Heart Berries

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Despite its brevity this short memoir stirs so many emotions in the reader that, had I not finally dozed off at 2am, I would certainly have finished it in one sitting. This is my first book, non-fiction or otherwise, written by a female First Nation Canadian writer and it deals with themes of identity, abuse, motherhood, mental illness, love and relationships. I was hooked from the opening as Mailhot grabs the reader by the throat and pulls them into the narrative. This is a complex book to review as it is written in such a way that we follow different threads of the authors thoughts. In a style reminiscent of Maggie Nelson's Bluets, we follow Mailhot through memories of her childhood, to the difficult moments of her first marriage where her oldest son is removed from her care, to a stay in a mental institution and a destructive love affair. The memoir is written to Casey the man she loves but the two have such a tumultuous relationship you beg for her to walk away from him. Instead, she continues to anchor herself to him and I don't think he is worthy of her love - but then she doesn't think she is worthy of any kind of love at all.

"I can hear my aunt's voice, telling me that if my security depends on a man's words or actions, I've lost my power." 

If only she had taken this on board. Unfortunately the difficult relationship with her mother, the abuse at the hands of her father leads her down the path of many incompatible love affairs with men who treat her badly, and so the cycle continues.

"They seemed content. It didn't matter if he (mother's boyfriend) groped me. It didn't matter if he groped my cousin. None of it mattered."

What hope could there be for the heart of this young girl? She grows up yearning for love and attention and looks for it in the wrong places. My heart broke for her when she was half asleep and fumbling in her bed to draw her son closer to her in the night. Her realisation that he had been taken away from her was almost too much for me. My experience of motherhood has been so different from Mailhot's that it feels so unjust that women the world over go through such traumatic events. It felt like I was reading an intimate confession as I was carried away on a stream of consciousness. I'm not sure if this was the intention and at times this felt like the first draft of a work rather than the final article. However, it worked for me. This book has been incredibly affecting and I am going to be seeking more writing by indigenous authors as I found the sections on identity enlightening - particularly her writing on spirituality and belief.

I would certainly recommend this and I'm glad I read it when I did. Some books come to you at the right time and this was the right time for me.
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A story of hope and strength.  Gut wrenching at times.  I feel I could come back to this again and again and gain something new each time.
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Heart Berries was one of my most anticipated books of 2018 - for some reason I've only just read it now. 

It is a very small memoir, but wow, it really packs a punch. The author is a Canadian Indigenous woman who relates her experiences with foster homes, her sons, and abusive men. She also goes on to talk about her experiences with mental health, including PTSD, an eating disorder and bipolar disorder. This includes her hospitalisation in a psychiatric hospital. I found parts of this, particularly in relation to the eating disorder, quite difficult to read as I also have experiences with that. 

The way that the book was written was very impressive. The non-linear narrative and the use of words really made the emotions and relationships within the book sing. I've seen some reviews say that the non-linear prose made it feel random, but I thought that it made the memoir more interesting. 

Trigger warnings: suicidal ideation, self-harm, abuse, addiction, rape, abortion, alcoholism
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I throughly enjoyed reading this book, 
It is written as a series of essays it offers everything and more . Terese has stripped everything bare in ordered to both share and deliver details of her life with the reader.
Raw, honest real
This may not be to everyone’s taste as it is not super polished but that is what I loved about it as life is never super polished.
Highly recommended 
Thank you to both NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for my eARC in exchange for my honest unbiased review
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I personally kind of struggled to 'get into' this book. It's definitely not an easy read and can be difficult to follow at times. However, the language is beautiful, it's incredibly personal and powerful.
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It feels odd to call this memoir beautiful, because there is so much pain and darkness in it. But Mailhot creates an almost dream-like mist of confession and rawness that sweeps you along. My heart broke for her and her children a thousand times as I read. But I also felt hope and empowerment, because under all the hurt is clearly a strong and self aware woman. A woman who isn't afraid to examine and admit to those things she has been through and things she has done which so many other people would keep deep inside themselves. The Native American voice is one I have only come to this year, and after Tommy Orange's incredible There There it was important to me that I read something from a female writer. This was such a perfect book to fill that space. As a woman, as a mother I could identify with much of Mailhot's revelations, but she weaves her Indian experience into those revelations. The result is a raw yet rich read which I think will stay with me for a long time.
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I think some of this went over my head, it's very poetic, but I really liked (is liked the right word? Probably not) the parts to do with mental health... which was kind of all of it but I liked the bits that FOCUSED on mental health more.
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It took me a while to get into the flow of Mailhot's writing style which is dreamy and poetic.  Her memoir is about so many things that so many women can relate to, but ultimately her bravery and resilience

