Feature

Ingrid Rojas Contreras' 6 favorite memoirs with uncanny themes

The Colombian-American novelist recommends works by Esmé Weijun Wang, Anne Fadiman, and more

In a new memoir, The Man Who Could Move Clouds, Colombian-American novelist Ingrid Rojas Contreras explores a peculiar heritage: a family belief in some members' supernatural gifts. Below, she recommends other memoirs rooted in the uncanny.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston (1976)

This book knocked me off my feet. I reread it immediately, letting it breathe into my imagination all that memoir could be. Kingston writes about the ghost stories that have shaped her, beginning with tales told about her late aunt, who died by suicide and whom her family refused to mention by name. Kingston reframes the story to call for remembering all women who've been erased. Buy it here.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (2019)

Wang's sharp, masterful personal essays seek to map what happens to the self within and outside the borders of illness. In one of my favorite essays, she considers the line between mental illness and supernatural abilities. Buy it here.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (1997)

No other book offers a more fascinating look into how cultures with different understandings of medicine and healing interact with the Western medical system. Fadiman focuses on a family from Laos who are told that their daughter is epileptic but believe that her soul is taking flight from her body. The book is an absolute wonder for how it holds space for the disparate meanings that can arise from differing worldviews. Buy it here.

Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey (2015)

This is Lyndsey's account of developing a sudden, severe allergy to light that forced her to retreat to darker and darker corners of her house. Her description of the life that can be lived in darkness and isolation makes this one of my favorite nonfiction reads about the far edges of perception. Buy it here.

Living With a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich (2014)

Ehrenreich, an avowed atheist, wrestles here with the mystic visions she had during her teenage years. She tries to sniff out rational reasons for what she experienced but is forced to accept that some experiences refuse to be pinned down. Buy it here.

Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz (2016)

In a book she calls a dreamoir, Ortiz describes dreams she had across four years. Bruja explodes with the surreality and high-pitched emotions that belong to the realm of dreaming, dragging out with it strange creatures, haunted houses, and shark attacks. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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