Reading Matters

Syverson’s memoir invites us on emotional trek

Gilda Syverson
Gilda Syverson

Gilda Morina Syverson makes me wish I were Italian.

Oh, those ancient Sicilian villages.

Oh, those fragrant family feasts.

Oh, the way Italians greet their long-lost relatives from the U.S.

In “My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily” (Pegasus Books, $17.95), Syverson returns to the Sicilian birthplace of her father and the ancestral home of her mother, one in Gualtieri, the other in Lingiaglossa. Even better, she and husband Stu Syverson undertake this journey with the author’s parents, who in 2009 were still youthful enough for rigorous travel.

Syverson, a Cornelius artist and poet, grew up one of eight siblings in Syracuse, N.Y. She is a long-time leader of workshops on memoir writing.

Why do we read memoirs anyway? I read them for story, as well as something almost as important: insight. If a memoirist is not onto herself in a deep and memorable way as the story unfolds, two people lose out. Writer and reader.

Syverson tells a good story – the joy of watching her parents as they visit the old villages – and she may be one of the most obsessively self-reflective writers I’ve ever read.

It’s no accident that after a long search for a title, she landed on “My Father’s Daughter.” Syverson and her dad screech up to near-clashes on the two-week trip. One rainy afternoon when her dad forgets his sweater, she writes: “I want to scream. It wasn’t like I hadn’t told him. …Typical Dad. He expects to be catered to by Mom and anyone else around.”

And there’s Mom, an enigma to her daughter, a woman who rarely expresses her feelings.

Then there’s Syverson: “When it comes to emotional temperament, I’m at the top of the family barometer – not always a comfortable place.”

And even-tempered Stu Syverson: “After settling down from whatever conflict I’m dealing with – and inevitably I do settle down – Stu lets me know how fortunate I am to still have my parents.”

No surprise that Syverson and her dad come to know each other in a new and more loving way.

Not only are the hills in the villages steep, so is Syverson’s learning curve: “Perhaps by accepting all of who my father is, I can forgive him for not being what I thought he should have been, and in this process, accept the human frailties of my mother and myself.”

I applaud Syverson for opening her heart wide to the reader and saying, Entrate! Entrate!

Powell’s blog: charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/books

Meet Syverson

You’re invited to Syverson’s reading 2-4 p.m. Sunday in Ketner Auditorium, Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Ave.

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