Native Journalist's Memoir of Overcoming: 'Falling Into Place'
“The woman in front of me was in no shape to be on television.”
With these words Hattie Kauffman opens her book Falling Into Place: A Memoir of Overcoming (Baker Books, 2013). Though the Nez Perce Tribe member who made history as the first Native American network news broadcaster in U.S. history goes on to focus not so much on her career as an Emmy–award winning storyteller as she does on the life journey that got her there—and beyond.
From the pivotal opening moment as she stares at that not-ready-for-television mirror image in the “richly appointed” Los Angeles home that she shares with her husband, Kauffman weaves a shifting narrative back and forth until the disparate pieces settle like downward-drifting leaves. A woman who feels trapped in her own home, Kauffman takes solace in trips to the spa and getaways to her private log cabin in Montana, all the while longing for her husband’s love and attention—and for any clue as to why he wants a divorce.
After setting that scene she shifts back to the 1960s, the decade in which the young Kauffman grew up in Seattle public housing, and a raw narrative drawn from poverty begins to emerge. Replaying the details of those harrowing days, Kauffman analyzes her current crisis by retracing her past. With gradual curiosity she begins to reexamine her faith—which means she’s suddenly caught between two very different beliefs about God, and uncertain of either. Painfully, her reflection brings back bittersweet memories of her Aunt Teddy, a missionary who seemed to love Kauffman more than any of her six siblings. Desperate for answers, the soon-to-be divorcée delves into scripture and finds herself on the path to becoming born again.
This launches a straightforward, fast-paced memoir that spans five decades as it moves from inner-city Seattle in the 1960s and ’70s to present-day Los Angeles. Kauffman’s story also covers her transformative teenage experiences in Mexico, at the elite Kent School for Girls in Connecticut, and a college trip to Russia. The shifting history of these times is woven into a patchwork of two distinct lives in which moments of her private life and personal pain take the lead.
Born into a family of alcoholic parents, Kauffman is raised by her older siblings John and Lilly and sometimes by the third-born, Annie. Altogether there are seven children in the Kauffman home. Together they learn to improvise when the bills aren’t paid, the cupboards go bare, and in some cases when their parents don’t come home. At one point the sisters try to cure the drunkenness of their mother and father by pouring out their bottles of beer and substituting water.
But when Kauffman meets a boy named Sonny at age 13, all these lessons seemingly disappear. Too young to recognize that she’s acting out the scenes she has grown up with, she spirals into the same tragic patterns of alcohol abuse.
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