Having signed a pact to tell the emotional truth in my memoir, I headed into what was, essentially, a cobbling job. In writing the memoir, all I had to work with were remnants of the truth. Scraps of odd-shaped, ripped leather in a dusty bin at the back of the shop. Each section written by the memoirist begins with a memory fragment: one of Nabokov’s “bright blocks of perception.” But it is all a swirl: the rustling of a hidden Chinese dissident, a snake in a Taiwanese garden, a revolver at the embassy in The Hague, bags of tangerine-mikan on a Japanese train to a hospital—these were the fragments with which I made my memoir. If I’d stuck to actual, absolutely clear sensory memories, the book might have been a mere thirty-five pages long.
Memoir writing, for me, is the same as the cobbler’s art: a stitching together of what one has been told, what one knows, and imagination. With shreds of fabric, leather, and string, one fashions a pair of boots to walk in.