IT IS GOING to be hard to give the flavour of this book in a short review, because it needs to be quoted from, and once I started quoting I would never be able to stop; it is so solidly packed with information. There is a book's worth of it in the fourteen pages of the first chapter alone. Starting with Joan Didion's great-great-great-great-great-grandmother (born 1766), it gives the essential stories, told in vivid 'snapshots', of her ancestresses, women who crossed the plains and mountains with their husbands, often at a frightful cost, until the last of them came to the promised land and joined the other creators of California. Not surprisingly, the descendants of such people take pride in their lineage, as Didion was brought up to do. And - also not surprisingly - they romanticise it. Where I Was From shows why she eventually became unable to do that.
At first it seemed odd that a work largely about a region's economic history should be described as 'a memoir'. This appears only on the jacket, not the title page, so it is probably just the publisher's attempt to hook a wider readership; but it does seem less odd as