Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Non-Fiction: The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen

The story will not be completely unfamiliar to you: you’ve heard versions of it before.

A family of some wealth and relative western privilege chuck it all -- or, at least, a bunch of it -- in order to make their lives more meaningful by giving back. The big difference in the Salwen family’s story is dad, Kevin: a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal for close to two decades. Salwen Senior knows when he’s looking at a story and knows what to do with it when he is. That’s not to take anything away from the considerations and sacrifices the Salwens have, as a family, made. Rather it’s intended to underline a significant difference between this and other somewhat similar tales: this one is well and concisely told. Here we feel the mood as the Salwen’s, unknowingly, prepare for their adventure:
As we drove from activity to activity, the TV in the back seat kept the kids entertained -- and our family from connecting. At dinner, conversations began to center on to-do lists instead of meaningful dialogue. Our sense of togetherness was beginning to erode. I can't pinpoint the moment it happened because, after all, erosion is so much harder to recognize than earthquake damage.
You see? Absolutely terrific stuff. There are many of these moments in The Power of Half (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Moments of recognition and transformation. And what begins as what Salwen calls erosion leads to change. Magnificent change. They sold their large home in Atlanta -- the one they had thought was the house of their dreams -- and gave half the money to charity. Which charities -- and how, as a family, the Salwens chose them -- make up the bulk of The Power of Half. And the subtext is key, as well: it’s a journey of giving and, long before the final page is turned, you feel the power that taking these steps together has brought to this family. It’s a thought-provoking book. One that makes you realize that very few of us ever really do enough.

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