cover image The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time

The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time

Jonathan Kozol. Crown, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8041-4097-3

Kozol (Savage Inequalities), a celebrated crusader for a balanced public school education, shifts his gaze to old age and the heartbreaking but strangely consoling decline of his parents in this luminous memoir. Kozol recounts the last years of his father, Harry, when Alzheimer’s robbed him of his wits but not entirely of his personality. During this period, Kozol got to know his parents better than ever, despite their diminished capacities. Much of the book is an absorbing retrospective of Harry’s career as a neuropsychiatrist, including his work with playwright Eugene O’Neill, heiress-turned-revolutionary Patricia Hearst, and suspected “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo. Mainly, though, it’s about Kozol coping with Harry’s growing helplessness as his mind dims: helping him complete his thoughts, deciphering the incoherent medical memos he issues, and arranging for companions, pets, and small pleasures that give his father’s existence meaning. Kozol’s frail but strong-willed mother Ruth is also a commanding presence in the book. The author’s approach is shrewd yet warmly empathetic; he is curious about how the mind’s gradual breakdown exposes its machinery, and raptly attuned to the emotional effects of these changes on his parents and himself. The result is a clear-eyed and deeply felt meditation on the aspects of family that age does not ravage. (June )