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Almost a Family [Kindle Edition]

John Darnton
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.95
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and best-selling author: a beautifully crafted memoir of his lifelong chase after his father’s shadow.

John was eleven months old when his father, Barney Darnton—a war correspondent for The New York Times—was killed in World War II, but his absence left a more profound imprint on the family than any living father could have. John’s mother, a well-known Times reporter and editor, tried to keep alive the dream of raising her two sons in ideal surroundings. When that proved impossible, she collapsed emotionally and physically. But along the way she created such a powerful myth of the father-hero who gave his life for his family, country, and the fourth estate that John followed his footsteps into the same newsroom.

Decades after his father’s death, John and his brother, the historian Robert Darnton, began digging into the past to uncover the truth about their parents. To discover who the real-life Barney Darnton was—and in part who he himself is—John delves into turn-of-the-century farm life in Michigan, the anything-goes Jazz Age in Greenwich Village, the lives of hard-drinking war correspondents in the Pacific theater, and the fearful loneliness of the McCarthy years in Washington, D.C. He ends his quest on a beach in Papua New Guinea, where he learns about his father’s last moments from an aged villager who never forgot what he saw sixty-five years earlier.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Soon after Pearl Harbor, Darnton's father, Barney Darnton, a correspondent for the New York Times, shipped off to the South Pacific, leaving behind infant Darnton and his older brother and mother. By year's end, Barney had been killed in the war. Darnton's mother, also a reporter and editor at the Times, struggled to raise her kids on her own. Darnton describes his adolescence, such as attending and getting expelled from prep school, attending college, meeting his future wife, and eventually finding his own way into journalism. In this unsentimental narrative, Darnton vividly chronicles the high-water era of classic journalism and his stints as a Times correspondent in Africa and Solidarity-era Poland, but what drives his memoir are the pursuit of the fullest possible picture of his father's death, the story of his mother's alcoholism and sobriety, and most of all, the quest for deeply buried facts about his parents and their relationship. (Mar.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In this interesting and often moving memoir of loss, longing, and discovery, Darnton, a Pulitzer Prize�winning journalist, was only 11 months old when his father, Barney, a war correspondent, was killed in New Guinea in 1942. Barney�s wife and John�s mother was also a journalist. She was an emotionally fragile woman who was prone to long periods of severe depression, but she created and passed on to her children an idealized fantasy of their brief, earlier family life. Eventually John, assisted by his historian brother, Robert, felt a compulsion to learn more about a father he never knew. The result of their odyssey is surprising and painful but liberating. Their father is revealed as both less saintly and more interesting than the portrait created for them. As his revelations unfold, Darnton also offers a vivid description of the evolution of American society over the decades preceding WWII. --Jay Freeman

Product Details

  • File Size: 2039 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (March 15, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004C43F8E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,476 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Page-Turner March 23, 2011
By L Garis
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read many memoirs, but few have moved me and expanded my understanding of human nature as much as John Darnton's extraordinary Almost a Family. Darnton writes with the command of language honed over years of journalism, but what makes the book sing is his deep emotional honesty and his unflinching portraits of his mother and father, The New York Times--which loomed over both his parents, his own imperiled youth, and the larger considerations of memory and loss. Like a great novel, there is redemption at the end, and by the time you finish this book you have had a significant experience of your own. I discovered a terrific short video on YouTube about the trip Darnton took to Papua New Guinea where his father died while covering WWII for The Times. On type in John Darnton.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GROWING UP WITHOUT A FATHER May 27, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I recently read Almost a Family by John Darnton. Full Disclosure: he's a college roommate's brother-in-law. His father, Barney Darnton, was a war correspondent who died from friendly fire (ghastly term) in New Guinea early in The War when the author was less than one-year old. He tells of own life's journey with stories of his father (mostly from his mother) interwoven. His father was a subtle presence in his life, much more influential than he realized at the time. I was reminded of my Reservoir of Sadness, a term I use to describe thoughts of my father, who was killed in WWII during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

I am a member of American World War II Orphans Network (AWON.ORG), an organization of people whose fathers died in WWII. Though Darnton's father and mine had little in common and died in vastly different circumstances (Europe-Pacific ... Cold-Hot ... Land-Water ... Soldier-Correspondent ... Enemy Fire-Friendly Fire ... Obscure-Well-Known ... High School Dropout-Well-Educated), I related strongly to many of his growing-up experiences with father memories as a (usually) subtle background.

Like many of us in AWON, he did not diligently pursue learning about his father till later in life. He was 65 and just retired from an illustrious career with the NY Times when he started his serious research. This book is about the effect his father's death had on his family and his career. And finally, it is about finding his father, finding the real Byron (Barney) Darnton.

