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Memoir Review       

Back Home: Journeys through Mobile
by Roy Hoffman
University of Alabama Press, 2001
ISBN:  08-1731-045-2
Most of us know Roy Hoffman as writer-in-residence for the Mobile Register. He writes about the people, places, and perceptions that define Mobile, Alabama and this remarkable part of the coastal Deep South. But that's the older, wiser Roy Hoffman who returned home. There are two other Roy Hoffmans—the wide-eyed observant young fellow who grew up in midtown Mobile and the ambitious young man who moved to New York, wrote a novel, and spent twenty years writing for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Esquire, the Oxford American, Preservation, and other noted publications.

"Mobile is a town some people define by leaving," wrote Hoffman. "Whatever people yearn for—riches or fame, anonymity or glamour—seems to lie beyond the far hill. In some cases, though, leaving home is really about going far away in order to come back again." And that's precisely what Hoffman did—he came back home.

Drawing from his experiences as a young Mobilian and his New York journalistic seasoning, Hoffman has written a delightful collection of articles, essays, and memoir vignettes (most of them previously published in the Mobile Register). The University of Alabama Press has now compiled many of these articles and essays in a handsome 336-page hardback titled Back Home—Journeys through Mobile

As one might expect, Hoffman's subjects vary wildly—from the famous to the obscure. In one story, Hoffman interviews Mobile novelist and American Academy of Arts and Letters inductee Albert Murray. In another, Hoffman writes about anonymous yet heroic Laotian refugees who settled along Alabama's Gulf Coast to process seafood and live their lives in peace. One of Hoffman's most bizarre stories introduces us to some unusual fellows who shoot anvils into the sky with gunpowder (just to see who can shoot them the highest. Huh?). "Anyone's life is interesting if you linger long enough, listen up closely, pay attention to the person's way of talking, thinking, gesturing. Everyone's life touches someone else's—a parent, a child, a friend."

But Hoffman's stories are not just about people. Many are about simpler times in a charming old town. Some are about unique Gulf Coast events (Jubilee!). Others are about casual perceptions that many of us take for granted. "I have felt compelled to write short, personal essays inspired by nothing more than an event of the hour, of the holiday or season."

Those who sustain a love affair with this wonderful 300-year-old city, who appreciate laid back lifestyles in small towns along Mobile Bay's eastern and western shores, who treasure Alabama's pristine central Gulf Coast will appreciate not only Hoffman's works, but his outlook on life.

The young Roy Hoffman took it all in, the adventurous Roy Hoffman honed his skills in a far away place, and the wise Roy Hoffman brought it all back home. And we of Southern persuasions are the richer for it.

Joseph Sackett
Southern Scribe Reviews

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