Kirkus Reviews QR Code


An American Memoir

by Jake Lamar

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-671-69191-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Growing up in the black middle class and attending Harvard, Lamar, a former associate editor at Time, had a foot in two worlds and feared he ``was terminally ambivalent.'' That ambivalence, as evident in this captivating memoir, seems rooted in Lamar's relationship with his domineering, abusive father. It's 1988 and Lamar, who hasn't heard from his father in five years, receives a phone call from an investigator looking into his father's business dealings. Jake, Sr., who became one of the highest ranking black officials in New York government during the Lindsay years, was determined that his son attend Harvard and become a lawyer. (When the acceptance letter arrived, Lamar's father ``whooped triumphantly. `We did it! We got into Harvard!' '') A workaholic and philanderer who would disappear for days at a time, Lamar, Sr., was also insanely jealous of his wife, bullying and smacking her around in front of the children: she eventually left their Bronx home and was hospitalized for depression. Experiencing hard times and bankruptcy, the elder Lamar saddled his son with a $25,000 debt to Harvard (his other children were left to fend for themselves), didn't attend the 1983 graduation, and refused to return his son's calls—whether out of jealousy or anger over his son's career choice is unclear. His progressively deteriorating personality led his son to feel that ``Every success I achieved was a measure of revenge.'' When the two briefly reunited in 1988, the father, though proud of seeing his son's name in Time, asked not one question about his life, job, or well-being. Crediting his father for his drive and determination despite the damage done, Lamar notes that ``He did the best he could.'' Painful and illuminating, and a far more perceptive look at the black bourgeois experience than Stephen L. Carter's Reflections Of An Affirmative Action Baby (p. 902).