It takes a lot of courage to write about one’s life.
In her memoir Fly Away Home, Maggie Myklebust tells an honest, heartfelt tale about identity, place and belonging.
Maggie begins at the beginning, with her Norwegian relatives, and then moves into the story of her parents, her birth and her girlhood escapades in New Jersey. Fly Away Home shifts between those two crucial settings, both of which she calls home as her life’s journey zigzags back and forth across the ocean and, along the way, twists into something new and unexpected.
Maggie takes an unflinching approach to narrating her own life, laying emotional moments on the page without sugarcoating them or, conversely, exaggerating them for dramatic effect. The result is a fascinating, feel-good memoir, chock full of insights, surprises, humor and tension. There are so many lovely, quiet moments that speak to the universal journey of growing up and finding one’s place in the world. Many of those moments offer invaluable cultural insights and historical relevancies. Her memoir isn’t just a record of her own life; moving between America and Norway allows her to color freely outside the patriotic lines, and in doing so, she gets to the heart of what it means to be human, to make mistakes, to find joy and ultimately to make a life for oneself out of many gathered pieces.
Certainly, at its core, Fly Away Home is a love story—not just the girl-meets-boy variety, though an incredible romance blazes through the heart of the book. It’s also about yearning for a particular place, its landscape and its residents, when one is many miles away. As Maggie moves between Norway and New Jersey, she contemplates the place she just left and the loved ones she had to leave behind. She incorporates Norwegian expressions in an artful way, deepening the reader’s experience of the country’s culture while emphasizing her own struggles to learn the language.
It’s such rich, engaging material that I read the book twice this year.
Welcome to the Seven Questions Series, Maggie!
Fly Away Home is a memoir of my life. It starts before I was born, with my grandmother’s struggle to leave Norway and immigrate to America. Years later, in a cruel twist of fate, I was forced to flee America with three young children and relocate in Norway. The story continues as I strive to find identity, happiness and love on the other side of the world.
2. What inspired you to write a memoir?
I was inspired by the need to tell my side of what is at times, a very complicated story. To explain to my children and to future generations of my family the decisions I made and why I made them.
3. Fly Away Home is filled with poignant family moments, difficult decisions and passages bursting with sheer joy. Did the writing give you a new or deeper understanding of your own life’s journey?
Every part of the book provoked a different emotion in me, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. I even got angry at times and fell in love with my husband all over again. As difficult as it was, I felt lighter with the passing of each chapter.
4. Your book is very much about place and identity—specifically, the person you became as you moved between New Jersey, Norway, Texas and the Netherlands. Do you call yourself a Norwegian now, after 24 years of living there, or do you still consider New Jersey your home?
That’s a good question… Where is home? Is it where you were born or where you reside? I’d have to say it’s where you reside. My home is in Norway; it’s where I live. But I’ll always be the girl from New Jersey. I would never give up my U.S. passport and I’m proud to be an American, even if I don’t live there.
5. Please address that sense of belonging someplace, or being present emotionally, when you’re physically elsewhere—such as reacting to Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the Jersey Shore from your home in Norway. It seems that’s one of the themes of your memoir—being one place while thinking about another place—and something that many expats struggle with.
Most of my family and many my friends live in New Jersey. I visit as often as I can and always feel as if I still belong. It’s familiar, welcoming, comfortable and fun. I stay in close contact and never feel too far away, except when things go wrong. In the dark weeks following 9/11, I felt a million miles away and ached for the country I love. I watched in horror as Sandy recently clobbered the Jersey Shore and people were left homeless or without electricity for weeks. Places I grew up are now gone. At times like this people bond together and here I am, stuck on the outside, looking in and feeling helpless. No matter how many messages I leave to friends on Facebook, how many phone conversations I have with family, or how much money I donate, I’m still not there.
6. Memoirs are tricky because they inhabit the realm between factual reporting and storytelling. What was the Fly Away Home writing process like? Did you do any research or rely on old documents in terms of verifying dates and keeping the details straight?
I have scrapbooks filled with photos and dates that I followed and was constantly checking facts with family and friends. I also took a “Write Your Life Stories” class, which helped put me on track. Once the process of going back in time got started, old memories came flooding back. I may have improvised a little when writing dialogue. It’s impossible to remember word for word what was said years ago, but I wrote the book for my children and therefore kept it honest.
7. Learning the Norwegian language is one of the ongoing struggles you describe in your memoir. Have you overcome that assimilation issue? Do you use English or Norwegian most in your everyday life?
It was by far the largest hurdle or me after moving to Norway. I’m married to a Norwegian, we live in a small town and our children go to Norwegian schools. I therefore had no choice but to learn the language. People here understand English but I wanted more than to just be understood; I wanted to fit in. I’m happy to say I did conquer the Norwegian language and talk it every day, but inside my house, with my family, we still talk English.
Thanks so much for participating, Maggie! You can read more about Maggie at flyawayhomebook.com, where she also blogs in a beautiful, heartfelt way that will give you a good taste of her voice. Buy Fly Away Home in paperback or as an e-book from Amazon or as a paperback from Barnes and Noble.