Escape From Xanadu

A Memoir of Survival, Adventure, and Coming of Age

Non-Fiction - Memoir
326 Pages
Reviewed on 03/03/2016
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Escape From Xanadu: A Memoir of Survival, Adventure, and Coming of Age is a non-fiction memoir written by Doc Sanborn. The author was quite literally a war baby. His father enlisted in the Merchant Marines when Sanborn was five months old. Shore leave visits were few and far between, and eventually his mother and father were divorced. His little sister and mother went to live with his mother's new love interest, but Sanborn stayed with his father's parents who raised him until he was in the third grade. Junior, Sanborn's father, came home after the war was over and also lived briefly with his parents until he found a job and an apartment where he lived with his girlfriend, Pat. Sanborn's grandparents felt it would be appropriate and good for both father and son for him to go live with Junior and Pat. Junior would be able to learn how to be a parent to his young son. It was an experiment and an experience that seemed to please no one, especially Sanborn himself who found living with that parent particularly difficult, and sometimes frightening, even in Junior's self-styled Xanadu.

Doc Sanborn's coming of age memoir, Escape From Xanadu: A Memoir of Survival, Adventure, and Coming of Age, follows that portion of his life when he lived with his father and Pat, the librarian who taught him to love books and reading. This well-written and engaging memoir broaches sensitive topics as the parent and child seem inevitably to clash, with the threat of violence ever looming over seemingly any interaction. Where the author truly shines is in his descriptions of school life: his first kiss, secret longings for a teacher, and friends to replace those he had lost when he left his grandparents' home, and his tales of the outdoors and the times he spent with his dog, Peppy, exploring the wilds around the battered cottage they lived in. Sanborn's writing excels when his subject is nature. One can see every rickety plank on the dock outside Xanadu, and visualize the author gathering mussels and oysters, and generally being a kid out in nature. I loved Sanborn's earlier memoir, Sanborn's Camp, and found Escape from Xanadu to be an equally compelling read. It's most highly recommended.

Kathryn Bennett

Escape From Xanadu: A Memoir of Survival, Adventure, and Coming of Age by Doc Sanborn is a story that hearkens back to the likes of Huck Finn. There are stories to be told and you will meet Donnie who gets shot, finds a secret Nazi hideout and nearly gets trampled by a war horse. This is the kind of book that tells great tales and some of them might be tall, but it takes you on an adventure. Get ready to go with Donnie on his crazy adventures and find out if he manages to bronco bust a large hog.

It is not every day you read something that is entertaining, emotional, and makes you wonder if some of it is telling stories. The bottom line is this is a true coming of age story that takes place in a bygone era. The 1950s must have been an amazing and also somewhat scary time to grow up. This book is thought provoking and I found that I could not put it down for a moment while I read it. Doc Sanborn knows how to spin a story that means something, and what makes it more amazing is that this is a memoir. If you want to be entertained and invited to think about your emotions and the idea of understanding what it means to grow up, this is a great book. No matter how old you are, it is never too late to look back on those years that are the most formative for all of us.

Lit Amri

Escape From Xanadu: A Memoir of Survival, Adventure, and Coming of Age by Donnie ‘Doc’ Sanborn centers around the author’s journey to adulthood, filled with interesting characters and adventures in the 1950s. Escape From Xanadu also looks at the many layers of relationship between a father and his son. Sanborn’s father, Junior, is an ex-soldier and a temperamental man who’s not easy to understand, which often takes a toll on the young Sanborn and the people around him.

Sanborn’s writing style is clean and easily readable, yet insightful and bold. The setting is vividly described, capturing the quintessence of the time period and surroundings with ease. In the simple premise of his coming of age story, he reminds us of the reflective life lessons from the influences that a child can have upon his or her whole life as well as the subtle, unknowing effects that someone – family, friends or acquaintances – can somewhat exert upon a person’s destiny.

