Pulling the chariot of the sun A memoir of a kidnapping

Shane McCrae, 1975-

Large print - 2023

"An unforgettable memoir by an award-winning poet about being kidnapped from his Black father and raised by his white supremacist grandparents."--

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Review by Booklist Review

Poet McCrae (Cain Named the Animal, 2022) examines his childhood kidnapping and the impact it had on his memory going forward. As a Black child stolen at age three and then raised by his white grandparents, McCrae was raised as white himself. He grew up uncertain of what parts of his life were real; many scenes of this memoir entail him trying to recall the most basic facts about when and how an event took place, whether it was landing his first trick on a skateboard or starting a new school. McCrae communicates this sense of uncertainty through constant repetition. Mundane actions that could be communicated in a single sentence get stretched into whole paragraphs. His maximalist style makes this a difficult memoir to digest. Although McCrae's life is haunted by his early kidnapping as well as his grandfather's abuse, he relates explicitly violent details sparely. More than a traditional true-crime narrative, this is an interesting read for those curious about hybrid forms of poetry and nonfiction

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Poet and National Book Award finalist McCrae (In the Language of My Captor) recounts the jaw-dropping circumstances of his childhood in this exceptional memoir. In 1978, when McCrae was three years old, his white supremacist grandparents kidnapped him from Oregon and transported him to Texas, where they raised him as their own child, hoping to "save" him from the influence of his Black father (his mother, having been abused by her parents, didn't intervene). McCrae was frequently beaten and belittled by his grandfather, who taunted him for being half Black ("You don't want to look like them, do you?"). Never given the full story of his lineage, he began to mix the lies his grandparents told him with his own fuzzy memories of the past--in one lyrical passage, he remembers running down the aisle of a fabric store "from illusion to illusion" and into the arms of his grandmother, which he knows can't be true, because she "wasn't often physically affectionate." At age 15, McCrae discovered poetry and threw himself into it wholesale; the confidence he drew from writing moved him to find his father, which he hazily recounts here, copping to the fact that his memories of the reunion are choppy and inconsistent. McCrae's account of the abuses he endured are unflinching, but readers will walk away with a stronger sense of awe than pity, both for his resilience and his command of language. This gorgeous meditation on family, race, and identity isn't easy to shake. Agent: Alice Whitwham, Elyse Cheney Literary. (Aug.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Poet and National Book Award finalist McCrae's (In the Language of My Captor) debut memoir tells the story of his abduction. In 1978, when he was just three years old, his mother's white parents kidnapped him, taking him from his Black father and raising him in Texas. His grandparents warn his mother that she will never see her son again if she tries to tell the father where he is. McCrae's grandparents raise him according to their white-supremacist beliefs, telling him that he is white and encouraging him to hate his father. Narrating his own work, McCrae captures his bewildering feelings as he attempts (and often fails) to piece together his recollections of his childhood and teen years. Via powerfully poetic language, he allows his thoughts to wander, backtracking and moving forward repeatedly as he tries to separate fact from fiction. VERDICT McCrae has created a nonlinear and intricate patchwork, stitching together the forgetting and remembering wrought by childhood trauma. This poetic meditation on family and history should appeal to readers of Harrison Mooney's Invisible Boy and Natasha Trethewey's Memorial Drive.--Angel Caranna

