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Seeking Saúl: Why Write a Memoir About a Year’s Adventure?

January 7, 2015

Writer Wednesday


There are certain kinds of books we write for ourselves, our families, our friends, fans and colleagues—especially when they say, you need to write a book about this!

Seeking Saúl is that kind of book (prounounced sa-ouul). It beautifully chronicles a year of exploration by Rebecca Thatcher Murcia and her two sons, Mario and Gabriel, in tribute to their beloved father and husband after he died of a rare bone cancer. Saúl grew up in Colombia so Rebecca and Saúl and family had traveled there numerous times previously and she was fluent in the language. For her year-long sojourn with her two sons, she gratefully relied on Saúl’s family to get acclimated and outfitted for their year.

Even though I did not know Rebecca and Saúl well, I had worked with them both and I was anxious to read Rebecca’s book. Rebecca is an accomplished and published author many times over, focusing on books for youthful readers especially biographies of people like soccer stars David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and other heroes and histories such as of Americo Parades. Her Twitter page bio simply states: “Author of many books and articles. Translator and Interpreter. Soccer Fanatic.” She has worked for several newspapers including the Brownsville (Texas) Herald as a health reporter, and then a federal agencies reporter, once so angering a drug trafficker with her articles that he apparently mailed her an animal’s tongue as a threat. Later she wrote for the Austin American-Statesman from 1993 to 2000.


Saúl Murcia

When I knew her husband, Saúl, he was co-director of Mennonite Voluntary Service as we both worked for (then) Mennonite Board of Missions and had agreed to be on the organization’s anti-racism team. We both attended nine days of “Damascus Road” intensive training (four days in one setting, five days in another) to become anti-racism leaders in our organization. As one of the few persons of color participating, his voice was invaluable as we sorted our way through the history of racism in the U.S, personal backgrounds, experiences in church and school, and life in the late 1990s in a Christian organization committed to being as anti-racist as possible and yet failing so many times. There were long discussions and not a few tears during the draining sessions.

Saúl was, outside of the racism team meetings, a trooper: always an eager participant, smiling, engaging, friendly, fun-filled, and down to earth. So it didn’t surprise me too much in reading this book, which includes numerous excerpts of Saúl’s own writing from sermons and letters home, that although he was a dedicated and devout Mennonite leader, he could swear, drink and even dance a sensual salsa if he “was drunk enough” (his words).

From Saúl’s descriptions of Rebecca’s career as an investigative reporter for the Brownsville and Austin papers and as a fellow journalist, I respected and envied her work. So I had high expectations for this book, even though I did not realize that her bent for investigative writing—which is all facts, no feelings or personal views inserted—she had trouble, she said, in injecting the proper amount of emotion in this memoir. I would also say the book succeeds in telling a memorable adventure but doesn’t go the next step in memoir writing of universalizing the experience. Although how do you universalize her unusual year: widow of a Colombian, wanting her two sons to know their father’s homeland and relatives, and being an accomplished writer and awesome soccer coach and player herself? It is meant to be more of a memorial than a memoir.

After Saúl’s death I worked—from a distance—for three years with Rebecca on a radio program called Shaping Families. She was one of six rotating commentators who prepared recorded responses to the guest of the week. Through that I learned she was willing to try almost anything (including self-recording her segments in a closet to reduce noise) to make things work, and that while accommodating and eager to please, she also had firm opinions and stands around which she would not budge. Which is a good thing. So I know she was a formidable force as she jumped through hoops and dodged curves by paper pushers at consulates and government offices as she pursued their family goal for a year long visa.

WalkingTheDogGabriel, Rebecca and Mario walking their dog Crystal, in Colombia.

In the end, this year in Colombia and this book is a gift she gave her sons so that they will forever appreciate the countries their father had come to love: Colombia and the U.S., with a better grasp of what Saul went through to arrive at the kind of faith convictions and compassion he always demonstrated. Peeking in on that gift, you feel like you too have lived through an amazing experience without exactly filing the paperwork, going without water, trying helplessly to resuscitate your mother-in-law, living with mosquito nets, and worrying through your child’s medical needs. If they could do it, you can probably manage whatever life transforming adventure you feel God calling you to.

