After having pretty good luck with Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying and Firoozeh Dumas’ Laughing Without an Accent I decided to make another pass through my public library’s section of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies. I ended up grabbing three books, one of which was Maxine Kumin’s 2014 memoir The Pawnbroker’s Daughter. Perhaps I was drawn to it because it looked familiar. Or maybe I couldn’t resist the story of a small business owner’s daughter becoming a celebrated prize-winning poet. Regardless of my motivation, I whipped through Kumin’s short book and in the end felt I’d selected a pretty decent memoir.
The first third or so of The Pawnbroker’s Daughter was my favorite. Born in 1925 to Jewish couple in Philadelphia, nevertheless as a young child she was taught by Catholic nuns at a neighboring convent. Barred from attending Harvard because she was a woman, she earned her BA and MA from nearby Radcliffe, its all women parallel. Near the end of World War II she fell in love with and married a young soldier who, secretly had been working on the Manhattan Project. While raising three children she continued to teach and most importantly, wrote poetry. Over the course of her lifetime she received countless honors including the Pulitzer Prize and Poet Laureate.
While I thought middle portion of the book was merely OK, the last third of The Pawnbroker’s Daughter was more to my liking. Here, Kumin recalls how she and her husband traded the hustle and bustle of city life for that of a farm in rural New Hampshire. Recalling how they cared for horses, renovated a dilapidated barn and farmhouse and rehabilitated crop fields all struck a familiar chord with me, since recently I also relocated to the country after spending my entire adult life living in a city.
The Pawnbroker’s Daughter won’t make my year-end Best of List, but it didn’t leave me disappointed either. Judging by the snippets of her poetry she managed to weave into her memoir I’m left believing she was a heck of poet over the course of her career. Reading her memoir has left me wanting to explore Maxine Kumin the poet and if I do, you’ll read all about it on this blog.