I hadn’t picked up a memoir in years. The genre had lost its luster after the author raised by wolves in Nazi Germany turned out to have grown up in the suburbs of Brussels and the half-black, half-native foster child surviving the toughest gang-banging ghetto of Los Angeles was, in truth, a middle class white woman. In Dire Straits is, in contrast, not so much a memoir as it is a meditation on what the Zen Buddhists call “samsara”. It is the twists and turns of fate that can turn an ordinary life into a dancing chiaroscuro of shadow and light. This is what happens when the author’s grief at the loss of a beloved parent, triggers a crippling auto-immune disease, later diagnosed as psoriatic arthritis.
Jim Currie tells the story of sinking into the abyss and struggling to climb out, only to find that his country has contracted its own auto-immune disease with the invasion of Iraq. Nor can he gain a foothold or purchase on walls smeared both with the blood of soldiers who died for a meaningless cause and ecological toxins threatening to poison all life on earth.
And yet, this is not a sad book. The author writes with a keen intellect, spiritual vitality and humor. He even finds companionship in the most unlikely of places, amidst a family of winsome (teddy) bears and a shape-shifting Buddha.