The autobiography and memoir genre has exploded with the advent of self-publishing, and many of the offered titles are of interest because they make the reader aware of ordinary people who have actually lived pretty extraordinary lives under the radar. Santana and Saul: A Dual Memoir by Saul Diskin does not fall into that category. The reason is not because the two men who share their story are not extraordinary. It is because neither of them, nor their friendship, would be considered by most readers to be ordinary. In fact, the seeming lack of any substantial basis for their perplexing friendship is the foundation for the book.
After the emergence of their initial, unexpected relationship, devastating events in Santana Acuna’s personal life converge to nearly unravel his relationship with Diskin. Because of this, Diskin writes in his Preface, “the focus of the book is on the life of Santana because it is his life that took the most dramatic turn.” Diskin explores those turning points, which led to a long period of separation, and then celebrates the uplifting, inspiring rebirth of their extraordinary personal relationship which ensues.
Diskin did the actual writing of the book. I did not find him to be either a commanding or compelling writer, but rather, a writer with a warm, conversational style that keeps you engaged with the stories and anecdotes he chooses to share with you. He weaves together the lives lived by he and Acuna chronologically, sliding effortlessly back and forth between their two tales from chapter to chapter. In collecting Acuna’s stories and anecdotes, Diskin includes the reader in the process of an oral history project, a framework that is in keeping with Acuna’s culture, and with which he is obviously comfortable.
With regard to their differences and their ability to reconcile them in forging a strong, brotherly relationship, both men offer considerable wisdom and insight. This is particularly evident in the differences in their religious faith. Saul Diskin is a lifelong non-believer in any organized religion, Santana Acuna has for many years now been a converted Catholic and man of faith. The dialogue between the two men, in the context of their unique relationship, regarding their religious differences is thought provoking and stimulating, particularly near the end of the book.
Santana and Saul: A Dual Memoir by Saul Diskin is a quietly powerful book that demonstrates the innate ability of human beings to cope with even extreme diversity – through knowledge, faith, reaction, reflection, and simple kindness. The book is moving and inspiring. And it seems especially relevant in a period of time when friendships like that of Santana and Saul may hold the key to how our ever-growing population copes with the future.
(Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views)