A debut memoir examines a web of family relationships and guilt over missed opportunities.
Burrell’s story begins when she and her adult son traveled from the U.S. to England to find her father on his deathbed. She felt “resentful, cheated” because her mother and sister had given little indication of her father’s condition. When he died, Burrell believed that she had “wasted fifty years with him,” that she had not been physically or emotionally present for her family for most of her life. The book unfolds from this premise of guilt and remembering. The author relates stories of her early childhood, being left alone for many hours while her parents worked. She became rebellious and couldn’t wait to “take control of my own life, leave home.” As a teen, she was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dance and left for London. In several chapters, Burrell returns to the present day, confronting her mother’s grief, her distant relationship with her sister, and preparations for her father’s funeral. She then picks up her own story: tales of travels to Syria, Egypt, and Italy as a nightclub dancer and how she raised her son, first with her mother’s help, then as a single parent. Burrell has enough vivid material for several books here: a lonely childhood, an exotic career, a difficult motherhood, and belated feelings of familial love and guilt. In addition, she includes a rich assortment of family photographs. Unfortunately, the work’s central theme and narrative thread are difficult to follow. Chapters on her travels are intriguing, including how Burrell befriended a “colorful and gregarious group of prostitutes” in Italy who provided cleaning, child care, and much needed companionship. But these stories ultimately reveal little about her family dynamics. Halfway through the book, the author sorts through boxes in her parents’ attic and discovers “a treasure trove of my dad’s life.” She realizes “the blunt fact” that she can’t ask her father about the items but is not prompted to delve much further into aspects of her parents’ lives that might shed light on her own.
Relates a curious and complex life story but lacks the emotional depth to support the opening premise.