Review: The Moth Presents All These Wonders by Catherine Burns

Going into this I had no idea what to expect since I wasn’t really familiar with the storytelling phenomenon that is The Moth. But after having read Neil Gaiman’s forward , my curiosity was piqued. And I was surprised to find myself finishing the majority of this collection in one sitting because of how compelling these real life stories were.

All These Wonders features voices both familiar and new. Storytellers include Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, John Turturro, and Meg Wolitzer, as well as a hip hop “one hit wonder,” an astronomer gazing at the surface of Pluto for the first time, and a young female spy risking everything as part of Churchill’s “secret army” during World War II. They share their ventures into uncharted territory—and how their lives were changed forever by what they found there.

I was not prepared for what reading All These Wonders would entail. There were a handful of stories that really managed to infiltrate my everyday thoughts because I couldn’t stop thinking about them. But I think I mainly loved this collection for being able to capture “moments in time caught and gone forever,” to paraphrase what  Tig Notaro wrote in R2, Where Are You?. Without a doubt, the voices I’m about to share next unlocked something in me. (And it’s important to remember that these are all nonfiction tales.)

  • Adam Mansbach, the author of Go the Fuck to Sleep, was featured in here and it was incredible:

“It’s November 2011, and I am the most controversial parent in America by virtue of a short, obscene, fake children’s book by the name of Go the Fuck to Sleep.
It’s fourteen stanzas long—about four hundred words, many of them repeated more than once—and I wrote it in thirty-nine minutes with no pants on.”

  • Josh Bond discovering his next door neighbors and tenants are Catherine Greig & James J. ‘Whitey’ Bulger. And his story is about how he “helped the FBI arrest the most wanted man in the country.”

“So a couple of months later, my family’s a little worried about me, and my friends are taking bets on how much longer I have to live. I get home one day, and there’s a letter in the mail from the Plymouth Correctional Facility. I open it, and I see the same familiar cursive writing, and the same “shoot the shit” dialogue tone that I knew from four years living next to Charlie Gasko.
But in this letter he’s reintroducing himself as Jim Bulger.
And so I wrote him back, and I said, “Look, you know I had something to do with the day of the arrest, and my family’s a little worried. So, uh, you know, just a little note of ‘everything’s good’ would be nice.”
He wrote back and said, “Look, they had me with or without your help; no worries.”
So that made my mom feel better, definitely.
New neighbors eventually moved in, and they seemed like nice people.
But what do I know?”

This was without a doubt one hell of a story.

  • Tomi Reichental’s story was about the Holocaust seen through the eyes of his nine-year-old self, and it absolutely broke me.

“I saw a woman in front of me suddenly take her wedding ring off her finger. She looked around, to see if any of the soldiers were looking at her. And then she threw the wedding ring into the ground, to the dust.
Talking to her friend, she said, “These bastards will not get my gold.”

All my rage toward Nazi Germans was back full force. One of the most hard hitting essays.

  • Auburn Sandstrom’s A Phone Call describes her call out for help while in a dire situation. And my head spun in amazement at this next conversation shared over the phone:

“I said, “No, really. You’re very, very good at this. I mean, you’ve seriously done a big thing for me. How long have you been a Christian counselor?”
There’s a long pause. I hear him shifting. “Auburn, please don’t hang up,” he says. “I’ve been trying not to bring this up.”
“What?” I ask.
“You won’t hang up?”
“I’m so afraid to tell you this. But the number you called…” He pauses again. “You got the wrong number.”
Well, I didn’t hang up on him, and we did talk a little longer. I never would get his name or call him back.
But the next day I felt this kind of joy, like I was shining. I think I’ve heard them call it “the peace that passes understanding.” I had gotten to see that there was this completely random love in the universe. That it could be unconditional. And that some of it was for me.”

  • Dori Samadzai Bonner’s A New Home talks about her family’s fight to stay in the country they call home.

“Finally he tells my dad, “You know, we here in the United States do not give citizenship to people that break the law. We can’t, and I won’t.”
And as soon as I translate this to my dad, I put my head down, and I just start praying.
When I open my eyes, I see my dad rising out of his seat. He starts unbuckling his belt, at which point I’m thinking he’s completely losing his mind. I’m not sure what he’s doing.
But he lifts up his shirt on the right side and, in his native language, looks at the judge and says, “This is what the communists did to me.”
He’s pointing to a five-inch knife scar.
Then he pushes down his pants in the back and turns around a little bit, and again says, “This is what the communists did to me,” pointing at three gunshot wounds.
And he takes off his shoes, and takes off his socks, and says, “This is what the communists did to me.”
He’s pointing at his toenails, which they had tried to pull out with pliers.
I remember thinking, I know I’m hearing what I’m hearing. But everything wasn’t registering, because I am translating these horrible things and also learning for the first time about my dad’s whereabouts. All those times years ago that I didn’t know where he was, wondering if he cared about me, he was in prison being tortured.
And in that moment I have never felt more sorrow.”

My heart just dropped. This story on immigration pulled out all kind of emotions out of me.

  • And the story that followed afterwards might be one of the most frightening situations of a man facing the death penalty for a crime he did not commit in As If I Was Not There by Peter Pringle.

“It was the week before Christmas, and I was sitting in the death cell in Portlaoise Prison in County Laois, Ireland. Some weeks previously I had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death by the Special Criminal Court for a murder I did not commit. The Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court.”

What particularly shook me to my core was reading this hard-hitting article afterwards about Pringle’s life with his wife, Sunny Jacobs, who was also wrongfully convicted.

  • And last but not least, Undercover in North Korea with Its Future Leaders by Suki Kim was another powerful read detailing the journey of a journalist who risks her life posing as a teacher in an elite North Korean school.

“From that point on, like millions of mothers on both sides of Korea, my grandmother waited for her son to come home.
Over seventy years have passed, and that border—which Koreans thought was temporary—is still there. Even though I moved to America when I was thirteen years old, this family history haunted me. Later, as a writer, I became obsessed with North Korea and finding out the truth of what was really going on there.
So I went undercover as a teacher and a missionary.”

Now I feel compelled to read her book Without You, There Is No Us because her writing style is so effervescent and heartbreaking and real.

So while a majority of the tales in here left me awash in tears, there was still a big junk of stories that I did not care for (mainly from those white privileged individuals). But on a much brighter note, the journey this collection took me on is one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. (Also, bonus points for letting me add two book to my TBR: Tig Notaro’s memoir, along with the aforementioned book by Suki Kim.)

4/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Moth Presents All These Wonders, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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