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A poet describes a traumatic upbringing after being kidnapped. McCrae, a Guggenheim fellow, Whiting and Lannan Literary Award winner, and professor of writing at Columbia, was 3 years old when he was kidnapped from his father by his maternal grandparents, who were White supremacists. It took him years to understand what had happened--to even associate the word kidnap with himself--and his new book traces his attempt to reconstruct meaning from a life that was rooted, early on, in lies and abuse. The author's father was Black, his mother was White, and his grandparents carried a deeply ingrained racism. McCrae is an acclaimed poet, and the tools of that trade are evident here, as he emphasizes metaphors, symbols, and images over character. He writes of his grandfather: "I know my life continued after him, like a plant growing alone in a hole the size of a house. Here I am in my life, in the middle of it, but I have buried so many memories of my life with my grandfather that my life is like a plant grown in a house-sized hole, a void." McCrae's attention to word choice is studied and precise, and at times, he repeats certain words or phrases: "We left the Piggly Wiggly carrying something red. My grandfather left the Piggly Wiggly carrying something red. Or the packaging was mostly another color, but the product inside the packaging was red, and was represented by an attractively staged photograph, mostly red." The first half of the text sings with a gorgeously wrought tension. In the second half, however, the tension starts to sag. In these chapters, McCrae is a young teenager learning to skateboard, but his prose doesn't carry the nearly excruciating tautness of the early pages. Still, as a whole, the book is original and satisfying. Intricately wrought and unrelenting in its honesty. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 Before I saw it cascading across the fabric store parking lot, tumbling across the fabric store parking lot like a gif of two impossibly small gray birds fighting that has been copied and pasted a hundred thousand times, reeling through the air above the fabric store parking lot, the four hundred thousand wings overlapping, intertwining, each of the paired birds seeming to flap away from its opponent even as it attacks its opponent, I hadn't known rain could fall sideways. I was seven years old. Maybe I was nine years old--any age after my grandparents kidnapped me and took me to Texas. I was three when I was kidnapped, any age. The day must have been a Saturday or a Sunday because when my grandmother and I stepped from the fabric store we were shocked at how dark the day had become, so it must have been midday, me not in school. Unless it was a summer day. Usually whenever we shopped for fabric store things, whenever my grandmother shopped for fabric store things, we went to a Michaels in a strip mall down Highway 183 just far enough for the strip mall to seem alien, impossible to get home if I were ever left there, but on this day we had gone to a fabric store I had never seen before, its name a blank stucco edifice to me now. Am I misremembering it? MY GRANDMOTHER--MY MOTHER'S mother--was white, like my grandfather and my mother; my father was black. When I was a child, whiteness and blackness weren't facts about me--whiteness was a wheat field I stood in; blackness was a pit somewhere in that field, hidden by the somehow taller stalks growing from it, taller insofar as they grew from the fathomless bottom of the pit to match the height of the other stalks in the field, those growing from the near and solid earth. My grandparents and I lived in a yellow brick house, its color and composition indicative of a whimsy belonging to none of its inhabitants, though my grandfather repainted it occasionally, always yellow, and even if he hadn't known about the yellow brick road when we first arrived at the yellow brick house, his family had been poor when he was young--no movies, few books, if any books--eventually he must have repainted the bricks yellow with The Wizard of Oz in his head, a yellow brick house in Round Rock, a suburb of Austin. We lived in a house funnier than the person who made it funny was. Over the next few years, assuming I was seven the day I first saw rain fall sideways, over the next few years, our house was up for sale, and while our house wasn't selling, my grandmother would become an independent real estate agent and a real estate appraiser. At first she would work as a real estate agent for an agency with a brown and yellow corporate color scheme, then she would work for an agency with a red and white corporate color scheme, like the colors of the H-E-B grocery store sign, except the H-E-B sign was red with a ring of white between the red of the body of the sign and the sign's red border, but I imagined white at the edges of the sign, or deep inside the sign--I imagined white as the finishing touch to every colored thing. The first time she took me to the H-E-B, near enough to home that I could walk home if I were left there, but far enough away from home that I would give up on the way, after we had finished shopping, just after we had gotten into the Datsun, a 1981 desert-sand-colored Datsun 210 hatchback, to drive home, my grandmother told me H-E-B stood for Herbert E. Butts, and I thought that was hilarious, but the other day I read somewhere, or thought I read somewhere, that Herbert E. Butts did a significant amount of charitable work while he was alive. But was his name even Herbert E. Butts? Am I misremembering it? The brown and yellow agency would become the red and white agency, and my grandmother would be swept up and carried by the change. But she would never be rich, not on her own. But every once in a while she would try to get rich--like the time when, after we saw a story about the Cabbage Patch Kids craze on the news, I remember lingering shots of long, empty aisles where the dolls had been, me wondering whether the aisles were aisles in the local Toys "R" Us, she tracked down a lone Cabbage Patch Kid, a black boy doll named Fritz, then, using Fritz's tiny black body as a guide, she stitched her own dolls, white dolls, she called "Abbage Patch Kids," making copies of Fritz's birth certificate with the photocopier she had bought for her real estate business, but with both the C in "Cabbage" and the X in "Xavier," the name of the creator of Cabbage Patch Kids, whited out. She tried to sell the dolls at a garage sale we had a few weeks later, then again at a garage sale we had a few years later, then she gave up. Abbage Patch Kids by Avier. Excerpted from Pulling the Chariot of the Sun: A Memoir of a Kidnapping by Shane McCrae All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.