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Praise for Deni Ellis BĂ©chard’s


“You haven’t read a story like this one, even if your father was the kind of magnificent scoundrel you only find in Russian novels. BĂ©chard is the rare writer who knows the secret to telling the true story. Just because the end is clear doesn’t mean the bets are off.”

—MARLON JAMES, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

“BĂ©chard writes that prison taught his father ‘the nature of the self, the way it can be shaped and hardened.’ As in a great novel, this darkly comic and lyrical memoir demonstrates the shaping of its author, who suffers the wreckage of his father’s life, yet manages to salvage all the beauty of its desperate freedoms. BĂ©chard’s poetic gifts give voice to the outsiders of society, and make them glow with humanity and love.”

—ELIZABETH MCKENZIE, author of The Portable Veblen

“BĂ©chard has created a moving story of rootlessness, rebellion, lost love, criminal daring, regret, and restless searching. Driven above all by the need to grasp his father’s secrets, he has written his narrative in skillful, resonant prose graced with a subtle tone of obsession and longing.”

—LEONARD GARDNER, author of Fat City

“This powerful and haunting memoir is a must-read for anyone who has ever struggled to uncover their identity within the shadow of a parent. Written in exquisitely sharp prose, BĂ©chard combs through his attempt to understand his father’s mysterious existence with inspiring precision. This book is huge and achingly true.”

—CLAIRE BIDWELL SMITH, author of The Rules of Inheritance

“A coming of age story with rare and loving insights into the vulnerable hearts of men and boys—and the women that help shape them.”

—Huffington Post

“Cures for Hunger is a poignant adventure story with a mystery
. But it is also, perhaps even more so, the story of an artist coming of age. Readers will be reminded of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“BĂ©chard’s sad and moving memoir is all about secrets and regret and, ultimately, finding peace.”

—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Cures for Hunger is flush with tenderness
. Much more than a memoir of youthful misadventure, though it contains plenty of that. It’s also an exploration of the oppression of lineage, of familial duty, wanderlust, and perennial dissatisfaction, and the most American theme of them all: personal reinvention.”

—Iowa Review

“A poignant but rigorously unsentimental account of hard-won maturity.”


“A coming-of-age story of lost innocence, violence, and tenderness by a writer obsessed with the man who influenced him the most but was there the least.”


“BĂ©chard’s story is one of personal discovery, and a teasing out of the function of memory: what it keeps, what it loses, and what it saves.”

—Publishers Weekly



Vandal Love

Of Bonobos and Men: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo

Into the Sun


a memoir



© 2017 and 2012, Text by Deni Ellis Béchard

Originally published in hardcover, in slightly different form.

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Milkweed Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415.

(800) 520-6455


First paperback edition, published 2017 by Milkweed Editions

Printed in the United States of America

Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker

Cover photo by Oskar Forsberg

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Milkweed Editions, an independent nonprofit publisher, gratefully acknowledges sustaining support from the Jerome Foundation; the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation; the McKnight Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Target Foundation; and other generous contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Also, this activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and a grant from Wells Fargo. For a full listing of Milkweed Editions supporters, please visit milkweed.org.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: BĂ©chard, Deni Ellis, 1974- author.

Title: Cures for hunger : a memoir / Deni Ellis BĂ©chard.

Description: Minneapolis : Milkweed Editions, 2017.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017019907 (print) | LCCN 2017021648 (ebook) | ISBN 9781571319807 (ebook) | ISBN 9781571313423 (paperback)

Subjects: LCSH: BĂ©chard, Deni Y. (Deni Yvan), 1974--Childhood and youth. | Authors, Canadian--21st century--Biography. | Fathers and sons. | BISAC: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Personal Memoirs. | FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS / Parenting / Fatherhood. | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Criminals & Outlaws. | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Literary.

Classification: LCC PR9199.4.B443 (ebook) | LCC PR9199.4.B443 Z46 2017 (print) | DDC 813/.6 [B] --dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017019907

Milkweed Editions is committed to ecological stewardship. We strive to align our book production practices with this principle, and to reduce the impact of our operations in the environment. We are a member of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit coalition of publishers, manufacturers, and authors working to protect the world’s endangered forests and conserve natural resources. Cures for Hunger was printed on acid-free 30% postconsumer-waste paper by Versa Press.

Because of our wisdom,

We will travel far

For love.

All movement is a sign

Of thirst.

Most speaking really says,

“I am hungry to know you.”

Every desire of your body is holy;

Every desire of your body is


—HAFIZ (trans. Ladinsky)

But he who is outside of society,

whether unsociable or self-sufficient,

is either a god or a beast.

—ARISTOTLE, Politics


Part I

Daredevils and Invisible Friends

Levitation Club and the End of the World

Prayers, Mantras, and How to Swear

Part II

Ghosts of the Civil War

Crossing Wide Spaces

Discovering Fire

Part III

The Big Job

The Crossing

Borrowing Faces

Part IV

The Hunt

Jack Kerouac Dreams Elizabeth Bennet

The Flood

Part V

Imaginary Families

Cures for Hunger

The Longest Highway


Author’s Note

Note for the Revised Edition




Racing trains was one of my favorite adventures. This was what we were doing on the day I first considered that my father might have problems with the law.

“Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine!”

My brother and I practiced counting as my father kept up with the train.

“I’ll push harder!” he shouted. He thrust his bearded chin forward, bugging out his eyes as he jammed the accelerator to the floor. His green truck heaved along the road, outstripping the train whose tracks, just below

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