The Matchbox Diary
Some of the moments I treasure the most in reviewing are those
times when I fall head over heels in love with a book. This certainly
happened when I read The Matchbook Diary. The combination of Paul
Fleischman's well chosen words and Bagram Ibatoulline's beautifully
detailed pictures is truly transformative and heart warming.
A little girl is meeting her great-garndfather for the first
time. He tells her to pick an object. He will tell her its story.
She chooses a cigar box filled with little matchboxes, each containing
an object that would seem insignificant to most of us but is full of
meaning for the old man. She has chosen his diary.
When the old man was a child in Italy he did not have journals
like the schoolmaster's son. But he did not want to lose his
memories. So he saved objects from the old country, the voyage to
America, and his family's early struggles in the promised land: an
olive pit like the ones his mother would give him to take the edge off
his hunger, a Saint Christopher medal from the turbulant crossing, a
fish bone from his days working as a child in a cannery, a ticket stub
from a rare baseball game he and his father attended.
The pictures from the past are done in sepia but not with the
stiffness of posed photos. These are slice of lifes, vivid and
eloquent. A little boy stares wide eyed as the schoolmaster's son
reads his family a letter from his father in America. The family
embraces reunited in New York. The boy, years older but still unable
to attend school, copies letters from a poster with lumps of coal on a
side walk. In contrast the present day pictures are in color. The
expressions on the faces of little boy grown up and great-
granddaughter are priceless. In the last picture she has started her
own object diary in a candy box.
I don't care if you don't have kids, don't work with kids, don't
even like kids for that matter. If you don't let yourself read this
beautiful book at least once you'll be depriving yourself of a real
On a personal note, I have been reading my old journals, the records
of my earlier life. So far Katie has me resembling the Goodyear Blimp
and Amber is looking forward to being a big sister. I was in love
with motherhood. On one page, punctuated by Amber's scribbles, is a
very significant entry. After months of monitoring a lump on my
breast I learned it was not cancer. I learned that I would in all
liklihood live to raise my precious daughter and unborn baby.
A great big shout out to my geneologist daughter, Amber, who has
turned centuries of family momentos and writings into a cogent history.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod