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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
From the Summer of Love to the Valley of the Moon by Nancy J Martin is a non-fiction memoir that chronicles the life of Martin as she navigates through the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and the transition to adulthood into the early 2000s. After a crash course as an independent, free-wheeling teenager, Martin is married and has dropped out of college before the age of 20. It doesn’t last long, and Martin takes up a nomadic existence that includes clothing-optional and communal living, Renaissance fairs, and an “I’m with the band” way of life that results in a new life itself: her daughter, Aura. Her love life continues to evolve, and she becomes the wife of a vintner, now at the helm of a winemaking operation that sits at the crux of legions of famous California labels. Medical issues, a surgery that results in facial palsy, divorce, a fractured relationship with Aura, physical and mental health issues of her newer husband Joe, abuse, and the impact all of this have factored into the story as she reflects on a tumultuous life.
I was initially drawn to From the Summer of Love to the Valley of the Moon because my wife is a San Francisco native, and while her own stories are as a Lowell High School graduate, the granddaughter of an Oakland Fire Captain and a Sebastopol winemaking family herself, I was curious to see the same areas in different decades through the eyes of Nancy J Martin. The only similarity is in the location, and it soon became apparent that Martin’s life, while still one of remarkable personal agency, was built from sheer grit, creativity, a prodigious degree of street smarts, and, sadly, a great deal of pain. As a father, the most heartbreaking to me was the breakdown of her relationship with Aura. As a partner, I was empathetic to a relationship filled with highs and lows and enraged by abuse. As a former social worker, I was heartened by her dedication to righting wrongs with regard to mental health and a total lack of accountability for failures in the “treatment” of both body and mind. Martin’s spirit shines through here with an extraordinary ability to meditate through multiple storms that push this memoir into the must-read category. Very highly recommended.