Letters To Iris and Leo: A Life Journey Through Continents and Cultures
Letters to Iris and Leo is an autobiographical compilation of letters written to my grandchildren over a period of five years. Accompanied by photos it chronicles their early years, beginning with adoption at birth by two fathers, while recalling in parallel my own life as a child growing up in Turkey. The book goes on to describe my journey to the United States as the first international undergraduate student at Duke University, my marriage to a professor, and my adventurous life as the wife of a prolific artist.
The story unfolds through my professional life as a teacher of creative arts; artistic director of Boston’s annual New Year’s Eve Celebration, First Night (1980-1994); and founder of First Night International. Coping with my husband’s declining health, widowhood, and beginning anew as a travel writer conclude the book.
My personal journey also touches upon issues of same-sex adoption and parenting, cultural differences between East and West, as well as the founding years of First Night Boston.
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Reading Zeren Earls' book Letters to Iris and Leo: A Life Journey Through Continents and Cultures is a unique experience. On one level it is a classic tale of an immigrant coming to America, adapting to U.S. Culture, and finding multiple ways to enrich the fabric of our life here. I loved being treated to her recollections of her native Turkey and learning about the way her aesthetic sensibility evolved as she worked her way eventually into her position of head of First Night, Boston, and then First Night International. This aspect of the story is fascinating because the writer is insightful, intelligent and has a fantastic memory for detail. The glue that holds the narrative together, however, is her straight forward honesty in describing not just her involvement in the arts but more importantly her love of her late husband, her son, and her two grandchildren - including frustrations and heart aches along the way. What a wonderful gift to give these two grandchildren! They were conceived by Belgium parents and were adopted into a truly international family. Zeren's son, with his American upbringing by a mother with Turkish Muslin background and father with Missouri Methodist background, lives with his Greek partner in Brussels. Is it any surprise that the children already speak French, English, and Greek? They not only benefit from the love of their two fathers and their two grandmothers, but they have been given a road map documenting how they got to this place - along with reasons to celebrate how it happened. It is a great pleasure to read these “letters” - whatever your own background and personal journey. It's re-assuring to feel you are not alone, but have found a traveling companion in life's journey.
A fascinating account of one woman's life that mirrors the major social changes of the 20th century. My favorite part is Zeren's description of her college life at Duke. Imagine being transported in the 1950s from a secondary school in Turkey with a tradition of academic excellence to the American South. Duke then had a separate college for women that was, of course, not equal to that provided to men and where a sorority tradition thrived. Zeren describes her experiences there with sensitivity and understanding but also with clear-eyed honesty.
This engaging and informative autobiography left me inspired to begin my own story for my children! I loved the format with letters, photos, and amazingly detailed accounts of Zeren's life. She has given us a window through which to see, feel, and experience the life of an immigrant, of a family with a gay son, of adopted grandchildren and world traveller. This honest , insightful and direct account of her personal journey through life as a daughter, sister, mother, teacher, artist, administrator, and now writer is terrific! Bravo!
I especially enjoyed Zaren's descriptions of growing up in Turkey and putting them in the context of her experiences in the United States. This is a story of an innovative and adventuresome artist and her family that will resonate particularly with those of us who have experienced First Night and wondered how it came to be. The description of her multifaceted career and that of her musically gifted husband shows a restless energy that makes for a compelling narrative. All told in the context of a very complex and moving family storyline. Ken
It was a real pleasure to read about such a strong women and her family. Her courage and curiosity seem endless. The letters to her grandchildren was a unusual and delightful way to tell her life story. Zeren has no doubts as to who she is and what she is about. She shares her joys and heartaches with admirable strength and dignity. A great read.
Zeren Earls' LETTERS TO IRIS AND LEO is a very moving story of a woman's journey from the world of Turkey to America. It's a story of adventure and compassion and is full of music and beauty!
What a remarkable book! Zeren Earls tells her life story to her grandchildren while at the same time recording for them their own beginning stories. Her frank and open style is disarming and engages the read throughout the years from her youth in Turkey to college in North Carolina and on to First Night in Boston. We enjoy meeting her family: MIT faculty husband Paul, son Selim and his partner Kimon, their children Iris and Leo. Through the pages of her book, Earls guides the reader on a cultural tour of the past 50 years.
