“Ties That Bind: Stories of Love & Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps,” by Dave Isay, with Lizzie Jacobs. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013. 202 pages, $25.95 (hardcover).
Dave Isay is founder of StoryCorps, the oral history project that has collected conversations between friends and family members for the National Archives and for airing on National Public Radio on Friday mornings for the past 10 years. As StoryCorps began its collection process, Studs Terkel stood in Grand Central Station at the first recording booth and proclaimed: “Today, we shall begin celebrating the lives of the uncelebrated.”
During the past 10 years, StoryCorps has more than met all expectations for success by recording almost 50,000 interviews from more than 1,000 locations spread over all 50 states.
In “Ties That Bind,” Isay samples several of the stories that have been collected.
The interviews are grouped into three chapters around the themes of “We saved each other,” “Been through battles” and “Two sides of the same heart.”
The first section includes an interview with a teacher who raised one of his fifth-grade students as his “godson” when the child’s mother couldn’t care for him properly.
The interaction between them is priceless. The teacher and godson learned from each other, especially when the godson added his own child to the mix.
In the second section, a former soldier relates how he became very close to two Iraqi boys while serving in Baghdad and how it devastated him when one of the boys was killed with his mother in a suicide bomber attack.
This incident plagued the soldier. When he returned home, he began dating his future wife and gradually revealed it to her.
One of the interviews in the third section involves a man in Atlanta talking with his daughter, a surgeon, and telling her about his father, a chauffeur and janitor.
His father asked him one evening why he was so upset about his math homework and offered to help.
The son said: “Dad, they didn’t have algebra in your day!” At 4 a.m. the next morning, the father – after sitting up all night reading the algebra book – woke him up and taught him how to work the problems.
The StoryCorps interviews presented here and on NPR every week are about ordinary people, the uncelebrated, but they provide insight and understanding into who people are and how they react in difficult situations.
They also testify to the close bonds formed between family members and also between people who came from very different backgrounds and met under unusual circumstances, yet became intimately involved. Anyone who enjoys hearing the StoryCorps interviews on Friday mornings should find “Ties That Bind” a very rewarding experience.
— Reviewed by Richard Weigel, Western Kentucky University History Department.