No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home

No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home

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by Chris Offutt
     
 

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"In his fortieth year, Chris Offutt returns to teach at his alma mater, Morehead State University, the only four-year school in the Kentucky hills. With the humblest of intentions, he expects to give back to his community, hoping to become, quietly, a hero of sorts. Yet present-day reality collides painfully with memory, leaving Offutt in the midst of an adventure he…  See more details below

Overview

"In his fortieth year, Chris Offutt returns to teach at his alma mater, Morehead State University, the only four-year school in the Kentucky hills. With the humblest of intentions, he expects to give back to his community, hoping to become, quietly, a hero of sorts. Yet present-day reality collides painfully with memory, leaving Offutt in the midst of an adventure he never imagined: searching for a home that no longer exists." During that same year, Offutt records the story of his parents-in-law, Arthur and Irene, Holocaust survivors who emigrated to New York from Poland in 1946. Their moving chronicle of exile and war entwines with Offutt's attempt to find a sense of safety and home. But it is Arthur who sagely states that "home is illusory" and there are "no heroes" in life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Following his 1993 memoir, The Same River Twice, readers and critics clamored for Offutt to recapture that success with a similar book. It's now been achieved. Offutt turns his impressive storytelling skills and unerring eye for detail on his journey back to the Kentucky hills, a seminal voyage in his 40th year to revisit his birthplace. He uses his considerable talents as a writer of short fiction to flesh out the colorful characters who populate the small community of Rowan County, recounting the quirky social and cultural rituals that distinguish it. "Never again will you have to fight people's attempts to make you feel ashamed of where you grew up. You are no longer from somewhere. Here is where you are. This is home. This dirt is yours," Offutt writes. Once he lands a teaching job at Morehead State University, which he graduated from 20 years earlier, his homesickness for big cities dissipates and he's no longer seen as an outsider. With his wife and children, Offutt struggles to move past tarnished childhood memories to forge a new life, savoring familiar places and faces while attempting to create a new identity as husband, father and mentor to his students. The book's high points are the painful yet eloquent recollections of his wife's parents Holocaust survivors who define the meaning of the words "heroes" and "home." Offutt's bold refusal to submit to nostalgic sentimentality, even as he admits defeat and forsakes his search for "home," and his skill as prose stylist set this book apart from the many homecoming memoirs. Agent, Brandt & Brandt. (Apr. 3) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This beautifully written book by the author of Kentucky Straight and other prose works actually comprises two interwoven memoirs. In the first, Offutt describes the year he returns to Rowan County, KY, to teach at his alma mater, Morehead State University, hoping to resume the life he remembers from 20 years earlier. In the second, Offutt's 80-year-old in-laws, both Holocaust survivors, recount their horrific experiences as Polish-Jewish prisoners of the Nazis during World War II. Offutt takes a risk by attempting to intertwine such disparate lives in one narrative. But he manages to carry it off successfully because what he is really examining is the concept of home, which for both the author and his in-laws is ultimately an illusion that can never be recaptured once it has been lost. Offutt's sparse prose elegantly reflects the people involved, whether the speaker is the author, his mother- or father-in-law, or one of his now-adult boyhood Kentucky friends. This rewarding read is recommended for academic and public libraries. Ruth K. Baacke, Highland Mills, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An interesting but predictable autobiographical essay on homecoming and heroism. Offut, who over the past decade has won kudos for his memoir (The Same River Twice, 1993) and stories of the Kentucky hill people (Out of the Woods, 1999, etc.), attempts an ambitious juxtaposition: a memoir of his return to a teaching job at a small regional college intercut with verbatim transcriptions of his in-laws' experiences during the Holocaust. The ironic unifying theme is that although home is a sustaining force in the human imagination, we can never actually return there. Offut, a writer and teacher inspired to share his love of books and learning with his "people," meets insurmountable obstacles in his one-man education crusade. Meanwhile, his in-laws, Arthur and Irene, in recounting their survival in a concentration camp, seem glad just to be alive and entertain no illusions about a return to prewar Europe. There are several problems here. Offut's desire to play a significant role again in the community of his childhood seems naive and predictably doomed; it's never entirely clear how much of his story and dialogue is fictionalized, a distraction in a book that purports to render Holocaust memories faithfully; and the parallel accounts-an idealist frustrated by unmotivated students in Kentucky versus Jews facing death in a Nazi concentration camp-are grossly disproportionate. Offut's strength has always been the beauty and confidence with which he describes the culture he knows; his commentary on the world of SS men, guard dogs, and barbed wire feels far less assured. There's an excellent short essay on a rural county's ability to see through its prodigal son, and many other bright moments,weighed down by awkwardly forced passages involving the author's affection for his first-grade teacher, muscle cars, trees, and a dead owl. Well-meant but the components refuse to interlock. Author tour

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684865515
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
03/26/2002
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.68(h) x 0.90(d)

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No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Chris Offutt's No Heroes is great for the active, fearless reader. The book juxtaposes the author's attempt to find meaning in his return to rural Kentucky with tales of his in-laws' ghastly experiences in concentration camps. At first I found the juxtaposition disturbing. I kept asking, 'What's this about?' After I read more, however, I realized that the triple memoir is about comparisons and contrasts. I contrasted Offutt's own story with the struggles of the two survivors, of course, but I also compared the reports of the survivors. Their tales are not one unit, but two different responses to degradation. Finally I started comparing myself with Offutt and each of the survivors. I asked myself how I would respond to the powerlessness of being in a concentration camp. I'm not proud of the answer, but the reading experience led me to a better understanding of myself. Passive readers should look elsewhere, but the active reader will find Offutt's book rewarding. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's been said that you can't go home again, and that's true. For Chris Offutt, I think it might be said that you can't remember home again. As a native of Eastern Kentucky, and alumnus of Morehead State University and a resident of Rowan County for the past nine years, I was very disappointed with this book. The vast number of inaccuracies about Morehead State is particularly disturbing. I was working at MSU in 1998-99 when Offutt made his homecoming and I see a very different picture of the University. I won't deny that there are some instances of the images that Offutt describes. Sure, we get a few students that are from very sheltered and impoverished backgrounds and there are some faculty and staff that have become a little jaded, but I would imagine no more or less than any other public university. Also, I seriously doubt that any MSU student could say that they had never seen a dictionary. I grew up in a county much poorer and backward than Rowan and my parents had a dictionary at home and every classroom I was ever in had stacks of them. In fact, I had a friend in college who grew up in a snobby suburb of Chicago and I found that as an entering freshman that I was more well read than her. Furthermore, I graduated in 1997, a product of the Geography, Government and History Department at MSU and I would put my education and abilities up against anyone. I have friends who went to UK and to other private universities and, this may come as a surprise to Offutt, but I can certainly carry my weight in lofty, academic discussions. He refers to the faculty at MSU as jaded, wishing they weren't here. I think he is the one that has become jaded. He's been successful, and is a good writer; he expected to be welcomed as a hero, having been educated and all, but found that he's not as rare as he would like to think. There are lots of us who are educated and still live here - some are alumni of MSU, some from institutions of higher learning from across the country, that have come back because we like this small town; we like working here. We like helping students from this region overcome the stereotypes about people from Eastern Kentucky that Offutt is perpetuating. If he wants to be a hero, perhaps he should try portraying this region more accurately, not just in a way that will sell books. It's worked for various other regional authors: Bobbie Ann Mason and Jesse Stuart, just to name a couple. I would encourage people to read this book with the proverbial grain of salt and if it peaks your curiosity, make a trip to Eastern Kentucky, even to Morehead and decide for yourself.