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Book Life Prizes

Title: A Candle for My Mother

 Author: Pamela L. Newton

 Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

 Audience: Adult

Word Count: 72,000

 Assessment:

Plot:  Lorraine Newton's stories of life in the Middle East are a fascinating close-up of history combined with the personal life of a mid-century American couple. 

 Prose: Lorraine Newton is a natural storyteller. Her descriptions paint a vivid picture of time and place, as well as show her consideration and acceptance of people as she explored the globe and encountered a diverse array of individuals. Pamela Newton's inclusion of her own travels and her candle-lighting throughout the world's churches makes a sweet connection between storylines.

 Originality: Family letters and journals are rarely this interesting. Pamela Newton has successfully integrated her personal story within that of her mother's without overshadowing or competing. 

 Character Development: Lorraine, Don, and the people they met while in the Middle East are presented without embellishment or ego. Lorraine's personality shines through in these pages. Her descriptions of the men and women they knew and the people they worked with make readers feel as if they were right alongside the couple in their travels.

 Score:

 Plot/Idea: 9

Originality: 10

Prose: 8

Character/Execution: 9

Overall: 9.00

Report Submitted: September 19, 2018

Kirkus Reveiews

In this debut memoir, an author combines the recorded recollections of her mother with her own travel experiences while developing promotions for DreamWorks Animation. 

Newton’s father, Don, was an oil driller. In 1956, he worked for the Iraq Petroleum Company, a consortium of major oil concerns from the Netherlands, France, Britain, and the United States. He was stationed in a huge base camp located outside Kirkuk in the northeastern corner of Iraq. In late December of that year, his wife, Lorraine, and their four young daughters left their home in Lakewood, California, and joined him in Iraq, where they remained until February 1962. Despite the unrest that swirled around the Middle East, the Newton family was beginning a great odyssey. Every two years, Don was entitled to a four-week home leave, which presented an opportunity for the family to enjoy some European exploration on the way back to California. Of the four girls, Newton spent the longest time in Iraq. Her older sisters were eventually placed in boarding schools in England. For Lorraine, these five-plus years were the experience of a lifetime; for Newton, who was only 3 years old when the family relocated to Iraq, they set the stage for a future filled with worldwide travel. Except for some introductory material, each chapter of the memoir begins with transcripts of Lorraine’s recordings, followed by specific and engaging anecdotes from the author’s personal journeys that trigger memories of her mother and childhood. The occasionally repetitive chapters end with Newton finding a church or sometimes a beach, where she lights a candle in gratitude to her mother for giving her different gifts that have helped her navigate her life: “I thanked her for teaching me to see people as good and kind, for indeed most are.” Certainly, the most intriguing sections of the joyful book are those detailing the Newton’s singular lives within a protected, multinational enclave in the Iraqi desert, and the behind-the-scenes glimpses into the DreamWorks retail promotional endeavors.

An articulate, buoyant, and often humorous account involving family life and globe-trotting adventures.

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Foreword Reviews

A Candle for My Mother is an inspiring family memoir that reflects on the virtues of travel, seeking new experiences, gratitude, and giving.

In her captivating and thought-provoking memoir, A Candle for My Mother, Pamela Newton publishes her mother Lorraine’s old travel letters and transcribed recordings alongside her own stories of traveling as a marketing executive for DreamWorks Animation. The book pays homage to Lorraine’s enthusiasm for world discovery and the life lessons she passed on to Newton.

Chapters begin with Lorraine’s recollections and end with Newton’s reflections. The writing styles are vastly different, but the book relies on print type to signal which narrator is speaking: bold type for Lorraine, and regular for Newton.

Lorraine’s travel adventures began in 1956, when her husband, Don, begins a work assignment in the Middle East. Ready for a change, Lorraine relocates to Iraq with the family’s four young daughters to join Don. Lorraine’s memories are transportive, filled with grand details of travel in the 1950s, when commercial international direct flights didn’t exist and airplane travelers dressed their best, smoked cigarettes to their heart’s contentment, and looked forward to tasty cuisine.

