Written by Lisa Michaels
In Split, Lisa Michaels offers a strikingly textured portrait of her days of communes and road trips, of antiwar protests and rallies --- and of what came after, for her parents and herself --- as the radicalism of the 1960s and '70s gave way to conservative times. As a young child, Michaels visited her father in prison, where he was serving a two-year sentence for his part in an antiwar protest. In the early '70s, she toured the country with her mother and stepfather in a customized mail truck, complete with oriental rugs and a wood stove, until the family settled in a small northern California town. Her father later moved to the Bay Area, where he worked in auto plants and served as a labor organizer. By the age of eight Michaels was a veteran leaflet-folder, and she consecrated her father's second marriage in a Berkeley park by reading from Quotations from Chairman Mao. Not surprisingly, Michaels grew up craving conformity --- giving her mother makeovers and arranging their secondhand furniture in inspired ways --- but she also came to share the values her parents held dear: independence, frankness, and unsparing self-examination. In the buttoned-up world of UCLA during the Reagan years, she went through a hippie revival phase, wearing batik dresses and Chairman Mao pins, a throwback amid the campus's Greek revivalists and young Republicans. Against that traditional backdrop her parents' longtime activism took on new meaning, and at twenty-two, much in the spirit of her upbringing, Michaels embarked on a trip through Asia. Observant, luminous, and wry, Split captures both the vulnerability and heady freedom of a counterculture childhood. It is a powerful blend of social reflection and personal reminiscence, a memoir that paints a clear-eyed and unforgettable picture of the ways in which the legacy of the '60s impacted one remarkable family.
Her father was jailed for antiwar activities, her mother lived temporarily in a commune, she was photographed as a toddler carrying a Vietcong flag--A Counterculture Childhood seems an apt subtitle for Michaels's recollections. But this thoughtful memoir doesn't trade in clichés or facile characterizations as it chronicles the years from Michaels's birth in 1966 through her recent marriage. In some ways, she was like any child of divorce, shuttling between two households and struggling with unacknowledged anger; but she also had to deal with classmates' perceptions of her as a "hippie kid" in rural northern California. Political concerns form the backdrop for a sensitive psychological portrait of growing up--a process similar for all people regardless of their parents' lifestyles. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
In 1969, when poet Michaels was just three, her left-wing radical father was jailed for political protest. Shortly after, her already radicalized mother fully embraced the counterculture spirit, abandoning a teaching career in favor of a life on the road with her daughter and boyfriend. The trio ended up in northern California, where Michaels, her mother and stepfather settled down to a simple life in a small town and an existence permeated by her mother's anti-materialist values. Then after his release from prison, Michaels's father also moved to California, where he and his new wife maintained a strong commitment to social activism and leftist politics even as many contemporaries abandoned 1960s-style idealism for a more comfortable complacency. Michaels's perspective on normative American values is that of a self-conscious outsider, and she has a keen eye for the discrepancies between her parents' lives and those of more conventional peers. But this memoir is less about growing up radical than about how Michaels dealt with experiences common to many members of her generation: negotiating relationships with divorced parents, untangling mixed feelings about stepparents, searching for a sense of vocation. In that respect, her most significant insights stem less from what is unique in Michaels's story than from what is universal. While her discussion of counterculture sensibilities is by and large matter-of-fact and unprovocative, her exploration of the subtleties and complexities of family dynamics is unflinchingly honest and at times, breathtakingly insightful.
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