The writing is clear, direct, uncluttered. I liked the book a lot.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary Masterpiece of a Memoir May 29, 2011
Even though I was well acquainted with John Darnton's first class reportage, editing and writing for the New York Times and his entertaining novels, nothing prepared me for the brilliance and bravery shown in Almost a Family. I was riveted to the scenes of his childhood as the fatherless son of Barney Darnton, a New York Times war correspondent who died under friendly fire in the Pacific. I will never forget the scene of the little boy who played out rituals- handling his dead father's medals as religious icons. The account of his single mother's struggle to survive is a compassionate portrait of a woman ahead of her time - and against the enduring discrimination of women in the field. She paid a high price for her courage.Her descent into alcoholism is one of the most moving sections of this daring memoir. I was impressed by his uncensored accounts of his own childhood misbehavior- the thefts and joyriding, a man as respected as John Darnton might not be expected to risk. The risks pay off and the investigation of the truth of this "almost family" unfolds as a thrilling detective story- What was true? What was a lie? This is a family history that had to be revised and it has been- by a consummate memoirist of the highest level. Along the way, there is the most touching account of brotherly love I have ever read- how John's barely older brother, Robert, became a near-father from age two, protecting John and allowing him a childhood that he never had. The love here is palpable and forgiveness also, as his mother emerges as an unlikely and loved heroine, despite her failings. A tragic yet always engrossing and even entertaining memoir that held me in its spell as few books have in recent years. A view to his website is a must-see follow up with related articles and a video of the final stop of his journey to find the place his father was killed in New Guinea. I could not put this book down and its emotional impact will never leave me.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and inspiring-I loved it! April 15, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Beautifully written, interesting and moving. What a voyage. Darnton's search to discover the father he never knew, brings us on an incredible sojourn into the foundations of his fascinating life. The writer describes his life in an effortless and insightful manner. His life was not easy, but there is no self pity in these pages. This is an honest examination of a life well lived, and how his parents' vulnerabilities informed that life. A fabulously scripted memoir. A must read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Memoir Masteerpiece April 16, 2011
Those familiar with John Darnton's reporting and works of fiction will be awed and surprised by the writing in his gripping memoir, "Almost A Family". In this great book he manages to merge his exquisite reporting skills with a poet's facility with words not seen in his other works. More than just a recitation of facts or life history, this memoir reads like a Dickensian novel with a strong story line, ample surprises, memorable characters, and a dramatic arc. It is a story of pain, coming of age, and redemption. He manages to bring us along on his quest for the father he never knew. We learn, as he learns, how far the real man departed from the dashing mythical figure portrayed in his youth. We meet a heroic mother trying to hold together the semblance of normalcy while raising her two brave boys and dealing with her own demons. Most satisfying of all, it is the story of how Darnton's own life was changed by the quest. How the death of a myth became the birth of a man.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant memoir
John Darnton recounts the tumultuous years of his youth without the father he never knew. As an accomplished journalist following in his father's footsteps and a father himself he... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lynne D
5.0 out of 5 stars New York Times journalist covers the story of a lifetime, his parents'...
Barney Darnton was a foreign correspondent for the NY Times in 1942, leaving behind a wife and two sons as he heads off to cover the war in New Guinea where he meets his end. Read more
Published 8 months ago by mollyo-o
5.0 out of 5 stars All about finding out about what we don't know....
I highly recommend this well-written engaging book for its family story embedded in the multi-generational history of an influential family. Read more
Published 8 months ago by wave KR
4.0 out of 5 stars Searching in one's past
I highly recommend this book. Darnton has pursued and confronted his past -- leaving us a memorial to his father, and a testament to his own capacity for self-awareness. Read more
Published on September 8, 2012 by P. Stern
4.0 out of 5 stars Times
If you are considering reading a memoir this year, you can't go wrong if you choose John Darnton's Almost a Family. Darnton's writing is superb: clear, interesting and engaging. Read more
Published on June 7, 2012 by Stephen T. Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars A reporters' reporter
I need to identify an interest in John Darnton's touching memoir of his late father, the New York Times war correspondent Barney Darnton, killed by "friendly fire" off Papua in... Read more
Published on January 11, 2012 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars well written memoir
This memoir covers some very intertesting and touching events in the author's life, especially centered on his young life which was haunted by the death of his father when he was a... Read more
Published on December 27, 2011 by carolinaislandgirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding his father...
John Darnton's father Byron (Barney) Darnton was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He was killed by friendly fire in New Guinea in 1942, leaving behind a wife, 2 year... Read more
Published on April 23, 2011 by Jill Meyer
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