Heart Berries: A Memoir

by Terese Marie Mailhot

Hardcover, 2018

Call number




Counterpoint (2018), 160 pages


"Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father-an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist-who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn't exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world."--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 6* of five

Shattering. Beautiful. Agonizing. Necessary.

I will never, ever read this book again. I'm glad I borrowed it from the library so it will not be in my home. This isn't a story I want to have exerting its metaphysical gravity on me while I'm sleeping.
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I don't know if there's ever been a book I've hated disliking as much as I hated disliking Heart Berries. This is such an honest, heartrending memoir. Written by a First Peoples woman battling mental illness, it is a very important and unique work. The prose is gorgeous though not always easy to
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follow: Mailhot takes a stream of conscious approach that may leave a reader feeling disoriented. I think the style works well as it gives the impression of the mental and political struggles Mailhot faces throughout these pages.

For these reasons, Heart Berries is a stellar read. But…

Mailhot has some reason to be angry. I understand. She’s been through several toxic relationships and many difficult situations. But her answer is to perpetuate stereotypes and justify her own toxic response. It’s all very honest, but it doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Though it’s beautifully written and very heartfelt on one hand, on the other, Heart Berries is little more than a highly intelligent Fuck Off note. Rather than respond with my own vitriol, I’m just going to stuff it back into the pages of this book and move onto the next.
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LibraryThing member flying_monkeys
"Memoir, for me, functions as something vulnerable in a sea of posturing." (from the Afterword)

Finding one's truth and taking ownership and authorship of one's story are life-changing! In recent memory I cannot think of a book, fiction or non-fiction, which illustrates this power as deeply or as
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profoundly as Mailhot's memoir. She bravely reveals her journey in all its horror and beauty. I've said it many times, but I have great respect for women who have the guts to open themselves up so fully to a public that has not exactly proven warm and receptive.

"As an Indian woman, I resist the urge to bleed out on a page, to impart the story of my drunken father. It was dangerous to be alone with him, as it was dangerous to forgive, as it was dangerous to say he was a monster. If he were a monster, that would make me part monster, part Indian. It is my politic to write the humanity in my characters, and subvert the stereotypes. Isn't that my duty as an Indian writer? But what part of him was subversion?"

The language she uses is... I cannot find the perfect word at the moment.

"I know the limit of what I can contain in each day. Each child, woman, and man should know a limit of containment. Nobody should be asked to hold more."

An essential read for Indigenous women, yet I would recommend this to everyone, especially those with trauma in their past -- or those who aren't the picture of pristine mental health. Not that a white woman could ever walk in the same shoes as an Indigenous woman, but because there are parallels between the experiences in coming of age, mental illness, broken hearts, deep-rooted parental scars, and what it takes to begin healing.

5 stars
(I love that her author photograph was credited to her son, Isaiah.)

"Love is tactile learning, always, first and foremost."

"I don't feel liberated from the governing presence of tragedy. The way in which people frame our work, and the way our work exists, or is canonized--we are not liberated from injustice; we're anchored to it. It feels inescapable and part of the zeitgeist of Indian in the twenty-first century, or every century since they came, which doesn't limit me, or us, but limits the way we are seen and spoken about. It's unfortunate, and real to me." (from the Afterword)
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LibraryThing member kglattstein
Heart wrenching. I listened to the book and was drawn into the author's lyrical storytelling as well as story. As I heard more of her story I was sometimes lost in her remembrances versus timeline of events. She plugged at my heart, but I found that the connection of her circumstances and her past
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more difficult to follow through the end.
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LibraryThing member villemezbrown
I like how the author puts words together. It's very poetic at times. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of poetry as it tends to be vague and obtuse, much like this memoir. I'm detail oriented and found myself frustrated by all the unanswered questions I have.

Also, the author goes on and on about
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her heartbreak and bad relationships to such a degree that at a certain point in the book it just started to feel to me like nonstop whining. By the time she was ready to share about other aspects of her life, I was already detaching from the work.

