Stephanie Burgis
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family history and great social history
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It's funny, being American - I know, of course, most of the different countries and ethnicities/religions that my various ancestors came from, but apart from the occasional bit that's filtered through to my own generation (klezmer music as a familiar background sound, the occasional Croatian phrase that I picked up from my grandfather, etc.), and my own occasional writing-homages to my heritage (I've written several fantasy stories using Croatian folklore specifically because of my very-much-loved Croatian relatives), I tend to forget how much influence those genetic inheritances can have in my predominantly American identity.

Today I watched the BBC Young Musician of the Year: 2008 Grand Final round of the competition. The first performer, an amazing guitarist named Jadran Duncombe, came on - and wow, did he look a lot like my youngest brother, especially in his hair and facial structure. Guess what? He's also part-Croatian, just like us. Then after Jadran's performance, the presenter interviewed his brother Emil - and at the first glance I thought: that is my brother! The second glance was enough to prove I was wrong - in fact there were an awful lot of differences in their faces - but it was a shock anyway...and a big reminder of how much we're shaped by the people who came before us in our families, no matter how distant their home countries might be from where we are now.

And speaking of the past, I spent a huge portion of this weekend devouring the best and most fun book I've read in a long, long time: Agatha Christie's An Autobiography. I picked it up at the library only out of random (and fairly mild) curiosity, but ended up adoring it. I'm not a particular fan of autobiographies in general, but this one was wonderfully witty, often hilarious, and absolutely full of fascinating details of social history, wonderfully told. I spent the weekend reading it almost non-stop, pausing only to read particularly funny bits out loud to Patrick, who's also planning to read it now, based on those excerpts.

I'm already planning to buy myself a copy just for the pleasure of re-reading, but if I ever want to write a book or story set in England between 1890-1930, I will be going back to it and taking hundreds of notes! She includes exactly the kinds of details of clothing, furniture, social customs, etc., that writers of historical fiction desperately need and often can't find - and does it all so entertainingly that I couldn't stop reading until I was finished, Sunday morning. I've never enjoyed an autobiography so much - it's definitely, definitely worth reading, if there's anyone else who hasn't read it yet!

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