A sincere, though at times predictable, account of a momentous physical and emotional journey.

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MY FATHER'S KEEP

A JOURNEY OF FORGIVENESS THROUGH THE HIMALAYA

In this debut memoir, an aging son embarks on a trek to secure a final resting place for his father’s ashes and his turbulent childhood memories.

Abell is a retired industrial designer and a native of Wisconsin, a place, he notes, that has diverse topography but no big mountains. As a child with alcoholic parents, he developed an interest in “rarified air” by perusing his father’s mountaineering books and noticing that his father “was never in pain when he spoke of the Himalaya.” Abell was in his 50s when he began to summit high peaks himself—Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro among them—usually with his wife or one or both of his sons in tow. The memoir chronicles his “most deep-seated dream of all”: a nine-day hike at the age of 59 to Nepal’s Mount Everest Base Camp, elevation of around 17,500 feet, where he planned to spread the last of his father’s ashes. This short, elegant book contains few surprises. Everest’s base camp is a well-known tourist destination, and Abell chose an expedition sponsored by Himalayan Experience, one of the best outfitters available. Chapters progress from his arrival in smoggy Katmandu to his final ascent toward the stony base camp in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain. Aside from a bout with altitude sickness, Abell was rarely out of his comfort zone. Instead, drama in the narrative arises from strategically placed flashbacks, so readers learn more with each passing step about what has led him to this particular place. Abell is a patient, careful storyteller; the descriptions of his parents, who seem like terrific people and horrific alcoholics at the same time, are illuminating. Yet readers get few specifics on Abell’s own challenges with alcoholism. Still, his candor is refreshing: “I hadn’t come here to pretend I was Reinhold Messner or some other great mountaineer.” Overall, the book is a testament to the author’s sustained gratitude for his life and his loved ones.

A sincere, though at times predictable, account of a momentous physical and emotional journey.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1494367381

Page Count: 118

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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