three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
By: 
Laura Bush
user_rating: 
0

A-Spoken from the Heart.epsFormer First Lady Laura Bush received many awards and honors for her philanthropic efforts in education, literacy, and women's health while her husband, George W. Bush, served as president of the United States between 2001 and 2009. A librarian by profession, Laura Bush is an avid reader with an enduring love of books.

The Topic: Born on November 4, 1946, Laura Welch, the bookish only child of doting parents, spent an idyllic, if lonely, childhood on the inhospitable plains of West Texas. At 17, however, a single moment of carelessness cast a dark shadow over the rest of her life: driving with a girlfriend, Laura ran a stop sign on a dark road, colliding with another car and killing its driver, who was a classmate and childhood friend. "It is a guilt I will carry for the rest of my life," she painfully confesses. While working as a librarian, Laura, an "old maid" at 31, married aspiring politician George W. Bush after a brief courtship in 1977 and began the long road to the White House. Spoken from the Heart, if far from a tell-all memoir, nonetheless sheds light on the former First Lady's fears, aspirations, relationships, and personal compromises.
Scribner. 456 pages. $30. ISBN: 9781439155202

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The account of her eight tumultuous years in the White House is singularly free of the mean-spiritedness and payback that has become a routine feature of contemporary political memoirs. ...Perhaps the best parts of this beautifully written book involved the former first lady's deeply rooted appreciation for the physical landscape of Texas in all its seasons, which she appears to love second only to her family." Timothy Rutten

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The curious distance she imposes between herself and the events swirling around her flattens out the book in its second half--until she returns to her themes of loss and recovery. ... But Spoken From the Heart reveals Laura Welch Bush to be a beautiful writer, a keen observer and a tender soul who drew on her roots to live a life in the public eye with compassion and grace." Clare McHugh

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bush is good, very good (with the help of writer Lyric Winik) at evoking Texas in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the bygone days when ‘we could ride our bikes wherever we wanted and sneak out in our pajamas because Midland was a safe town and we were safe within its limits,' as well as the too-slowly changing times. ... As these spousal memoirs tend to do--see, for example, Hillary Clinton's Living History--the book becomes less revealing as Bush's life becomes more public." Ruth Marcus

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The first [half] is a deeply felt, keenly observed account of her childhood and youth in Texas--an account that captures a time and place with exacting emotional precision and that demonstrates how Mrs. Bush's lifelong love of books has imprinted her imagination. The second [half] is a thoroughly conventional autobiography by a politician's wife--a rote recitation of travel, public appearances and meetings with foreign dignitaries that sheds not the faintest new light on the presidency of the author's husband, George W. Bush." Michiko Kakutani

Entertainment Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The early stretches of Heart will resonate with anyone who grew up in small-town America. ... The rest of the book lacks the sweetness and poignancy of these first pages. It becomes a weary recitation of trips taken, dresses worn, meals eaten--nothing more." Tina Jordan

Critical Summary

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Mrs. Bush's delicate rendering of the virtues and rhythms of mid-century Texas life sets this book far apart from the typical score-settling reminiscences of politicians or their spouses." Indeed, the former First Lady's autobiography is pleasantly--if unsurprisingly, given her famously serene demeanor--mostly free of political spitefulness. However, the critics unanimously declared that this sincere and self-assured memoir appears to be two books masquerading as one: a sentimental and richly detailed account of growing up in small-town America and a lackluster chronicle, "more travelogue and recitation" (Washington Post), of her years in the White House. Thoughtfully and elegantly written, Spoken From the Heart lovingly evokes Bush's beloved Texas even if it adds nothing new to readers' understanding of her husband's presidency.

Recently Reviewed

A-American Wife.epsAmerican Wife | Curtis Sittenfeld ( 3 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2008): This roman à clef about the life of Laura Bush, which covers "Alice's" girlhood, her years as school librarian, her young motherhood, and her ascendancy to the White House, portrays the ambivalence that led her down the path to power, fortune, and fame.