Lorraine’s transcribed stories show her reaching out to her new community, forging family friendships that endured into the next generation. They also show how the family’s lives shifted overnight after the Iraqi revolution, moving from comfortable days with household help, boarding school, and long holidays to living under house arrest and terror. Lorraine held herself together for the sake of her family, projecting calm and assurance; her transcribed stories reveal the turmoil and uncertainty she kept buried inside.

Newton reflects that she feels the deepest connection to her mother when she is traveling; she starts a personal tradition of lighting a candle for her mother in destinations the world over. Newton draws immaculate comparisons and parallels between decades-apart experiences, though only Lorraine’s adventures necessitated a complete immersion in a foreign culture. Because of that, Lorraine is able to delve more deeply into the day-to-day living and lifestyle of the citizens in her locales and paint highly detailed pictures; Newton admits that her own itineraries read more like travel brochures.

Many of Newton’s reflections center around work projects and complications. Invariably, work situations trigger memories about Lorraine; throughout, Newton comes to see her mother’s wisdom and work anew. While relaxing on a train and being served a meal, Newton recalls Lorraine’s stories of creating new recipes for her family and is overcome with gratitude; she barely restrains from hugging her server.

The dialogue and situations in Lorraine’s narratives are perfectly selected. Each exchange highlights a turning point or something noteworthy in her journey. She bursts to life as a complex character as she relates interacting with “houseboys” or how a family vacation had everything go wrong. Newton adds dimension with her own memories—such as Lorraine’s creative problem-solving, evinced when her mother marched her into the bathroom and cut off her hair for being “prissy.”

The narrative pattern reveals itself early on. As Lorraine’s story picks up, especially in the times of the revolution, her installments become truncated to fit with the preset pattern. Though they are beautifully written, some of Newton’s interjections read like intermissions to the main production. In contrast, Lorraine’s narratives shine.

A Candle for My Mother is a family memoir that reflects on the virtues of travel, seeking new experiences, gratitude, and giving, beckoning its audience to discover and connect to the world and its inhabitants themselves.

Reviewed by Tanisha Rule 
August 17, 2018

 

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A Gem! - Cee ann

A Candle for My Mother is a celebration of moms everywhere, a profoundly personal story with universal appeal. Beautifully written and told with heart and humor, it touches many bases – family dynamics and sibling relationships, world travel, Middle Eastern history and politics, church architecture, Hollywood and the entertainment industry, ‘50s/’60s culture, even an ingenious parenting tip or two. There’s something here for everyone.

It is upbeat and uplifting, full of life and love. It was a treat to read..

 
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A beautiful Book - Sherry

Pam's exquisitely crafted story mirrors her mother's candid memoirs of an extraordinary journey living in the middle east. Her behind the scenes glimpse of the movie business contrasts with many stories recorded by her mother of their early family life living in Iraq. Most of all Pam's awe of and love for her mother will challenge readers to reflect on their relationships with their own mother. It's a poignant story of a mother's love, sacrifice, determination and a daughters love and gratitude.

 
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My mother the star - Thomas Buchanan

Fate - there you go again. “Whether it is destiny or chance that delivers us to the parents we inherit, there can be no mistaking the impact a parent has on our life, especially a mom”. Thus begins the deeply felt, touching memoir A Candle for My Mother, and there is no doubt this mother made a deep impression on this daughter. What began in Westminster Abbey years before continues to the present day: the author, Pamela L. Newton, lights a candle wherever she goes in memory of her adored, fiercely independent materfamilias. What a role model! Stories of growing up with super mom (“Because mom did what she did, all our lives were an adventure too”) and Newton’s three close sisters are effectively cross-matched with the author’s own compelling life. Her mother’s lively flamboyant words - a nice peephole into the way this remarkable person thought and viewed the world - are quoted extensively. This one was some mother! Creative and beautifully illustrated with maps, family photos, and drawings, A Candle for My Mother is an entertaining read.