31 Days of Great Nonfiction: Casting with a Fragile Thread

Casting with a Fragile ThreadCasting with a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and AfricaCasting with a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa by Wendy Kann by Wendy Kann

Kann’s memoir can be difficult to read – the awful circumstances she and her sisters went through with their parents and stepmother, and then the unexpected death of her younger sister that required her to return to her home after she thought she was solidly established in a new life in America.

In my first draft of this post I used the word “poignant” to describe this book, and then when I went to get the publisher’s description of it what did I discover was the word they used in their first sentence? Yup, poignant. And I’m still going to use it, even though it’s repetitive, because the book is just that.

Her story is both fascinating and, at times, horrifying. There is something about a home that is gone forever that tugs at me, even when it’s a home that was dysfunctional or unstable. If you like books about identity, this is an excellent choice.

Publisher’s Description:
In this poignant, lyric memoir, a sister’s tragic death prompts a woman’s unbidden journey into her turbulent African past

A comfortable suburban housewife with three children living in Connecticut, Wendy Kann thought she had put her volatile childhood in colonial Rhodesia–now Zimbabwe–behind her. Then one Sunday morning came a terrible phone call: her youngest sister, Lauren, had been killed on a lonely road in Zambia. Suddenly unable to ignore her longing for her homeland, she decides she must confront the ghosts of her past.

Wendy Kann’s is a personal journey, set against a backdrop as exotic as it is desolate. From a privileged colonial childhood of mansions and servants, her story moves to a young adulthood marked by her father’s death, her mother’s insanity, and the viciousness of a bloody civil war. Through unlikely love she finds herself in the incongruous sophistication of Manhattan; three children bring the security of suburban America, until the heartbreaking vulnerability of the small child her sister left behind in Africa compels her to return to a continent she hardly recognizes.

With honesty and compassion, Kann pieces together her sister’s life, explores the heartbreak of loss and belonging, and finally discovers the true meaning of home.

31 Days of Great Nonfiction

For a similar memoir, try Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African ChildhoodDon't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. She’s also got additional books: one on her mother, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of ForgetfulnessCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller, and Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African SoldierScribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier by Alexandra Fuller. I haven’t read either of those books so can’t speak to how they are.

To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.

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  1. The memoir sounds really interesting, but as I have gotten older, it is harder for me to read books like these.

    • I understand – this isn’t one I’d recommend to everyone, because it can be really hard to read. Maybe tomorrow’s book will be a better fit for you. 🙂

      (I say that, and I don’t even remember what book is being featured tomorrow. I tried to balance out the books so it wasn’t a string of hard-to-read titles in a row, but am not sure I managed that perfectly.)

  2. I think I would like this book. Now just to find it since my local libraries don’t carry it. I’m enjoying your series!

    • Does your library offer interlibrary loan service (ILL)? Mine does, usually for free, but occasionally there is a small fee for postage, depending on the sending library. I just got a book through that service this week. And if you’re concerned about the fee, the usual procedure from the libraries I’ve used is you state up front that you’re ok with paying a fee, up to the amount you specify. So you won’t have to worry about being hit by a big charge – I think the most I’ve ever had to pay was $2.00. Worth it at times when it’s a book I really want, and can’t find anywhere.

  3. I’m not sure this book is for me but it sounds really intriguing. Thanks!

  4. As a memoir writer, I’m always drawn to these life stories. You’ve pointed out one I’d not come across yet. Thanks much!


  1. […] fingers are crossed that she enjoys Casting with a Fragile Thread, since she’s reading it on my […]

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