Has anyone read this memoir?
If you have, please post your opinions.
(This book review is from the Washington Post website)
>From Friday Style
The Way the Wind Blows
'Fugitive Days' by Bill Ayers
By Carolyn See,
whose reviews appear every Friday in Style.
Friday, August 31, 2001; Page C04
By Bill Ayers
Beacon. 295 pp. $24
In this fascinating memoir, former Weatherman Bill Ayers could be writing
about life on another planet. It was another planet in the radical 1960s, in
many ways, as though our whole world were in the throes of fighting a virus
that couldn't get better; it could only get worse.
In the mid-'60s, Ayers was a privileged young white man who argued with his
family a lot. There was plenty to argue about: the dreadful race riots in the
South, that crazy war going on over in Vietnam, plus sex, drugs,
rock-and-roll. The country was polarized, and the trouble with polarization
is that no one involved can afford to give an inch. Young Ayers opposed
racism and the war; how could he not?
But he gives this memoir a chilling frame. He's been brought up lovingly by
the sweetest mother in the world, who simply cannot see the awful things
around her: They don't exist, or if they do, everything is sure to turn out
all right; everything eventually is bound to be fine. By the end of this
narrative, the poor woman is suffering from Alzheimer's, and Ayers, if I read
correctly, is using her illness as a metaphor for the afflictions of America
itself. It's much more than that old historical saw "Those who don't
understand history are bound to repeat it." This concerns ordinary Americans
who refuse to see anything "wrong" with their world, and if they do, they
forget it as fast as you can say "Korean and Vietnam wars."
To read this book and remember events as they happened is almost unbelievable
and unbearable in the most literal sense. To remember whites in the South
shooting at blacks and setting the hounds on them; to remember not just "Kent
State" but what that actually meant -- desperate, uniformed boys employed to
shoot their own peers, their own contemporaries. I actually remember myself,
as a young mother, sticking a flower in the gun barrel of a very panicky
serviceman during a tense demonstration against President Johnson. (At least
I had the common sense to leave the kids at home.)
But how could all that have happened? How could I have done that? I can't
remember. And that's exactly Bill Ayers's point. He recalls his own
particular epiphany as he listened to a speech by Paul Potter, president of
Students for a Democratic Society, who said, "How will you live your life so
that it doesn't make a mockery of your own values?"
"I joined SDS on the spot," Ayers tells us, "a savory soup, all mixed-up:
most of us were students, some were hippies, freaks, and street people,
several were intellectuals, others anarchists, cultural rebels, socialists,
hard Communists, red-diaper babies, children of the labor elite, sons and
daughters of the powerful, beatniks, poets, free thinkers, artists,
guttersnipes, rockers, Diggers, Wobblies, and a lot else."
Alzheimer's! Memory vs. forgetting! How long since most of us have even
thought of the Diggers, whose exhilarating philosophy was that Americans have
so much that if we started giving away our surplus material wealth, and not
grabbing for it, there would be enough to eat and a decent place to live for
everybody? (They then went around and matter-of-factly implemented their
Who can remember the craziness of those times, when during the dinner hour
the American public was treated nightly to television images of the maimed
bodies of our own children, while elderly officials assured us that
everything was fine, just fine, that we were winning, when we could see with
our own eyes that we weren't "winning"? No wonder the country was crazy. No
wonder that now we welcome a certain amount of forgetting. It was a time of
It was a lot of fun, though. Ayers recalls passing an enormous joint to Studs
Terkel at a huge party. He remembers having sex with three other folks at
once -- at least they were all close friends -- and attending that famous
Democratic Convention in 1968 when Dan Rather got roughed up by the mayor's
bullies. For the first third of this book, "Fugitive Days" is a swell trip
down memory lane.
Then things take a bad turn. Ayers's beloved girlfriend and some others are
blown up by a bomb. She's just as dead as she can be. (At a recent funeral I
attended, a demented clergyperson reminded us that "Death is a change. It's a
mighty big change!") Ayers goes underground, and here's where the memoir
becomes distinct, original, even weirdly amusing. There are as many
undergrounds underneath sunny America as there are in an ant farm: illegal
abortion networks; pathways to Canada for deserters; gangsters lining up to
use the same pay phones as the Weathermen; government groups holed up in
secret, spying on the other guys; immigrants fleeing the INS; criminals
robbing Ayers, even though he reckons himself one of the oppressed.
For me the book ended too soon, for while Tom Hayden took to wearing
expensive suits and is a respectably married family man, whole other groups
were (and are) rising up to protest what they consider to be unjust conduct
by the government -- right-wing militants being shot to bits; the Branch
Davidians incinerated, including the children. ("Death is a mighty big
change!") We, as "grown-ups," hear dimly of "raves" involving thousands of
kids. We turn on the six o'clock news to see armored police somewhere whaling
away at youngsters who call themselves "anarchists." It's sobering. And so
tempting to try to forget about the whole thing. Just to acquire a mild,
harmless case of Alzheimer's.
2001 The Washington Post Company
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Sep 03 2001 - 20:03:52 EDT