A distraught young parent learns a set of valuable lessons by writing letters that his missing child may never read.
Brown’s nonfiction debut unfolds steadily in a partially epistolary form. In each chapter, he atmospherically describes a different point in his arc—growing up, his family, his work experience, etc.—and then shifts narrative voice and indulges in ruminations on the kinds of life lessons those events could be used to teach. The lessons take the form of eight principles, the Heart Principle, the Acceptance Principle, and so on, and they aren’t presented solely as messages for a general readership. They have a particular audience in mind: Lucia, the daughter Brown had with a woman named Jolie, an Uzbekistan native who relocated to America. Each chapter begins with a letter to Lucia, followed by a slice of Brown’s autobiography and an elaboration of whichever principle he sees as foremost in the events he’s just related (each section ends with a series of questions). Readers quickly learn why a father needs to write letters to his daughter, and why Brown often alludes to a vast distance separating him from the most important person in his life: at a tense juncture in their marriage, Jolie decided to leave the country—and take Lucia with her. The child suffered from a neck ailment, and Jolie’s conviction that she could obtain better treatment overseas added the final stress to a strained marriage; suddenly Brown discovered that they were gone. He was floored, and even once he rallied, the prospect of legally regaining his daughter seemed costly and remote. The author’s life principles are somewhat bland commonplaces (they include the Compassion Principle, the Forgiveness Principle, and the Gratitude Principle). And the “reflection questions” that end each chapter seem designed for group use. In the “Acceptance” chapter, Brown asks: “Is there an event that has happened in your life that would offer relief to you if you put it into a place of acceptance right now?” But his application of the principles to his own life while going through an intense ordeal that’s the stuff of parental nightmares makes for gripping reading. Eventually, Brown muses: “It is my deepest desire that the heartbreak that the three of us have felt will evolve into heart openings, expanding our empathy, compassion, and sensitivity.”
Through the worst possible means—his daughter’s abduction—a father uncovers a great deal about life and himself in this engrossing work.