cover image Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child

Five Days Gone: The Mystery of My Mother’s Disappearance as a Child

Laura Cumming. Scribner, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9871-7

English author Cumming (The Vanishing Velàzquez) unravels the mystery surrounding her mother’s five-day disappearance in 1929, when she was three years old, in this intense family history. Cumming’s mother, Betty, was at a beach on England’s Lincolnshire coast with her mother when she was kidnapped. Five days later, she was quietly found and brought home. Who had taken Betty and why is not revealed until later in the book and is part of the mystery that Cumming slowly unpacks, though readers learn early on that Betty was adopted, a fact her adoptive parents, Vera and George Elston, hid from her. Secrets were big in the Elston family and in the village in which they lived, so much so that Betty didn’t learn about her own kidnapping for over half a century. Growing up, Betty’s domineering father tried to isolate her. “I only knew that George was angry, bronchitic, dictatorial; and that he was a liar,” Cumming writes. Betty’s life changed at 13 when a woman claiming to be her grandmother approached her. The encounter scarred Betty and led to shocking revelations. Cumming incorporates photos, letters, and her mother’s own words to tell the story. The book sags a bit in the middle as Cumming teases the core mystery, but the final third reads like a thriller. Questions and lies abound in this touching book about a daughter’s quest to help her aging mother uncover her true identity. [em](Aug.) [/em]