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Notes and Thoughts on
Why Do I Love These People?

Click to skip this Author Commentary and jump immediately to:
Letters to the Families
The funny story of the book cover design process
A Q&A with Po from Random House materials

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Many random thoughts running through my mind since writing WDILTP ....

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I believe in the transformative power of stories. The subtext of my work has the goal of shaping how we tell our own stories. By using real people's stories and telling them in a certain way - without any sugarcoating, yet still beautiful; without irony, but still complex - I hope to free each of us tell our own story with greater sincerity and understanding. By devoting books to the lives of ordinary people, I hope to help us see the merit and worthiness - and perhaps great drama - in every life. In traveling so many places to record people's lives, I hope I am showing that the world is not closed to us, but open.

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I would come home with a hundred pages of notes ... wondering what the story was. It was for me to then find the threads and the metaphors in their life and write their journey in a way that made the pages turn. It is not a simple thing to turn the frayed and knotted ball of yarn that is someone's life into a clear narrative. Each story was shaped and honed until it sang, and I hope the music of these stories echoes your own.

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One reader asked about what the book is for. The stories made her cry, and she felt for these people, but beyond that - she didn't know how to apply these stories to her own life. What was her "take-away"? Each family's experience is so specific that you can't replicate their journey or retrace their steps.  Nor is the wisdom put forward as easily digestible nuggets. Thus, her question - how is this book useful?

So I called her attention to the few lines late in the book: "What we expect from family is changing, but the means that get us there aren't. The tools we have are ancient ones. They are these: taking responsibility and granting forgiveness; discernment and awareness; willingness to change and acceptance that things won't change; honesty and tact; perception and empathy; compromise; listening; communication. That's really it." 

In other words, making family manageable involves being good at these very old-fashioned skills, such as forgiveness and empathy and compromise. And I think of the book as a training experience in those skills, in the same way going to the gym is exercise for your muscles. Reading these real-life stories will naturally teach compassion for what people go through, empathy for what pains people hide inside, and awareness of social factors like migration and cultural differences. 

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Another reader asked why the stories are so tragic and painful. I laughed, because many readers think the stories all have good endings. He agreed they end beautifully, but in the meantime the families suffer so much that this casts a pall over the entire story. He couldn't feel uplifted by the way it works out, because he was still so sad.

So I told him that I had chosen stories like this for a very particular reason: to test us, on this very point. Many readers are often unprepared to "feel better" when the darkness lifts and things turn better. And I think this is a parallel to how we handle tragedy and depressing events in our own life. Often, our lives gradually improve, and despite what happened we sort of hang on to the pain, and are unable to see our lives for what they are today. The lens of the past still colors everything. 

This is an essential lesson in families - learning how to embrace what's good, today, despite what happened in the past. Just about ever chapter in the book tests your capacity to let go of the past and be happy for the family. In one chapter, "Dorothy's Child," I bring it up directly, and almost challenge the reader. 

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Q. Why did you write this book?
A. To show that a generation who grew up in "broken" families can not only survive their childhood, but go on to create great family bonds.

Q. Does that apply just to your generation?
A. Not at all, I learned. We might romanticize the past as a society, but when you look into the history of any specific family, you quickly learn that every generation was dealt significant challenges. Trying to give more than we were given is a journey we all share. 

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I try to choose stories that speak to things we feel deeply, and yet also engage the trends that I find in my research, so they're not just random stories. Then I try to write them so that it sorta sounds like I'm right there, telling the story out loud, almost but not quite conversationally. I have found that using this type of artistic voice prompts a response, almost an urge to talk back - it invites the reader to talk back.

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Cover Story
Since I took the unusual step of polling 2,000 of my readers (500 at a time) to help pick a book jacket (for the U.S. market), I owed it to them to explain how we ended up with the muddy boots image - since it wasn't their first choice. Click here to see "Cover Story."

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Q&A With Po Bronson
This Q&A actually comes from my publisher's materials

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Letters to the Families
If you have read the book, you can help me by writing a letter to the families in the book, to let them know how their stories have affected you. No need to write any family individually, just a general "To the Families" letter will do. A paragraph is plenty. Please send it to me, with "To the Families" in the subject line, and I will distribute them to the families. My email: pobronson@pobronson.com

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