LESS THAN WHAT YOU ONCE WERE by Aaron Brown
Less Than What You Once Were begins in a pivotal moment for the speaker—during the 2008 “Battle of N’Djamena” in Chad’s capital. This destabilizing experience—in which the speaker’s home is broken into—results in the family embarking on a months-long departure from the place, and the narrative begins to cycle through childhood memories, from the first night when Brown lands at N’Djamena’s airport as an eight-year-old boy to the failed attempt at bird hunting with a slingshot. These centering memories soon give way to stories of displacement as a young adult and, much later, a return to the country of his youth. This fragmented memoir, told in a similar, episodic style to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, is both a coming-of-age story and also a story of exile, ending in a state of dislocated adulthood, the speaker longing for a return to a childhood home that can’t be accessed.
Publication Date: April 26, 2022
Praise for LESS THAT WE ONCE WERE
—“I thought continually of two great works of lyric prose when reading Aaron Brown's powerful, grief-soaked memoir--Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and its meticulous recreation, undoing, and half-stunned reaching back to an Eden that still has the power to wound and make whole; and William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow and its hard-won confidence in the power of art to enter into and release us from the loss of a world that was finally not our doing. Time and exile whistle through these extraordinary acts of rebuilding, celebration, and longing--"huddled against the gate of a garden," the poet Robert Hass writes, "to which they can't admit they can never be admitted"--but the music carried to us on that wind, quietly swinging from here to there, discovered and lifted up and puzzled over in the very act of writing, is lyric thinking of the highest order.”
—Thomas Gardner, Alumni Distinguished Professor of English, Virginia Tech, author of Poverty Creek Journal and Sundays.
No one has had this childhood except Aaron Brown, yet anyone can relate to the longing for the past expressed in this intricate and delicate memoir. Lush and lyric, Chad and the people who live there are alive in these pages, beautifully rendered in this English layered with Arabic and street-French. Less Than What You Once Were is a joyful and sorrowful and vibrant journey.
—Erin Stalcup, author of Keen