Book Review: “The Past We Step Into” by Richard Scharine

“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.” – Cicero

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to have experienced a part of American history? What it would have been like to hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech live; to have marched against the government during the Vietnam War; to have danced through the roads with hippies during the 1960s; and to have mourned with the whole nation when the Hiroshima incident happened. Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to experience the past America as a commoner? Have you ever wished to have known a different perspective of American history than the one we have known through our textbooks—the mainstream narrative? Richard Scharine, in The Past We Step Into, brings you exactly that.

The Past We Step Into by Richard Scharine, beyond a book, is an attempt to recognize and acknowledge the vitality of history. This book is a testament to how our past never ceases to exist, but its echo is always omnipresent. This book, situated in the tumultuous years of America, gives you a glimpse of the ‘land of opportunity’ but takes you on a journey of how America revolutionized modernity across the globe. Scharine elaborates for his readers on the important socio-political events through these decades by narrating the story of a man and his wife.

The Past We Step Into - Book Review

Though you might think that at the time in America, the commoners were victims of the chaos around them, Scharine writes this book about the people of America as brave survivors. These survivors teach you how to accept the past and challenge it to transform your present and the future.

Just like America, The Past We Step Into is a melting pot of fact and fiction, where the reader is always on the verge of believing that this is true history but is then reminded of the fiction that the author weaves into each story. This book is time-stamped throughout, which helps to clarify the location of the stories and aids the reader to visualize America during that period, but also gives the whole book a theatrical and performative angle, which is a rare style of writing in such a book.

The twelve stories narrated by the protagonist not only provide historical accounts but also reflect on what America stands for in terms of values, beliefs, and people. This book holds a bunch of raw accounts, communicating with the reader on an intimate plane through different people and distinct vantage points. The book provides an idiosyncratic historical account of the America that was and the impact of that past on the present America.

In The Past We Step Into, what strikes the reader as remarkable, besides the thematic narrative, is Richard Scharine’s writing style. The author’s smart choice of delivering this book as a cohort of stories, as opposed to a fictional novel, shines through other historical account books available, not only in content or viewpoints but more so in depth. His stories, though sovereign, are bound by a webbed narrative. What I mean by a webbed narrative is that while the stories seem widely spaced, they are connected through a delicate, almost inconspicuous thread. Scharine paints a visual painting of the reality of that time through his words, in which the author seems to have lived in a dystopian America and is thus narrating an autobiographical account. The way the author is able to express the vulnerabilities and anxieties of the narrator blurs the line between the author and the narrator. Scharine makes the plot his own so much that the narrator’s and author’s intellectual and experiential experiences become one. Scharine excels in the impossible when he carries distinct and, at points, contrasting tones for his metaverse of characters that make each of them markedly recognizable. Through his easy-to-understand vocabulary, Scharine builds successful climaxes and ample surprises throughout the twelve stories for the reader to look forward to.

While in the first instance, the book does not seem to have any major criticisms, by the end of the book, the reader is able to nitpick some. There are instances throughout the book where the story crawls. At such points, the chapters become a little tedious, but the theme of the book keeps the reader hooked. Moreover, the first chapter of the book, although interesting, confuses the reader as the chapter starts without any context. The overwhelming flow of new characters, locations, and instances frustrates the reader, who tries to grasp what to expect from the book. While, personally, it was riveting to see that the protagonists’ identities were revealed after a few stories, it might topple some readers off. Besides such not-so-prominent obstacles, the book is strong and stands true to its commitments and messages.

While my favourite has to be the author, Rickart Temple is a close second. The protagonists’ character development through the book is relatable and feels personal. The reader laughs and cries along with him and feels all his emotions. He is the most transparent example of how our past choices and decisions alter our future in ways we never expected. One of the first instances where I started to admire Rik was in the story Dress Rehearsal, where he is part of executing a play and asserts himself time and again when there are disagreements with others to voice his opinions. In another story, The Tale of Tears, the reader becomes vulnerable along with the narrator as he tries to process the loss of his daughter. I think Rik’s honesty and raw expression of emotions make him my favorite. Other than Rickart, I was intrigued by the narrator’s great-grandmother’s immigration to the USA. The description of a man riding down the street and stopping his bike in front of his great-grandmother, offering her a ride, is not only honest but flattering. This ‘deviant’ act of the character in a comparatively ‘orthodox’ society seemed brave to me. There are numerous more stories and moments in the book where the reader stops to think over the dilemmas faced by the characters and is impressed by the way the character deals with them.

The Past We Step Into by Richard Scharine is a one-of-a-kind collection of twelve diverse but equally engrossing stories. The depiction of monumental moments in American history is captivating not only to history enthusiasts but to everyone who believes that our past teaches something to us. Sailing deep into the range of emotion, Scharine helps us find solutions to everyday moral and ethical dilemmas by offering us a lesson in each of the twelve stories. In the end, the takeaway that the reader is left with is that life needs to be lived and not spent with regrets from the past. Your past is the fuel for the future journey, for a life that will be big, if not long.

Delve into the heart of American history with “The Past We Step Into” by Richard Scharine. Beyond textbooks, this book offers a fresh perspective on ordinary lives in earlier America, challenging mainstream narratives. It’s not just a historical account but a guide to living without regrets, using the past as fuel for a significant and purposeful life. Purchase on Amazon for a transformative journey into the lessons that shape our future.

Explore the rich tapestry of American history with “The Past We Step Into” by Richard Scharine. Beyond textbooks and mainstream narratives, this book vividly portrays the lives of ordinary people in earlier America. Scharine’s narrative instills a deep appreciation for history as fuel for a meaningful life. Free yourself from regrets and embrace the lessons of the past. Delve into this enriching read, available now on Amazon, and discover America’s untold stories and the keys to a purposeful future.

Read: An In-Depth Interview with Professor Emeritus Richard Scharine

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Devanshi is a compassionate individual with insatiable curiosity. She sees the world as an intricate piece of poetry. Besides being an avid reader with an eye always searching for new genres to pick up, she is also a public speaker and is always up for a new adventure. Her interest in sociological observation of daily life and ordinary things and academic pursuit of sociology as a discipline has expanded her areas of interests to realms of religion, gender, stratification, technology and beauty standards. After a long day, she usually finds solace in listening to music.