Sanborn’s honest lens on his past and his relationship with his father is a mesmerizing journey. His concise writing gives this memoir a witty and contemplative tone. One of my favorite parts is where Sanborn has the unexpected chance to meet his old nemesis again in his adulthood. He’d sworn vengeance upon this man for something that he did before, yet it seems karma already gives what Sanborn wants. On the whole, Escape From Xanadu is an easy yet gripping read from start to finish. I highly recommend it to my fellow readers.

Darryl Greer

“Doc” Sanborn’s Escape From Xanadu sounds at first blush like a 13th-century adventure story centred around the summer capital of Kublai Khan's Yuon empire. In fact, it’s a memoir of the author’s own childhood experiences in New England during the 1940s and 1950s, “Xanadu” being the name of a run down property his father acquired – the author’s home for several years. The reader is introduced to “Doc” when he is but five months old and we follow his life until young adulthood. To say Sanborn’s formative years were difficult is understating the reality. In modern day social services-speak, he would be classified as an abused child, or at least a neglected one. He was reared for a while by his grandparents whom he obviously loved, but against his own wishes he was taken in by his father, whom he refers to as Junior, along with his step-mother Pat, and from there a dark shadow descended over his life. But that did not stop him making the most of the cards he’d been dealt. The chapters are not numbered, instead they bear headings and a quick look at some of them provides a snapshot of what the reader is in for: Pig Riding, The Nazis Are Coming, Crazy Frankie, Shooting Angels, Where There’s Smoke… and Running Away. These are just a few and give a taste of a Boy’s Own adventure that characterizes this remarkable memoir. Along the way we see “Doc” (real name Donnie) get shot, discover a Nazi spy hideout, barely avoid being trampled by a horse, and form an unlikely friendship – against Junior’s wishes – with a crazy psychopath.

Escape from Xanadu is self-published but potential readers should not be put off by that. It is written in an easy-to-read, no nonsense style and appears to have been professionally edited. The writing is flawless. Characterization is good; within the first twenty pages or so I gleaned who was who and had a good grip on their respective personalities. The narrative is amusing, especially considering the problems the author faced during his upbringing, and clear, descriptive writing makes it easy to visualize the scenes. The structure of the memoir is a little unusual in that it is more like a series of interesting anecdotes strung together, but that does not detract from the story. It works. While “Doc” Sanborn has injected just the right amount of pathos into his childhood character, Escape From Xanadu is still a rollicking good read.

Valerie Rouse

Escape from Xanadu by Doc Sanborn is an interesting tale surrounding a young teenager named Donnie Sanborn. This story chronicles Donnie’s childhood years, including his escapades and numerous clashes with his strict father. Donnie is the only child of his estranged mother and father. He lives as part of a blended family as his step mum gave birth to his baby brother, David. They lived together in New Hampshire for a while before moving to Dover. Their home in Dover was nicknamed Xanadu by Donnie’s father, Junior. Donnie hated living there as it resembled a shack and had no modern amenities. He also endured a love/hate relationship with Junior, who rarely showed any affection towards him. Donnie craved the warm, caring attitude of his grandparents and he wanted to live with them. He got up the nerve to confront Junior and state his case. He got his wish in the end and spent the remainder of his childhood years with his grandparents.

Escape from Xanadu is a book that is hard to put down. From the beginning, I was enthralled with the detailed childhood memories of the author. This displays the obvious talent of author Doc Sanborn. The language used is informal to reflect the simplicity of the countryside lifestyle showcased in the book. I loved the use of contrast between the empathy shown by the main character’s grandparents versus the cold tolerance of his father. This portrays the true significance of having an uplifting and happy childhood experience. It is obvious that when a child doesn’t feel accepted in the home, he/she never forgets that experience. I firmly believe that the author also feels that each child should have a warm, enriching atmosphere when growing up because those years represent the launch pad for a successful adult life. This autobiography clearly exemplifies the do's and don’ts of effective parenting skills. I strongly recommend this novel to all readers, especially teenagers.