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Almost a Family: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 15, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266170
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 7 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,456,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.)
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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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Leslie G. Kopit on March 23, 2011
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 youtube.com type in John Darnton.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By ROGER CONNOR on 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mitchell I. Gordon on 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By New York Book Lover on May 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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 johndarnton.com 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 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Koskoff on April 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.
Bookman
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