Jean Feraca dedicates her memoir, I HEAR VOICES(Terrace Books the University of Wisconsin Press ,2007) to her brother, Stephen: “In memory of my brother Stephen for all his othering”. She also has a subtitle of “A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio.” Death in particular is prominent in Ms. Feraca’s adult experiences. The book opens with recounting her brother’s schizophrenic identity between being an Italian American and a Native American and his death from a lifetime of smoking. Feraca must be credited with being brutally honest about her unique brother and their relationship.
Her mother “Dolly”
A great deal of the book is devoted to her mother, “Dolly” who she describes as: “My mother was a monster who lived well into her nineties.” Feraca paints an accurate portrait of the aging process and how dementia can rob an individual of their personality even though they continue to live on to an old age. As is often the case, Feraca becomes responsible for her mother’s care and against her mother’s wishes decides that a nursing home is the safest place for her. In the end, “Dolly” spent more than a week in a morphine cloud and then passed when Feraca left the room on an errand.
Love at Middle Age
The third relationship Feraca shares in the memoir is with her husband Alan. They have almost nothing in common including heritage, religion, and temperament, yet these differences make their relationship dynamic. Feraca’s first marriage was a disaster and years were too devoted to fighting for child custody. In a wedding they crafted themselves, Jean and Alan, closed the door to their respective past and created a new tomorrow.
Off to the Amazon
Feraca is best known as a senior radio broadcaster with National Public Radio (NPR) as host executive producer of the program: “Here on Earth: Radio without Borders.” In 1994 she ventured to the Amazon for a week to make a radio documentary on a workshop called “Pharmacy from the Rainforest.” She also used the opportunity to visit a medical clinic, Yanamono Clinic, built and operated by the Rotary and staffed by Dr. Linnea Smith. Ferraca describes Dr. Smith as: “ . . . a spunky, no-nonsense eccentric with a streak of wanderlust who likes to ride her motorcycle through the back roads of Wisconsin whenever she comes home.”
Feraca lugged sound recording equipment, which failed under Amazon conditions, for a week and her experiences were life altering. She recalls the day she left, “ . . . weeping as I went, weeping for all of us, for the woman in her aloneness and pain, for the baby about to be born on the banks of the Amazon, for the Rotarians, those crazy optimists who had lugged all that stuff through this eternal mud, for the glory and pit of it all, for the fragile thread that links us to this life, and to each other, here on earth.”
While having had an outstanding career in public radio, Feraca views , herself primarily as a poet. In fact, in 1975 she received The Nation’s 1975 Discovery Award and named “one of the most promising pets of her generation.” Her poetry books include: SOUTH FROM ROME: IL MEZZOGIORNO, CROSSING THE GREAT DIVIDE and Rendered into Paradise.
Like Angela’s Ashes a successful memoir transports the reader into to the heart and soul of the memoirist. Jean Feraca, the radio program innovator, teacher and poet shares a life well lived with readers. This book is everything an excellent memoir should be.