How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South [Book Review] #Nonfiction #NonfictionNovember #Memoir #Spiritual #booktwitter #bookworm #autobiography

How Far to the Promised Land is a compelling memoir of hard work, determination, faith, racism, and hard-won achievement.

How Far to the Promised Land:  One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley

How Far to the Promised Land by Esau McCaulley (cover) Image: black text and white picket fences on a yellowish/orange background

Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir, Forgiveness, Complicated Family, African-American, Spiritual, Diverse Reads, Autobiography

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My Summary of How Far to the Promised Land:

When you’re born into family dysfunction, drug addiction, struggle, and hopelessness, your pursuit of education and vocation is the fight of your life.

How Far to the Promised Land is the story of hard work, determination, faith, racism, forgiveness, and hard-won achievement. One of the most difficult things Esau McCaulley faces (and the premise for this memoir) is writing his own father’s eulogy. How do you write an honest and respectful eulogy for a person who failed you? To do that, McCaulley seeks to understand his family’s complicated past.

My Thoughts:

Audio Format

My husband and I look for opportunities to share an audiobook experience. We most recently listened to How Far to the Promised Land. We both enjoy the listening/reading experience when an author narrates his or her own work…especially a memoir. This first-person account of a life is thought-provoking, emotional, and meaningful.

Lessons For Life

My favorite memoirs have significant relatable themes and lessons for life. They transcend the personal details of one life and cause us to think of our own lives.

As Esau McCaulley invites us into his life, he is faced with giving the eulogy at his father’s funeral. To understand why this is complicated for McCaulley, we need to hear about a childhood lived with a mostly absentee and dysfunctional father. We also need to hear about the father’s background to fully understand how he lived his life.

McCaulley’s life is one I’ll never live, so from this aspect, the details of his childhood and coming-of-age years are informative and interesting. However, just as I began to wonder if McCaulley would take this beyond the simple recounting of his life, he raises the bar and brings the book to an entirely new level as he faces his present big problem—can he write and deliver his father’s eulogy or can’t he? From this point on, the memoir takes a turn and addresses some serious life questions.

From athletics to academics, we see how McCaulley finds his way from a dysfunctional family to independence. My husband especially resonates with McCaulley in finding identity and direction in life through sports in his teen years.

During McCaulley’s college years, he meets the love of his life and soul mate. However, this presents more family complications because she’s white. Her parents have a difficult time accepting this interracial relationship and don’t attend the wedding. Eventually, there is reconciliation, forgiveness, and healthy relationships are established.

Family, Grace, and Forgiveness

My husband and I especially loved the latter part of this memoir and appreciated McCaulley’s exploration of some important themes. Can we forgive a father who has largely failed us? Is there grace in our human failings? Can we redeem our family and build on some good things? Can prejudice and racism be overcome in family relationships?

As this memoir is based on the premise of writing his father’s eulogy, it’s meaningful for the reader that McCaulley includes the actual eulogy within the last few pages.

Content Consideration: racism, prejudice, drug use, abandonment

Recommending How Far to the Promised Land

I enthusiastically recommend How Far to the Promised Land for fans of vulnerable, honest, and meaningful memoirs.

Related: Another memoir with some similar themes you might enjoy is Finding Me by Viola Davis.

My Rating:  5  Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Meet the Author of How Far to the Promised Land, Esau McCaulley

Esau McCaulley (PhD, St. Andrews) is assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. His publications include Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance and numerous articles in outlets such as Christianity Today, Religious News Service, and The Washington Post. He also wrote Reading While Black.


Is this poignant memoir on your TBR or have you read it?

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I purchase or borrow from the library all books I review unless explicitly stated that the book is free (arc).

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