In this debut memoir, a father reminisces about notable people and places in his eventful life.
The dying art of letter writing isn’t lost on Roberts, a British-born attorney who practiced law in Canada. His charmingly unconventional memoir takes the form of 83 “letters” to his four children, but this description hardly does them justice. Each is an artfully composed essay that not only reveals much about the author himself, but also often contains a pearl of worldly wisdom. Roberts begins with a series of missives about growing up in bomb-scarred England during World War II. In “A Child’s History of the Battle of Britain,” he describes how his ears were always alert for incoming aircraft—both the “powerful, friendly, protective sound” of the British Spitfire and the “deadly drone” of German warplanes. Although the author loosely groups the letters by subject, he also playfully hops from decade to decade and continent to continent. He writes of sipping café au lait in Paris in the1950s, meeting a native Haidu on the Queen Charlotte Islands in the ’70s and watching birds in Hong Kong in the ’80s. Perhaps the most captivating letters describe the author’s clients when he was a defense attorney in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Eddie Silver,” for example, was a small-time hustler who figured out an ingenious way to scam coins from public pay phones; “Real Carrier” was a schizophrenic French Canadian who decapitated a man and might have killed Roberts, too, if some cautious jailers hadn’t prevented the lawyer from entering his cell. Overall, the book is a pleasure to read thanks to the author’s genial prose and lively wit. Roberts is a gifted storyteller with an appreciation for eccentric personalities and life’s ironies. The book’s disjointed format, however, makes it difficult to assemble a complete profile of the author, as basic autobiographical data are scattered throughout. Roberts explains, somewhat apologetically, that he’s cursed with a “magpie mind” that’s constantly roving and easily tempted to stray. This trait may have irritated his schoolteachers, but here it makes for a meandering but thoroughly delightful memoir.
An engaging life story, as told through a whimsical collection of fatherly musings.