Risks: a memoir

William Claassen
Cornel & Williams Publishing (2017)
ISBN 9780692870440
Reviewed by Araceli Noriega for Reader Views (11/2018)

“Risks: a memoir” is written by the multi-talented William Claassen. In his memoir, Mr. Claassen invites his readers to join a young social activist on a twenty-year journey through a myriad of places in and out of the U.S. as he develops into a well-traveled social activist and spiritually centered gay man.

The author successfully brings the reader into his world view as he shares about many experiences in an extraordinarily adventurous life. Mr. Claassen is proficient at describing the necessary details of an environment in order to make the reader feel as though they are at his side. He not only uses his own memories of these experiences, but also brings in his own journal notes, journalistic, and historical data to support the setting.

Claassen writes with an expertly controlled tone for most of the book. There are several moments when the author allows himself to express vulnerability, but this is the exception. This style of writing makes for a quick read and readers will find it easy to transition from one topic to another.

This memoir speaks to U.S. born readers interested in learning about the value in traveling, the art of acting, and learning about other cultures. Audiences interested in learning about what it takes to motivate oneself and survive without a lot of materialistic supports will also find this book an essential read.

As the daughter of former Sandinista soldiers, I found the chapter about Mr. Claassen’s time in Nicaragua particularly interesting. I relate to his desire to travel and learn as much as possible through the experiences he describes. Overall, I enjoyed reading this memoir because it felt like a fantastic glimpse into a man’s journey during a pivotal time in U.S. history. My favorite part of the book is when Mr. Claassen describes seeing a Native American apparition in the middle of a desert highway. What a wonderful and inspiring moment, especially when shared with a good friend. The only drawback to this memoir is that there isn’t a discussion about the role that race and privilege have in Mr. Claassen’s ability to have so many opportunities available to him during the time period covered (surprising, given his socially conscious outlook). Also, I would have liked to see him reflect on how his entitled decisions in the American Southwest and in Kenya helped him transform into a world citizen.

I recommend this book as a story which is informative and thought-provoking, written by a passionate social activist. Readers should be warned, though, that the end of the book feels abrupt. There isn’t a solid conclusion of the journey Mr. Claassen has just brought to the reader. This doesn’t make it a valueless read—just be prepared for a full stop at a rather momentous point. Just like real life, the end doesn’t tie up in a perfect bow.

It is very difficult to give equal time to every significant story of a person’s life in order for a memoir to feel whole. This challenge becomes even more trying when that person has had a plethora of experiences during the course of their lifetime. This, I believe, is the case for William Claassen’s memoir “Risks: a memoir.” The book reads smoothly over the course of 20 years which begin in the early stages of a career dedicated to social activism. For those who have had similar vocational trajectories, this book will surely recall treasured memories. Other readers will be provided an opportunity to vicariously live through the adventures of a man’s journey in search of meaningful purpose. The author brings his audience full circle after years of globe-trotting back to the activism which propelled him on the journey in the first place. This a worthwhile read for audiences interested in a spiritual search by way of socio-political activism.