Family Romance: A Love Story

John Lanchester, Author . Putnam $27.95 (370p) ISBN 978-0-399-15300-6

In his first memoir, novelist Lanchester investigates how his parents' life stories shaped him as a writer. Born in Hamburg, Germany, raised in Asia and educated in England, he is an only child of an international banker, whose transcontinental origins are equally difficult to categorize, and an ex-nun from Western Ireland, whose former life in the cloister remains a mystery throughout his childhood. When Lanchester was 21, his father died of a heart attack soon after retiring from decades of unfulfilling "wage slavery," causing Lanchester to reconsider his own career path. Years later, as he settles funeral arrangements for his mother, both her name and birth date come into question—a shocking revelation that drives much of the narrative. From old letters, photographs, journal entries and interviews with family members, Lanchester pieces together the truth: that after she left the convent, she assumed a false identity and lied about her age to convince Lanchester's father to marry her (she claimed to be 32 when she was in fact nearly 40). Of interest to Lanchester fans, the events prefigured in his novel Fragrant Harbor are explained here. While Lanchester's parentage and transient childhood in the "hybrid, postcolonial-to-capitalist bubble" are far from ordinary, his insight into the nature of families, their secrets and their sacrifices strike universal chords in this lovingly told account of how one storyteller came to be. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/18/2006
Release date: 03/01/2007
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