In the nineteenth chapter of Sirocco, titled “My Story,” Danielle A. Dahl writes:
“By age twelve, I desperately wished composition were more important than calculus. If so, I’d really shine. I enjoyed writing short paragraphs on topics the teacher assigned in class and often wondered how authors came to spin whole stories. How they managed to whisk me away to unknown places, introduce me to extraordinary characters, and coax me into becoming one of them. By what sleight of words did they move me to laugh, cry, hope, and despair?”
On the homepage of her website, where this photograph is flanked by the cover of Sirocco and a synopsis of the tale it tells, Danielle A. Dahl has this note:
How to write a great memoir?
Dig deep. Resign yourself to guilt of things done and regrets of things left undone.
Know that anguish and sleepless nights will go away. In time. And, above all, don’t spare the laughter.
About herself, she writes:
I was born and brought up in Constantine, Algeria, where I came of age during the war of independence of that country from France. On the eve of Algeria’s independence, a week before I turned eighteen, my family and I left our home, place of work, and life as we knew it until then. Destitute, facing a bleak future, we took refuge in France. Eight years later, hoping the soil of “L’Amerique” would be better suited to a happier life and proud owner of a single suitcase, I moved to the United States. There, I studied commercial art at the Art Institute of Boston and worked in Filene’s art department.
Later, I met my husband. Together, we lived in Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Illinois (where I studied sculpting at The Art Institute of Chicago) and finally retired to South Carolina where I recently completed my memoir, SIROCCO.
In her collection of photos on Facebook, I stumbled on this photo with caption:
Sirocco launch party photo
“This Author Ain’t Got No Respect” or
“What’s Loretta trying to say?
Two portraits of the same vintage as the official author portrait suggest that there are more Danielle Dahls than the woman in that rather dour photograph.
Danielle Dahl grew up in and grew away from the war-torn Algeria of the 1950’s.
The great strength of this moving, often frightening, memoir is in its careful weaving of the details of the daily life of a family with those of the Algerian war going on around them. As they try to maintain something resembling normalcy in this dramatically abnormal situation, we are reminded again that what matters, after all, are those individual lives, those family relationships, even those clashes that often seem unimportant against the backdrop of nations clashing and lives being lost.
Sirocco: A French Girl Comes of Age in War-Torn Algeria–a story all too real with the details of a family living in and, ultimately, escaping a nation at war– moves toward its finish with a dream from which Danielle wakes, sensing herself as “unfathomable silence lost in a petrified abyss of primary colors ….”
That dream, so seemingly out of place in this terrible landscape of reality, is the embodiment of a reality that has become, for the author, both “dream” and “nightmare” as the family makes final, surreal preparations for their “journey into exile.”
“In spite of the previous month’s spring cleaning, Ma decided we must give our home the proverbial “coup de balai”—the sweeping one gives to a house, which also referred to the resolution of pending matters before starting anew.
We moaned and groaned but picked up brooms and rags.
‘But Ma,’ Zizou argued, ‘We already cleaned the house. Why do it again, when we are not going to live here anymore?’
‘Oui,’ Yves said, ‘why should we clean for the guys who are going to steal our house from us?’
‘We don’t want strangers to see our dirt.’
I almost laughed at my mother’s absurd assertion, but her dignified stance sealed my lips.”
At the end, she watches a reality pared down to fragments, waiting for the writer that young girl has become to “spin a whole story” from them. We no longer wonder, with her,
“How they managed to whisk me away to unknown places, introduce me to extraordinary characters, and coax me into becoming one of them. By what sleight of words did they move me to laugh, cry, hope, and despair?”
Danielle Dahl has beyond any doubt become “one of them.”
“My brain snapped shots of inconsequential details—a couple holding hands, an old man’s careful steps, a suckling newborn, children chasing each other in a game of catch ….
In a daze, I lost all sense of time as family groups gathered on the hot tarmac—piles of sand waiting for Sirocco to scatter them across the globe.”
283 Market St, Seneca, SC
Contact Danielle A. Dahl through