Friday, May 15, 2015

Book: "Not My Father's Son" by Alan Cumming

As an avid genealogist, I am a sucker for TV shows like Henry Louis Gates's "Finding Your Roots" on PBS and "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC. The shows follow a predictable format -- celebrities in search of their ancestors, with some jaw-dropping revelations along the way. There is much grumbling among us amateur genealogists about how much WE'd like to sail into an archive & have someone waiting for us with a ready-made family tree going back umpteen generations, and a pile of intriguing documents that answer our questions and shed new light on our ancestors' lives. ;) 

Scottish-born actor Alan Cumming -- who has stolen just about every movie and TV show I've ever seen him in -- was invited to appear on the British version of "Who Do You Think You Are?" in 2010. He was curious to find out more about his grandfather, Tommy Darling -- barely remembered by his daughter, Alan's mother, Mary Darling -- who never returned to England after the Second World War and died in a mysterious "gun accident" in Malaysia in 1951.

But just as Alan embarked on this emotion-packed journey into the past, he received some shocking news about another figure from his past:  his long-estranged and now dying father, who brutally abused Alan and his older brother, Tom, as they were growing up.

"Not My Father's Son" goes back & forth between "then" -- Alan's memories of growing up on an isolated Scottish estate -- "now" -- and 2010, where two stories rapidly unfold at the same time:  the filming of WDYTYA, with some stunning  revelations about Tommy Darling's life and death, and Alan's reassessment of his troubled relationship with his father.

It sounds complicated (and it is) -- and the abuse that he describes is hard to read about.  As several Goodreads reviewers put it, there were several points in the book where I just wanted to give the guy a hug.

But I'm very glad I picked this up.  It was riveting reading -- an amazing story, and very well told. I read it in three days & probably could have finished it sooner if life hadn't intervened. ;)  Cumming can definitely add "writer" to his long list of distinguished credits. 

There are many episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?" available on YouTube;  alas, Alan's doesn't seem to be one of them. If anyone finds a working link that's viewable in Canada, let me know. ;) 

This was book #10 that I've read in 2015.

4 comments:

  1. I love Who Do You Think You Are! I'll have to look for this book!

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  2. He is one of my favourite actors. I had been interested in the book, but your review just pushed it into the to-read pile.

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  3. I was going to say exactly what Kinsey and Mel said.

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  4. Wow. This sounds like an awesome book. I like memoir, but don't often know where to start. I love the way you describe the narrative approach ... yet another reason to pick it up at some point.

    I mentioned this a long time ago, but I got rid of most of my grad school books, and it still pains me, even though I know I didn't need them any more ... some of them were more like trophies than they were things to read. Still, they were a part of my identity. As you books are part of yours.

    Thanks for stopping by ...

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