A warmly candid memoir of navigating family, aging, and death.

A Canadian writer’s debut memoir about how she learned to cope with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.

As the eldest of four children and the only daughter, Johnson became the main caretaker for her aging parents. She and her siblings watched over a period of 20 years as Alzheimer’s claimed their reserved British father and old age took their feisty American mother. Yet after her mother died, Johnson did not feel the relief she had expected. Instead she found herself “searching for evidence” of her mother and father. The author moved into her parents’ house to sort through their belongings. Almost immediately, she felt the deep emotional toll of her task of separating the “trash from the treasure.” Going through the possessions that had accumulated over combined lifetimes of “more than 180 years,” she realized the “layers of misunderstandings” that existed between herself and, in particular, her mother. Johnson gradually began tracing the trajectory of her parents’ lives. Her free-spirited mother had been a war bride who followed her husband to England, Singapore, and Canada. Growing up, she remembered how her order-loving, traditional father had stifled her mother’s artistic ambitions and possibly fueled the alcoholism for which he would make her feel guilty. Personal letters revealed that their difficult though long-lived union had been riven from the start by separation and opposing temperaments. Johnson learned that her parents’ marriage had ultimately been “a hard-fought achievement” both had consciously chosen. But perhaps even more significantly, she understood that the “intrusive, demanding, and possessive” person she knew as her mother was really a woman who wanted a closeness with her daughter that she had not shared with her own mother. Generous and heartfelt, Johnson’s book offers an intimate look at family and especially mother-daughter connections. It is an uplifting affirmation of human relationships and the cycle of life itself.

A warmly candid memoir of navigating family, aging, and death.

Pub Date: July 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18409-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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