinning his right hand and wrist against the canyon wall. This harsh experience forced him to face all of his life mistakes and foolish acts,which he describes in detail.

In his memoir, he writes: “It’s me. I chose this. I chose all of this – this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. I’ve been moving towards it my whole life. Perhaps it’s time, I muse, to close those chapters and remember the enduring lesson of my entrapment: that relationships, not accomplishments, are what’s important in life.”

10-4When days passed and no one could notice him, Ralston decided to do the hardest thing anyone can imagine. He amputated his own arm to get himself free. However, this experience has changed his life forever, and created a totally different person out of him. As he says in his book: “How would I behave in a situation that caused me to summon the essence of my character? The tragedy inspired me to test myself. I wanted to reveal to myself who I was: the kind of person who died, or the kind of person who overcame circumstances to help himself and others.”

Another bestselling memoir was written by the couple Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, who experienced one of the strangest incidents in their life. In their book, “The Vow” the couple narrates how their car was hit from behind by a fast-moving truck two months after their marriage. A massive head injury left Krickitt in a coma for weeks. When she finally emerged from the coma, she recognised her parents and everyone else – but she didn’t know who Kim was, as she had no memory of the two years leading up to the accident.

The husband felt angry, scared and confused, but he decided not to give up on her. He decided to do whatever it takes to make his wife, who keeps pushing him away, love him again because he had made vows to her and there was no way he would ever have abandoned her, according to what he wrote.

10-5They went out on dates, he tried to get closer to her family and life, until they remarried again. Now, they’ve been married for 18 years and have many children, although she never regained her memory of those two years. Their story has been turned into a major film of the same titles, which was listed among the most successful romancefilmsof the past 10 years.

Another interesting true story was Colton Burpo’s memoir titled “Heaven is for Real”, written by his father. When Burpo was four years old, he survived an emergency appendectomy. After the operation, he told his parents that he left his body during the surgery, and even authenticated his claim by describing exactly what his parents were doing in another part of the hospital while he was being operated on. He talked about visiting heaven, where he found Jesus, the angels and God. He also shared events that happened long before he was born and told the family that he met family members who had died a long time ago. His faithful father decided to write down his child’s outstanding experience, in an attempt to put to rest the doubts of those who don’t believe in the existence of God, heaven or the after-life.

Although these memoirs are all about personal experiences, their owners did notwish to keep them to themselves, believing that sharing such outstanding stories might help save someone’s life, encourage a victim to reintegrate with society, or change people’s thoughts and perspectives towards certain issues.

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