A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a memoir of love, loss, and survival. It’s the story of a family and its tenacious bond in the face of catastrophe. Dave Eggers was born in 1970 to hippie parents, raised in poverty-stricken California, and remains close with his brother Bill, while Toph (now an actress) and Phil (a librarian) have both achieved fame in their own right. In this electrifying book Eggers chronicles his childhood through the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, when his family lived by a code: always dive headfirst into life so as not to feel anything afterwards.
This memoir is about a boy named Bill. His parents have died in a fire, and he has to move with his brother, sister and mother to San Francisco. He doesn’t want the memories of his family to die with them. So they find an apartment in SF, buy him a bicycle and start attending summer day school together. Gradually Bill starts feeling like he belongs again – until one day his mother forgets that they’re out of milk and he has no money left for an expensive bus ticket home.
At once a memoir and an eye-opening study of family, A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius is a powerful journalism work. Dave Eggers chronicles the turbulent lives of his father and mother from their early years in China to their deaths in San Francisco. Their ordeal makes for riveting reading, but even more remarkable is the story behind their story: how one American family was able to survive against all odds and emerge with dignity, pride and joy.
About A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Book
‘When you read his extraordinary memoir you don’t laugh, then cry, then laugh again; you somehow experience these emotions all at once.’
“Well, this was when Bill was sighing a lot. He had decided that after our parents died, he didn’t want any more fighting between what was left of us. He was twenty-four, Beth was twenty-three, I was twenty-one, Toph was eight, and all of us were so tried already, from that winter. So when something would come up, any little thing, some bill to pay or decision to make, he would sigh, his eyes tired, his mouth in a sorry kind of smile.
But Beth and I…Jesus, we were fighting with everyone, anyone, each other, strangers at bars, anywhere — we were angry people wanting revenge. We came to California and we wanted everything, would take what was ours, anything within reach. And I decided that little Toph and I, with his backward hat and long hair, living together in our little house in Berkeley, would be world-destroyers. We inherited each other and, we felt, a responsibility to reinvent everything, to scoff and re-create and drive fast while singing loudly and pounding the windows. It was a hopeless sort of exhilaration, a kind of arrogance born of fatalism, I guess, of the feeling that if you could lose a couple of parents in a month, then basically anything could happen, at any time — all bullets bear your name, all cars are there to crush you, any balcony could give way; more disaster seemed only logical.
And then, as in Dorothy’s dream, all these people I grew up with were there, too, some of them orphans also, most but not all of us believing that what we had been given was extraordinary, that it was time to tear or break down, ruin, remake, take and devour. This was San Francisco, you know, and everyone had some dumb idea — I mean, Wicca? — and no one there would tell you yours was doomed. Thus the public nudity, this ridiculous magazine, and the Real World tryout, all this need, most of it disguised by sneering, but all driven by a hyper-awareness of this window, I guess, a few years when your muscles are taut, coiled up and vibrating. But what to do with the energy? I mean, when we drive, Toph and I, and we drive past people, standing on top of all these hills, part of me wants to stop the car and turn up the radio and have us all dance in formation, and part of me wants to run them all over.