A prolific Chicagoan journalist climbs his family tree.
Having previously written about the Windy City’s two most notorious serial killers and its 19th-century police-corruption scandal, Lindberg (The Gambler King of Clark Street, 2009, etc.) turns inward with a bittersweet labor of love he asserts was many years in the making. The Swedish American author was born in Chicago in the 1960s, “at the height of the McCarthy-era hysteria,” and was raised by his stern, “paradoxical” father Oscar, who followed (and instilled in his son) extremist socialist principles. Lindberg draws readers into his family lineage with an engaging combination of historical specifics and anecdotal memories springing from the mass exodus of Swedes from their native land. Many, including his own parents and grandparents, fled an impoverished life in rural Sweden for the shores of America in search of peace and prosperity. But this is very much Oscar’s story. As Lindberg methodically traces the genesis of his Swedish family, the memoir’s focus remains on his father, who “slipped past” Canadian customs officials in 1924 to settle in Chicago’s North Side “Swedetown,” a favored immigrant destination. Through letters and the author’s remarkably sturdy memory, he illustrates the despair of his father’s life: the crushing death of his mother, the turmoil of four rocky marriages and the halfhearted attempts to be a good father to his children while battling alcoholism. Yet the cultivation of Oscar’s hardworking livelihood as a postwar master homebuilder reveals a redeeming inner strength and nobility. Woven throughout Lindberg’s exhaustive narration are palpable threads of sadness and anger aimed at a father who lacked compassion and affection, stunting the development of a son whose childhood needs went unmet. Only in the final pages, when the author writes of attending an emotionally healing class reunion, is a moving moment of catharsis achieved.
Deep, introspective and somber, this is by far Lindberg’s most personal book to date.