In the end, I still find value in reading about a perspective so different from my own and admire Mailhot's abilities as a wordsmith
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LibraryThing member DKnight0918
Very interesting memoir told through essays. Beautiful, poetic, truthful, heart wrenching writing. I received an mp3 cd from Librarything in exchange for my honest review.. Hope to see many more books from her. We need to hear more from strong females like her who tell it like it is about things
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like PTSD, anxiety, molestation, abuse, etc. She tackles the hard subjects.
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LibraryThing member MM_Jones
A therapeutic memoir by a Pacific Northwest Native. She writes of her dysfunctional upbringing and her suicidal thoughts. I did not appreciate the book as I was unable to relate to her heritage or her mental illness.
LibraryThing member kaylaraeintheway
I heard buzz about this memoir for weeks before it was actually published, and I'm glad to say that it definitely lived up to the hype! Such a powerful and unflinching memoir from a great new voice in Native American literature.
LibraryThing member Romonko
This is a very difficult book to read and even more difficult to critique. Terese explains that she was a young girl growing up in a severely dysfunctional family. Her home was located on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Her childhood experiences caused her profound
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pain, and she found herself as a young woman in a mental institution with bipolar disease and PTSD. Her quest to find herself leads her on a panful journey of remembrance. /She has now found herself a place in the world as a mother, wife, educator and author. The language in the book is absolutely beautiful, and even with the dreadful subject matter, quite poetic. But I found that there was a lot of jumping around in time, so I found it difficult to get to the heart of the matter. The book probably realistically portrays her bumpy ride as she tries to deal with all of her issues, and that maya explain the dichotomy, but it was still difficult for me to follow the timeline. It is very difficult to read about Terese's struggles to find herself and finally come to a place where she can acknowledge and accept all the horrors of her life, and then build from there to finally discover the real Terese buried under all the memories.
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LibraryThing member hikatie
This book cracked me open - it's such a bravely, beautifully, precisely written story of working through trauma and being a child and a mother and Native woman.
LibraryThing member muddyboy
The emotionally charged memoir of a young Native American woman growing up on a dysfunctional family and later with abusive relationships with men (one that she just can;t seem to get over). This book is very well written and she doesn't rail against the abusive people in her life. Through it all a
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couple of mentors help her overcome these traumas leading ultimately her back to her Native American heritage and a Doctoral Fellowship in creative writing at Purdue University. This book will pull on your heart without being sappy or maudlin. Short book with a whole lot of meaning.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
This was one of the most brutal, heartfelt, unabashed, memoirs I've ever read. Mailhot rips out her heart for the reader to see and holds nothing back. From her insecurities about being a mother to abuse she had buried as a child to her unwise relationships to growing up native; she bares her
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entire soul. She manages to convey these truths about her life in the most succinct, powerful way. Not one word is wasted in this memoir. While listening to this I was struck by the beauty of her prose.

“I think self-esteem is a white invention to further separate one person from another. It asks people to assess their values and implies people have worth. It seems like identity capitalism.”

“I felt breathless, like every question was a step up a stairway.”

I listened to this short memoir, but now I want to read it; I want my eyes to eat up her words. Her prose is transcendent. Mailhot, hasn't exactly had the easiest of lives, but she is able to convey the beauty in her struggles and challenges. What a writer. I cannot wait to read more from her. I am ready for the Indigenous Renaissance.
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LibraryThing member caanderson
It’s hard to put into words how wonderful and tragic this book is. I enjoyed the story telling then pausing to feel the pain of the story.
LibraryThing member streamsong
In the interview at the end of the book Terese Mari Mailhot says that she started out to write the story of a woman so wounded that all she can do is wound others. And then she realized she was writing her own story, and this memoir evolved.

Her subject is bleak – physical and sexual abuse,
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alcoholism, mental illness, growing up on a reservation in Southwest Canada with little hope of change; longing to have someone take care of her and the subsequent abandonments.

Her honesty wrapped in beautifully crafted sentences is searing.

This is her first book. I'll certainly be looking for more from this author.

I received a copy of the audiobook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program. To me, this is a book that would be better to be read as a print copy.

First, reading this in print would have given me the chance to savor the words.

Second, the reader's intonation was consistently one of wounded anger, with little variation of tone. While this may well be the perfect tone for the author's thoughts, four hours of it becomes overly long.
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LibraryThing member Allison_Krajewski
“It’s an Indian condition to be proud of survival but reluctant to call it resilience. Resilience seems ascribed to a human conditioning in white people.”

Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries was small, but it packed an emotional punch. In her memoir, Mailhot doesn’t hold anything back as
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she presents her life about everything from her dysfunctional upbringing to her stay in a mental hospital, from the birth of her son to her relationship with his father, from the pain of her present and how memory is affected by the past.

Heart Berries was told in a fragmented, stream-of-conscious style series of essays. I did have a little trouble getting into the writing style, but once I fell into a rhythm, it was easier to follow Mailhot’s voice and thoughts.

Mailhot is an interesting woman who has been through so much. This is one memoir that I can see myself reading again and again – and getting something new out of it each time.

Thank you to LibraryThing and Tantor Audio for a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review!
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LibraryThing member lostinalibrary
Heart Berries: A Memoir by author Terese Marie Mailhot is a very short book that packs a very powerful punch. It is a tale of love, loss, grief, abuse, addiction, and mental illness. It is her own story told in beautiful prose and brutal honesty but she also makes it clear that it is not dissimilar
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to the stories of other First Nations women:

Native women walk alone from the dances of our youth into homes they don’t know for the chance to be away’

The memoir, like the life she is describing, frequently seems confusing and chaotic. Written in a non-linear manner, she often leaves holes in the narrative only to later show that these holes were not just holes in the narrative but in her memory, memories she finally recovers with the aid of psychotherapy, medication, and almost cruel self-examination. But this chaos, rather than weakening the story, make it that much more powerful. She reveals how much she has survived and, in the end, how far she has come but there is no sense of relief or closure, not for her and not for First Nations.

Heart Berries is a book almost lyrical in its prose, at times beautiful, elegant, raw, poignant, angry, and insightful. I would be lying if I said it was an easy read but it is an important one. A definite high recommendation from me.