"We don't own our bodies or our land - maybe I'm unsure.  We become the land we are buried in"
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Mental illness, alcoholism, abuse, abandonment – the subject matter of this stylish, fragmentary memoir is not easy to take. Mailhot was raised on a First Nation reservation on an island off of British Columbia. She is wary of equating her family with native stereotypes, but there’s no denying that her father was a drunk and ended up murdered. After a childhood of abuse and foster homes, Mailhot committed herself to a mental hospital for PTSD, bipolar II and an eating disorder. It was there that she started writing her story. Much of the book is addressed in the second person to her partner, Casey, who helped her move past a broken marriage and the loss of her older son to his father’s custody.

Because the book doesn’t follow a strict chronology, it can be hard to keep track of what happened when. Though I highlighted a lot of lines, I had trouble connecting with the book as a whole. The aphoristic pronouncements are powerful – “We don’t own our bodies or our land,” “Indian girls can be forgotten so well they forget themselves,” “How could misfortune follow me so well, and why did I choose it every time?” – but the way imprecise scenes blend into each other makes it hard to find a story line in the murk of miserable circumstances.

The title comes from the legend of the first medicine man; I think a better one would have been “Indian Condition” (the title of Chapters 1 and 10) or “Indian Sick” (Chapter 3), a spiritual possession that was the first documented illness.
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I found this quite a disturbing read - the story of an Indian woman not in any chronological form who has been abused, obviously has mental health issues and makes poor choices in men who do not consider her condition but move in and out of her life. It is quite unnerving but beautifully written despite its wandering form. It is poetic - 'The tips of your fingers felt like wet grapes.'
It is a brilliant depiction of a woman with a disturbed mind and a difficult childhood. It is amazing that she did not harm her children while she could attack her partner and damage herself. The writing is fractured as must be her mind and this is very cleverly portrayed.
Three and a half stars!
Many thanks to Netgalley/Terese Marie Mailhot/Bloomsbury Publishing for a digital copy of this title. All opinions expressed are my own.
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I have a weak point when reading – the loss of a child. Stories about losing a child – through death, family separation, to addiction, to crime – hurt my heart more than any other. I’ve mentioned a passage in Yanagihara’s A Little Life that haunts me because it gets to the very core of the issue.

When the loss of a child was revealed at the beginning of Terese Marie Mailhot’s memoir, Heart Berries, I prepared myself for a tough read.

You asked me for my secret. I told you about the son who didn’t live with me. I told you I lock myself in the bathroom to cry when I remember his milk breath… You said you’d be on the other side of the door. That’s how perfect love is at first. Solutions are simple, and problems are laid out simply.

Heart Berries is Mailhot’s memoir about her coming-of-age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Her childhood was marked by poverty, abuse, and time in foster care –

None of us attended school frequently. All of us had substance abuse problems, which are still welcome over the very sober pain of remembering.

Her teens were spent looking for any means of escape.

I was a teenager when I got married. I wanted a safe home. Despair isn’t a conduit for love.

She lost custody of her first child while having her second. After a breakdown, she was hospitalised and diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder, and bipolar II disorder.

Mailhot reflects on her relationship with her parents, intergenerational trauma, and how difficult it is to love while carrying grief and shame – this is particularly relevant in the context of her relationship with her second husband, Casey, who she both loves and rages against.

I realized that love can be mediocre and a safe comfort, or it can be unhinged and hurtful. Either seemed like a good life.

There’s precision to Mailhot’s language that belies the style of this memoir (non-chronological vignettes which sometimes needed more shape but that’s my only criticism). The words are raw, succinctly capturing her particular tragedies –

Every bathroom floor is different, but no mourning I do feels familiar. It feels brand new.