Years ago I wrote my first published book about a year of service and adventure in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, On Troublesome Creek. Ten years later I wrote another memoir type book, Departure, about a junior year abroad studying in Barcelona, Spain. After they were published, my boss—an excellent boss and may he live forever—kind of scoffed at the books saying “I don’t know why anyone would want to read a book out of someone else’s journal.” The first book was quite successful, went into a second printing thanks to the United Methodist Women’s reading program, and while Departure did not do so well, I’m happy I was able to preserve and publish those years for me and my family, if no one else. But increasingly in today’s very competitive publishing market—unless you are famous or an extraordinary writer—books like this must be self-published, which is a shame, because they don’t get the attention of those published by a regular publisher. They may also be marred by some small errors because they don’t undergo numerous rounds of proofreading.

If you are toying with writing a memoir—of your life or a particular period of your life, head over to the blog by Shirley Hershey Showalter who did a very thorough and wonderful job of studying 100 memoirs before launching her own book, Blush: Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. I also believe it is easier to pick up on universal themes in a memoir covering one’s childhood, for instance, because we all go through early experiences that shape us, have relatives who don’t get along, struggle with adolescence and faith questions, and so on.

Seeking Saúl is entertaining reading for anyone who enjoys memoir type books, has spent a year or more in another culture or is considering it, who knows Saúl or Rebecca or the family, or anyone who has survived widowhood while parenting young children. It is also a story of adventure that nonfiction fans of Rebecca will enjoy—she does not assume the reader knows or understands Mennonites!RebeccaThatcherMurcia

Rebecca Thatcher Murcia at a book reading.


All photos supplied by permission of Rebecca Thatcher Murcia.

Rebecca Thatcher Murcia has her hand firmly in the commercial publishing market with her series of 14 other books for children and young adults, all published by Mitchell Lane, (some with other authors) whose mission is publishing books to help kids who don’t want to read, to get into reading. Check those out! Rebecca’s books can be found on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. You can also check out her Facebook page for the book, Seeking Saúl.


You can read (and listen to) more of Rebecca’s experiences in Colombia and the U.S. on the website for the former Shaping Families radio program. Here’s one.

  1. How lovely that you can showcase a book whose author you know. I had to smile at the comment from your boss, “I don’t know why anyone would want to read a book out of someone else’s journal.” Doing so is all the rage now. Off the top of my head these memoirs come to mind: Mary Gottschalk’s Sailing Down the Moonbeam and Sonia Marsh’s Freeways to Flip-Flops, about a year with her family in Belize.

    This author and book are new to me. Thank you for the introduction, Melodie.

    • Perhaps some of your grandchildren will run across some of her books along the way–but I’m guessing they are already avid readers, given their grandma. 🙂
      I’m glad my boss’ comments (oh dear is that punctuated correctly?) made you smile. They irked me at the time but I’ve gotten over it. And yes, this kind of memoir is much more popular now–good examples you give.

  2. Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

    Hi Melodie
    I enjoyed reading this article you have today to introduce us to Rebecca’s memoir of her year in Columbia with her family..
    I read very little these days because of my eye problems but I am sure that it would be a good one to read if I could .

  3. Do you ever get audio books? I’m sure you stay busy without using those, but just wondering, if you do feel like you are missing out on that part of your life. Thanks for all your kind comments and I’ve enjoyed the lovely photos of you, your husband, children and grandchildren on Facebook. Hope you’re doing well. I’ve missed hearing from you but assume you were kept busy through the holidays!

  4. Caro - Claire Wiles permalink

    Hi again Melodie
    I do miss reading and others have suggested the Audio books as well
    Somehow with all I am doing, I just have not explored that avenue but maybe one of these days I will try to do that.
    Thank you for your comments for my FB pix of the family.
    As you have probably noted, I love taking lots of pix of the grandbabies babies and other family members when we do get together.
    I was sorry so many of the family were unable to get to our extended family dinner last weekend The ones who had to travel from out of town were unable to come at the last minute because the road conditions became very bad.
    We missed them but it wasn’t worth taking a chance,

    I am still able to do outside photography (Church and other parties) too and that does keep me very busy trying to keep ahead of the game.
    I did get very backed up in my emails and responses over the holidays and I am gradually getting caught up there too.
    I think I still may have missed a couple of your recent articles and that is maybe why you have not heard from me.
    Anyway I send belated New Year’s blessings to you and your family XO

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