Email this review


 The life of an immigrant family, reassembled with the contents of one man's study. After the recent deaths of his parents, the task of sorting through his father's copious papers fell to Orlove (Environmental Studies/Univ. of California, Davis). Rather than merely reading the contents, he decided to write a book about them. The result is the story both of Robert Orlove and of his son Ben's research and writing process: the first tentative forays of the son into the father's inner sanctum; Ben's eventual removal of the journals, letters, drawings, and pictures to his own home; the plan he laid out for structuring them into a book. Ben decided that the best way of presenting the study would be to divide it into thematic chapters corresponding to the different material he found. ``Mother-book'' describes a notebook Robert wrote about his mother; ``Brother-mail'' the letters of Robert's inventor- brother. Instead of a linear narrative, Ben treats the reader to a glimpse of what it was like to rummage through Robert's things, coming up with small, oddly shaped pieces of an enormous, incomplete puzzle. The structure is inspired, but it's not matched by Ben's analyses of what he finds. He speculates wildly about the significance of various objects--for example, his mother's sheet music of ``You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby'' suggests to him that she might have been having a flirtation with another man, because its tone is different from the other songs she collected. Ben simply accepts as justified, however, Robert's dislike of his own father, rather than delving further into this complex association. Given the shaky quality of what analysis he does provide, Orlove might have done better to transcribe more and let his readers come to their own conclusions. Like the study itself, some true gems mixed in with a lot of scrap paper. (30 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 31st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87745-490-6
Page count: 365pp
Publisher: Univ. of Iowa
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995