STARRED REVIEW
June 2019

The wisdom of fathers

Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.

STARRED REVIEW

The wisdom of fathers

June 2019

Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.

STARRED REVIEW
June 2019

The wisdom of fathers

June 2019

Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.

STARRED REVIEW
June 2019

The wisdom of fathers

Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.

STARRED REVIEW
June 2019

The wisdom of fathers

Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.

June 2019

The wisdom of fathers

Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.

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Four new memoirs—by fathers writing to their children and children writing about their fathers—show how a father’s love can temper personal and cultural sorrows.


Pondering the importance of fathers in our lives, philosopher Frederich Nietzsche said, “Whoever does not have a good father should procure one.” While the market for good fathers may be slim, and procuring a father at market may be less than legal, there’s a spate of great nonfiction coming out by and about remarkable fathers just in time for Father’s Day.

Take Canadian novelist David Chariandy’s I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, a slim but touching missive to his teenage daughter. It opens with three dramatic events: President Trump’s election, a fatal shooting at a Canadian mosque and the casual racism of a white Canadian who cut in front of the dark-skinned Chariandy with the searing words, “I’m from here. I belong here.”

Struggling to counsel his daughter as she begins to face these modern realities, Chariandy turns to story—in this case, his own. He walks his daughter through the precarious and nurturing places, both geographic and psychic, that have marked his life. But this is no self-seeking memoir of struggle. Chariandy recounts the taunts he faced as a child alongside the history of slavery and indentured labor that brought his ancestors to Trinidad from Africa and South Asia. The result is a remarkable story of place and relation, of ancestry and association. In turn damning and hopeful, I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You reminds us of the deep history and connectedness of all human life.

After twice attempting to row across the Atlantic Ocean, English journalist Jonathan Gornall had his second child. He was 58. With the specter of mortality looming, he struck upon an idea: He’d build his daughter a wooden boat. By hand. 

In the opening, and strongest, chapter of How to Build a Boat, Gornall addresses his daughter, explaining this decision. He muses on his love of the ocean, expounds on the open sea as a metaphor for the dramatic unknown that stretches out before us all and explains his boatbuilding as an exercise in perseverance, striking out with nothing more than grit and determination to guide him.

How to Build a Boat starts as a letter to his daughter but soon morphs into the story of the author’s yearlong battle to construct a clinker-built boat. Though Gornall’s prose is tight and he offers interesting historical asides on boatbuilding and rowing, the sheer density of boatbuilding detail may restrict this book’s appeal to boatwrights and woodworking enthusiasts.

In her memoir All That You Leave Behind, Erin Lee Carr, a video journalist and documentarian, traces her relationship with her father and mentor, the late David Carr. Best known as a New York Times journalist, Mr. Carr was also an addict. It wasn’t until Erin and her twin sister turned 8 months old that he checked himself in to a treatment center and got clean.

Even while we hear of the younger Carr’s own battles with addiction and her struggle to step out of her father’s shadow and make a name for herself, David Carr remains the star of this memoir. His instant messages, emails and letters are woven throughout, and every scrap of his writing is astounding. Even offhand texts are things of linguistic beauty, but more than that, it’s the wisdom, tender support and love found within them that make his words so powerful. Erin Lee Carr gives us an intimate view of a truly remarkable father and man.

Yousef Bashir, Palestinian-American author of The Words of My Father, grew up in Gaza on his family’s ancestral farm. Across a highway was an Israeli settlement, and an Israeli military base stood next door—a delicate situation, to say the least. Yet when other Palestinians abandoned their homes for fear of violence, Bashir’s family stayed. His father insisted upon it. When Israeli soldiers pounded at their door, demanding they leave, Bashir’s father didn’t waver. Rather, he opened the door wide, inviting the soldiers into his home as guests. 

In they came, and in they stayed. For five long years, soldiers occupied the top two stories of the Bashir family home. Yet Bashir’s father still preached peace and coexistence. Even when Bashir was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier, his father refused to recant or relent. Now Bashir is a peace activist in his own right, and The Words of My Father is the inspirational story of his struggle to understand and live up to his father’s singular example. His memoir is an absolute must-read.

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter
By David Chariandy
Bloomsbury

ISBN 9781635572872

How to Build a Boat
By Jonathan Gornall
Scribner

ISBN 9781501199394

All That You Leave Behind
By Erin Lee Carr
Ballantine

ISBN 9780399179716

The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine
By Yousef Bashir
Harper

ISBN 9780062917324

Get the Books

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter

By David Chariandy
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781635572872
How to Build a Boat

How to Build a Boat

By Jonathan Gornall
Scribner
ISBN 9781501199394
All That You Leave Behind

All That You Leave Behind

By Erin Lee Carr
Ballantine
ISBN 9780399179716
The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine

The Words of My Father: Love and Pain in Palestine

By Yousef Bashir
Harper
ISBN 9780062917324

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