Joshua Safran is an award-winning attorney widely noted for his efforts to aid survivors of domestic violence and his support of women's rights, but it’s his triumph over his own personal history - told in his new book,
Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid
- that is perhaps just as worthy of acclaim. As the child of a single mother amid San Francisco’s countercultural world of the 1970s, Safran’s life was far from normal. His mother – at times Wiccan, at times bisexual, and always opposed to the corruption of the political scheme – followed her spiritual yearnings across the western states in search of a utopia that nestled comfortably with her peace-minded, Marxist, organic ideal, and with her on this journey was a four year-old Josh. From a big green bus on the open road to a lean-to in the wilderness and a tepee in the middle of a drug-saturated spiritual gathering, Josh lived a true urchin's life, witnessing his mother's misguided attachments to all the wrong men. What might have been a quirky unconventionality transformed into a serious situation when one of these wrong men habitually began raising his fist to Josh’s mother. Stranded in the grip of domestic abuse, Josh was determined to change his fate – even if that meant turning against his mother’s perceptions of society and exposing himself to the ugly, brain-washing realities of America: namely, education. Armed only with the teaching he’d received from his mother and his own reading experience, Josh enters society to discovery that America is one seriously complex place, nothing quite like he’s prepared himself for.
Told in a breezily honest and compassionate voice, Safran’s memories of his childhood outside of the realms of mainstream society tell an emotional story of determination, spirit, and the true strength of a son’s love. Through his narrative he touches on some entirely difficult topics, such as his exposure to sex and drugs at an impossibly young age and the disturbing scenes of abuse he witnessed in one of their many ramshackle homes. Safran handles these stories with a certain simplicity, and often even with an unexpected wit, that illuminates just how successfully he was able to overcome the trials of his young life. The love with which he writes about his mother transcends the pages and explains – without outright having to explain – just how much he cared for her and how willingly he forgave her misguided attempts to find a blissful life for the two of them. It’s in his relationship with his mother, laid bare as it is on the pages, that Free Spirit truly touches on the heart of its magic. A woman who can’t seem to triumph in life through her many failed attempts never really takes the shape of a failure to her son, and Safran illustrates exactly how the complex, entirely unconventional way she raised him helped to shape him for the future. Instead of a child made dumb by the absence of formal education, we witness a young boy brought up on the intricacies of philosophy, Native American history, astrology, and bolstered by the power of his own personal readings, be it a foray into Narnia or the Encyclopedia Britannica. We see that his mother’s feminist and enlightenment-empowered mindset raised a boy whose sense of morality and determination were innate, unfaltering. In short, we journey with Safran into the past to understand that the most difficult groundwork can sometimes be the foundation on which great achievements are built.
I was engrossed in Free Spirit and at times I found myself reading it like a novel – perhaps due to a subconscious hope that some realities of the book couldn't possibly appear outside of fiction. But I think in many ways Safran’s memoir manages to rise out of classification as it becomes, at its core, a man’s story of his boyhood experiences and the relationship with his mother that ultimately steered the course for the rest of his life. It’s a poetic account of some very unpoetic moments, a love letter woven compassionately with the search for an apology, and through the story of his life Safran leaves an impression on his audience that will engage their imagination and almost certainly change their perspective on the world.
Title:Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the GridAuthor: Joshua Safran Genre: memoir Publisher: Hyperion Available Formats: hardcover, e-book Release date: September 10, 2013 Source: Hyperion (c/o) Buy the book:Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & NobleConnect with the author:Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads