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Fifty years ago, Jane Britton was murdered in her apartment. Her friend, neighbor, and classmate Don Mitchell found her body. For years, he wondered what happened and who did it. (He was briefly considered a suspect.) This memoir is a fascinating delve into memory about a friend taken too soon and the impact, in obvious and subtle ways, it had on his entire life. What’s revealed in the end stuns Mitchell (and the reader). It’s beautifully and reflectively written as well.

 

A riveting memoir of an anthropology professor organized around a decades-long puzzle of who murdered his fellow doctoral student and neighbor at Harvard in the 1960s. The stresses of finding the body of his friend and neighbor, of being considered a suspect by the police, and of wondering just who among his acquaintances might have committed this murder are expressed with honesty and humility — as are the joys and disappointments of his career and personal life. Central among the joys is the growth of his relationship with Becky Cooper, who worked with Don and a dedicated police detective, among others, to resolve the murder some five decades later.

 

What on its surface seems to be a true crime drama turns out to be a beautiful reflection on life, the passage of time, and how we remember and even create the people we care about. Don's writing style is loving and humorous in a self-deprecating way which has a way of disarming the reader so that they too are roped into the bigger emotions like the frustration at the lack of justice or the anger that something so horrible has happened.

 

Shibai, a tale about tragedy and friendship, is well-documented, masterfully written, and full of mystery. The book is vivid proof that memory is as much about the past as it is about the present: We become trapped by time in the ongoing process of remembering (our memory of our memories). Yet, it is about the future (if we dare to separate them). Reading Don Mitchell shows us what and how we remember and what and how we are to remember.