Leah Greenblatt
August 06, 2015 AT 12:00 PM EDT

We gave it an A

Berlin, who died in 2004, has been called “one of America’s best-kept secrets.” She also might be the most interesting person you’ve never met. Born in Alaska in 1936, she went on to become a debutante in Santiago, a maid and ER nurse in California, a college professor, a three-time divorcée, and a mother of four.

Life (and a long battle with alcohol) prevented her from publishing regularly, but it’s all here in 43 autobiographical stories that read like one long, fascinating conversation full of switchbacks and revelations. Every detox ward, dingy Laundromat, and sunbaked Mexican palapa spills across the page in sentences so bright and fierce and full of wild color that you’ll want to turn each one over just to see how she does it. And then go back and read them all again. A

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