This is a terrific read from a grandmother to her two grandchildren who are currently too young to understand the life journey of their grandmother but who will savor this journey as they grow older and revisit this narrative and frame it within the context of their own lives. Each stage of life is presented in the form of letters to show the highly personal nature of their grandmother's development as a student, a professional, and a loving grandparent. Photos throughout add a visual history to this narrative and show the blending of two cultures. Even if the grandchildren are unable now to fully comprehend this life journey in words, they will gain greatly by focusing on the photos that cross both time and space.
A page turner, here is a no-holds-barred memoir by a woman whose cross-cultural experiences, keen sense of curiosity about aesthetics, and hands-on involvement in the arts led to the foundation of First Night International, a New Years celebration enjoyed by countless people around the world. Zeren Earl's letters not only inform about differing traditions and ways of life, they also tell a deeply personal story of coping and standing by one's own convictions. Would that we all had such insights into the lives of our grandmothers.
There is something in this book for nearly everyone -- a young woman coming of age first in Turkey then in the U.S. south, a grandmother, a wife, a daughter, an artist, a partner of an artist, a community builder, an adoptee or adoptive parent, an advocate of equal rights for LGBT families, a traveler, and any curious, thinking person. Earls' narrative juxtaposes milestones in her adoptive grandchildens' lives with events marking her own life story. It is a terrific read. Sumru
Every one with grandchildren would like to leave a written history like Zeren Earls has written to her grandchildren. Each of us has a story to tell. However, Zeren Earl's story is quite amazing and it is told beautifully. You will travel with Zeren from Turkey to America and around the world as she tells the story of her life for Iris and Leo. It is also a very touching story of Iris and Leo. The story begins a few days before Iris is born and it continues through the birth of Leo and another three years. It is an easy book to read because it is a collection of letters. Family photographs are included making this story come alive. I have shared this book with many of my friends. It is a book to treasure.
This is a book that I could hardly wait to share with my friends. The framework of the book, a series of letters to Earl's grandchildren is woven seamlessly into a diary of her own adventures, heartaches, challenges, and accomplishments. The narrative covers several continents, and touches on work, love, family and pride. The use of photography is also a wonderful plus, giving further context to Earl's fascinating life.
In the opening of this heart-warming book Earls wrote for her two grandchildren, she writes "It is my hope these letters will assist you in understanding your heritage. You have inspired me to write my life story for you." In sharing her story, Earls not only captures her youth but imparts the wisdom she has achieved along the way. Earls, who immigrated to the United States to attend college, knows well the joys of life and its hardships. Bridging cultures, Earls revels in the ethnic mashup that is her family and the courage of her son and his partner to adopt. For those interested in intergenerational relationships, same sex marriage and family formation, this book is a must read. Through Earls spirit you can almost believe "all you need is love."
This memoir, written in the form of letters to her grandchildren, is a must-read for anyone who is a parent or grand-parent, in a gay or lesbian relationship, an adoptee or adoptive parent, someone who has crossed cultures or has been a renegade in some way. With her deep passion for the arts and for her grandchildren, (adopted by her son of Turkish ancestry and his Greek husband), Zeren "tells it as it is". Recounting the many adventures and disappointments in her life, she shows us it is possible to continually re-invent oneself and that one is never too old to do so.
This unique memoir uses the parallels between her own milestones of growing up and those of her grandchildren. One is treated to an inside look at growing up in Turkey (the author) and Belgium (grandchildren). I recommend this book for a delightful read about a gifted individual and her life as it has unfolded. She makes you feel you should get out and do more to encourage arts and human interaction and understanding. You'll be recommending it to your friends.
I finished Iris and Leo last night, sad to say goodbye to the characters in the book, and marveling at the rich life led by author Zeren Earls. Her family and arts-oriented work and life have interwoven in a seamless and expansive way. The intersection of art, children, and daily life that she observes and chronicles are fascinating. Encouraging parents to see the power in allowing children to explore, be creative, and be open to their own natural curiosity is timely and refreshing. What a gift this woman has given her readers by telling her story through personal family letters. A truly intimate glimpse of the process of life.
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