Thanks to Edelweiss+ and Counterpoint for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
It would take an extraordinary book to live up to Sherman Alexie's effusive praise in his introduction to Heart Berries. I'm not sure that this non-linear narrative does. It has its evocative moments, as First Nations author Terese Marie Mailhot details her dysfunctional relationships with her
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parents and her lover, her bouts of suicidal ideation, and her hatred of ladybugs. Yet some elements remain frustratingly vague. For example, she alludes to an eating disorder that is never described.

Recommended to those who like their memoirs brief and poetic.

Please note that I received an advanced reader's copy of this book through my employer, with no expectation that I would review it or give it a positive review.
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LibraryThing member Jane-Phillips
Mailhot's memoir weaves back and forth throughout her life and is mainly written to her lover as she takes the reader on a journey from her youth to the present. Reading it was like reading snapshots of her life and it was more like poetry than the usual memoir which made it a refreshing read for
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this reader.
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LibraryThing member jsheilas
Heart Berries stands uniquely on its own as a memoir—fragmented, poetic, deeply personal, and highly aware of the ways it follows and defies convention. Mailhot is unafraid to own up to her mistakes and the legacy of pain she has inherited as a Native American woman who has lived with a traumatic
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childhood, mental illness, and abusive relationships. Though not an uplifting read, it’s bittersweet to follow Mailhot as she finds her voice and makes sense of the experiences and identities that have shaped her life. Mailhot writes poetically of the pain of loss, abuse, heartbreak, and healing with originality and introspection. I listened to the audiobook and would recommend reading the book; there are some lines that I wanted to repeat or process more slowly.
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LibraryThing member quondame
A memoir of moving through madness and it's roots by a Native American woman. Not at all an easy read, and possibly containing some triggers, certainly I had to keep my own emotional history from raveling my attention from each sentence as it sliced into me during the first two sections. Then I had
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to wonder what sort of man left messages on his computer and phone to be found by the lover (he implied) he wanted to keep. Perhaps I was distracting myself from the real pain on the page. Not a feel good life with those close to nature yarn.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
This is not ordinarily the sort of book I pick up, but I found it powerful and disturbing and heart wrenching to read. Mailhot writes her madness in an extraordinarily compelling way, one that viscerally portrays the abuse and trauma at the heart of her story. Every time I went to put it down, I
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found myself compelled to pick it up again.

Advanced Reader's Copy provided by Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member Overgaard
if read in a different mood might have liked it better - admire the writer enormously
LibraryThing member Booklover217
"Nothing is too ugly for this world, I think. It's just that people pretend not to see."

QOTD: What memoirs did you read this year that you loved?

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is one of my favorite memoirs I read this year. I read this one back in July and it is only now that I can fully process
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some of my thoughts and feelings. Mailhot's writing is honest and raw and she holds nothing back. She bares all the ugliness on the pages but still leaves you with a semblance of hope. You're left contemplating about the complexities of the human condition and what it means to love so much that it hurts. You're also left wondering if it is possible to love someone fully when there is so much pain and trauma embedded in their loins.

Mailhot takes you through her battles with mental illness, the history and trauma of Indigenous people, motherhood and longing to be loved. The book reads like an open wound as she picks away at the scabs and scars that are left behind from her trauma. You especially see this in the ways that she speaks directly to the pain she feels of not being seen and loved by her children's father and how that pain almost mirrors "madness".

The writing is absolutely exquisite. I highlighted so many passages that need further introspection. I will definitely reread this one because I feel like it will hit differently every time. What stays with me the most is how she writes about Indigenous women's pain and explains how humanity was born from pain. It is felt on every page. The quote I still think about is: "My people cultivated pain. In the way that god cultivated his garden, with the foresight that he could not contain or protect the life within it. Humanity was born out of pain." She's not afraid to speak about it and boldly calls it out. This book is one that haunts me because of it's unflinching manner and the way it bravely speaks truth to power.
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LibraryThing member reader1009
adult nonfiction/memoir (woman of Native American heritage dealing with PTSD, bipolar II disorder, eating disorders, a difficult break up, and other challenges).
poetic and raw, loaded with emotion and meaning (though often I am not sure what exactly the meaning is)--an extremely talented writer
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with a unique voice. Not what I was expecting but a pleasant surprise.

old lady reader warnings: contains numerous f-bombs and explicit situations.
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LibraryThing member forsanolim
3 stars for now, though I plan to reread at some point.

Heart Berries is Terese Marie Mailhot's memoir about life and coming-of-age as a First Nations woman in the Pacific Northwest. The book jumps around in time, with particular emphasis on various facets of Mailhot's experience of parenthood, both
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tracing her history with her own parents as well as her own experience of motherhood. Throughout, there are strong themes of abuse, addiction, and trauma.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and I'm not sure that I'd recommend it in that format. The audio itself is totally fine, bu the poetic and extremely nonlinear nature of the writing would, I think, be better suited to a physical page, so that you can reread and go back as necessary--I found that I got lost/confused a lot. The emotions in this book are really raw and powerful, however. I do hope to reread this sometime in physical format, and I suspect that my rating will go up at that point.
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