My favorite memoir style to ghostwrite lately has been historical political memoir. These memoirs are a very popular type of text for teachers to use, these days, in teaching world history (Remember Diary of Anne Frank?) especially because they aren’t dry and informational.
Historical Political Memoirs Illustrate the Importance of Setting
Memoirs are packed with real-life conflicts and show how political conflict affects ordinary people. Historical political memoirs illustrate the importance of setting (time and place) in every book.
Every memoir has some type of setting, starting with family. First, individuals stand against the backdrop of their families and the family culture, with its expectations and habits. Then, that family stands against a larger cultural setting.
When we set a memoir, we could be talking about, in the case of some of the books I’ve written, 1950s high school America, 1970s rural Alabama, Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the 1980s, or a backpacker’s hostel in India. Most American readers can conjure up some basic picture of such settings to form a basis for their understanding of the book. These are historical periods, but not necessarily highly political settings.
Writing About Political History is Complex
In a historical political memoir, the book’s background might be civil-war-era Cameroon or the time of the formation of the Soviet Union in Moldova. In these cases, most readers are starting at zero.
That means that, as a ghostwriter penning a historical political memoir, I have to not only give the family background, but also information about the region’s culture before the war, then during the war, and how the war or political action changed people and their expectations.
Of course, when I’m writing a historical political memoir with an international background, I learn a ton of information about some incredibly specific part of the world at a certain time period. At the end of the ghostwriting project I feel like I’ve basically earned a graduate degree in that time and place. And that, for a nerdy old writer like me, is a great feeling.
Researching a Memoir’s Setting
There’s really nothing like knowing you’re always learning and stretching in your work. The challenge presented by the need to layer a personal life story over a family culture, over an ethnic-group culture, over a country’s history, over a situation of political unrest, including not only all the family characters but also the poltical characters, is incredibly difficult, but rewarding.
A story with multiple layers is really the best, most successful type of narrative. The enjoyable challenge of an international memoir with a political background is that of bringing across the necessary political information while still keeping the story firmly rooted in one person’s emotional experience.
Memoirs Set in a Political Era are Still Highly Personal
In the end, every story, no matter how complex, is a coming-of-age story, and people can come of age time and time again, in life. Sometimes these changes are brought on by small, personal events and sometimes by large, international ones, but either way, a memoir needs to remain true to expressing that personal struggle of the old self against the new.