What I admire in memoirs is a fresh angle on universal experiences (in this case love and grief). In Heart Berries, Mailhot gives a cultural perspective, however her observations do more than draw attention to the differences between the Native American and white experience.

…in white culture, forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed like a problem with a solution.

What Mailhot does exceptionally well in Heart Berries is describe the anguish and fear associated with motherhood. Like Yanagihara, she touches on something that few dare to think about and even fewer dare describe –

Social workers offered me respite – time away from my baby. I used the time to drink… Isaiah cried all night, and I remembered well that I held a hand over his mouth, long enough for me to know I am a horror to my baby. Nobody wanted him for those split seconds, and I wondered why the people who should be punished the most aren’t punished. Because they hurt children who don’t matter.

While the themes of grief and motherhood spoke most strongly to me, Mailhot’s reflections on mental health are worth noting. She speaks of the polarising effect of a diagnosis – labelling something that is part of the lived experienced – ‘I couldn’t distinguish the symptoms from my heart.’  And of suicide, she says –

I had not stopped wanting to die. It was not romantic because it felt passionless – like a job I hated and needed. Romanticism requires bravery and risk.

This memoir could have easily been a tale of woe, anger and blame. Mailhot avoids this and turns the lens on herself, giving us a story of vulnerability, told with unflinching honesty.

3.5/5 Memorable.

I received my copy of Heart Berries from the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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A memoir of a native American woman who grew up on a reserve and suffered mental illness - resulting in one of her children being taken away from her.  I found the style of writing difficult to identify with - it was a monologue and the first half of the book I found confusing and jumping from one place to another - this settled down in the second half.
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I struggled to connect with this book. While the writing undoubtedly deserves all the plaudits it has received, I didn't enjoy it. I felt the style, sparse and punchy, was unsuited to the subject matter and I felt emotionally distanced from the author's undeniably awful experiences because of this.
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Heart Berries was an intriguing and insightful memoir about a woman's youth and coming of age on an Indian Reservation in Northern America. I love memoirs as there are no other better way that you get a true experience and education about issues. Terese writes from the heart, although personally some recounts of her personal story were a little triggering and brought up a lot of memories of my own youth.
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I found this very difficult to read. Not because it was badly written, but because it was so deeply upsetting that i would read it and end up in floods of tears. I have suffered from severe trauma though so it resonated a lot with my own personal story.
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Heartberries is a hard hitting, poetic memoir of the authors life. It’s hard to read about the things she had been through, and sometimes, for me, because of the writing hard to read and understand. 

At quite a few occasions in the beginning the only thing that kept me reading was knowing I needed to write a review. I wanted it to be fair. 

I am glad I read the whole book, it has been a good experience to gain an understanding of another persons life so deeply and honestly. Hard work, but rewarding.
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A brave, raw well-written memoir written in a very honest unique way. This memoir deals with a lot of mind changing stuff that many do no;t like to talk about such as abuse and mental illness.  recommended.
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Heart Berries is a memoir centred around mental health and relationships. Mailhot doesn't shy away from revealing her deepest thoughts, desires, jealousies, and secrets in this memoir, and so it's both a difficult and engaging read. The subjects range from relationships, to family, to assault, to postpartum depression, to care, to psychiatric units, and more. 

Whilst this book is technically really good, personally I think it's better to read it in one sitting as I found that I wasn't drawn back into the book when I put it down, and so it actually took me a few weeks to read despite how short it is. Perhaps it was the fact that there were often throwaway metaphors or confusing time skips which didn't have much pattern or meaning, but often I found myself on the fence of whether I was enjoying the book or not. 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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I was first made aware of this book as it was featured on Emma Watson’s ‘Our shared shelf’ on Goodreads as the featured book in March/ April. 

It is a beautiful memoir of a very vulnerable woman which she started to write when she had committed herself to a mental instituition.

We learn of Terese’s past, the relationships with her parents, first husband and second husband, her children and her experiences of being a parent. 

Terese speaks so beautifully and bravely about her battles with mental health. I can’t stop thinking about this book. It is haunting.
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Though beautifully written, this was both hard to read and difficult to follow in places. It didn't live up to my expectations therefore and I'm probably just as disappointed in myself  that I have struggled with it so much. Doubtless it deserves all the praiseworthy reviews heaped upon it, just not for me.
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