The first scarf I knitted rolled up into itself like a turtle hiding in its shell. No amount of tugging, stretching, ironing, or whining would make it lay flat. This, you can imagine, irritated me greatly. I’d spent hours on the project, and when finally I had a finished product – one that I hoped would keep me warm all through the winter – its lame width left an unfortunate gap on my vulnerable neck.
Kyoko Mori’s new book, Yarn: Remembering the Way Home, opens in a similar vein. Her first knitting project – a pair of yellow mittens – earned her a D- in fourth grade home economics. But unlike my early knitting catastrophe, Mori recovers from her first attempt to ultimately master the craft. However, knitting hardly takes up the entire length of Mori’s memoir, but provides a foundation for the author to reflect upon her marriage, her family’s past, and her own future.
Read more about Kyoko Mori’s Yarn after the jump.
Mori’s initial venture into knitting occurs during her childhood in Kobe, Japan, just a year after her mother’s suicide. In the shadow of her mother’s death, Mori’s indifferent father quickly remarries a woman who constantly chastises the young, vulnerable girl. As soon as she is able, a college-aged Mori leaves Japan for an education in the United States. In doing so, she rejects the life that is expected of her – marriage and silence – the quiet fate that ultimately drove her mother to suicide. Mori moves to Green Bay, Wisconsin to immerse herself in her graduate work. It is there that she meets Chuck, a laid-back, Midwestern school teacher who is everything her turbulent past is not. They marry partly for love, but mostly out of convenience (Mori’s deportation was looming), and soon Mori finds herself settling for life as a small town, college professor.
Mori constantly feels out of place in her small, conformed community and it is through her knitting that she finds a niche. As she falls into a deep rhythm with her needles, moving between delicate Fair Isle patterns and hearty sweaters built to battle a Wisconsin winter, her story unfolds – from the quest to understand her mother’s choices, to the silent, passive breakdown of her own marriage, to the pursuit of finding her way in a place she struggles to call home.
We quickly fall into Mori’s story and with it, the art of knitting. As she picks up complicated patterns, joins various knitting circles, even raises rabbits to spin her own yarn – so does she share with us the history of the relatively young craft. She takes us from the first knitted objects found in an Egyptian tomb, to Latvian girls knitting items for their dowry chests, to the posh knitting circles popping up in cities across the U.S. Swaying from anecdote to fact, memory to history, it quickly becomes clear that Mori has an uncanny ability to parallel her own complicated life to the seemingly simple stitches on her needle. Though the resentment in Yarn is at times thick, Mori’s talent for weaving together the numerous strands of her memoir overcomes her rancor. Telling nearly four stories at once, without leaving her readers stranded, is a gift few writers are capable of accomplishing so seamlessly.
Pick up Yarn for a warm winter read, or if you are looking for a deeply affecting memoir. It may even inspire you to overcome that previous knitting catastrophe. Scarf, anyone?
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