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Letter to My Daughter: A Novel Kindle Edition

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Length: 178 pages
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Editorial Reviews Review

George Bishop on Letter to My Daughter

My novel Letter to My Daughter features a middle-aged mother, her 15-year-old daughter, a boy in Vietnam, and a tattoo. Straight off, let me make a confession: I don’t have a daughter. I don’t have a tattoo, and I don’t know anyone who fought in the Vietnam War. How, then, did I come to write a book so far removed from my real-life experience?

Fortunately, there’s a good story behind this novel, and it begins in India.

A couple of years ago I was on a fellowship to do teacher training in India. It was demanding work, and at the end of my stay, I took a camel safari in Rajasthan, in northern India. To be honest, this isn’t as romantic as it sounds. You sit on a camel, with a guide, and amble along a dusty track under hot sun, stopping now and then at a village for tea. It’s uncomfortable, the camel smells bad. Pretty soon you’re thinking, Hmm—a jeep would’ve been faster. But sitting on a camel all day does give you time to think, and I did.

I was mulling over an earlier novel I’d written. I’d struggled with this story for years trying to make it work. I’d done a ridiculous amount of research, had bankers boxes full of notes, but the thing was like a black hole swallowing everything I threw at it. But this, I knew, was what writing was: mostly just hard work, and if you wanted a story to succeed, you had to stick at it. "Bash on," as my Indian friends would say. So on my holiday in Rajasthan, I’d begun jotting notes for revisions to this novel in a journal I carried with me.

After a few hours riding a camel, though, the mind wanders. Thoughts slip from their moorings, and you drift into that hazy, pleasant state where past and present, near and distant, blur together in an indistinct, vaguely foreign landscape. Soon I wasn’t thinking much about anything.

Late afternoon we arrived at a desert camp. The camel folded its legs and I slid off. A man with a moustache and turban stood waiting on the sand with, improbably, a decanter of whiskey on a silver tray. After dinner and drinks with a retired Indian colonel, I hiked around the dunes. Nothing but sand and desert scrub, as far as you could see; above, the moon and an amazing profusion of stars. It made the camel ride seem worthwhile. Satisfied, I fell asleep on a cot in a tent, the campfire illuminating the canvas walls, and there I dreamed.

I dreamed the whole story. I could see it like a film un-spooling. A daughter steals a car, drives off into the night, and the mother, waiting her return, sits down to write a letter. The farm, the boyfriend in Vietnam, the Catholic boarding school, the visit to the tattoo parlor: it was all there. When I woke the next morning, I lay on the cot, letting the pieces of the story settle into place, and then went out and sat in a camp chair and jotted an outline in my journal. It was this outline that guided me as I worked on the novel over the next year and a half.

The curious thing is that I don’t know anyone quite like Laura, the narrator. She’s not modeled after anyone in real life. Many of her opinions align with mine, true, but her voice and experiences certainly aren’t mine.

So where did Laura come from, then? The Greeks, you know, assigned divinity to this kind of inspiration. They said it was the work of the Muses: Calliope, Thalia, Terpsichore... Myself, I don’t call it divine. Instead, I’m reminded of those stories you read about the discovery of some new chemical equation. The scientist is going about his business, preoccupied with other problems, and while stepping off a city bus, it comes in a flash: the formula is revealed, the equation solved.

A bit like those scientists, I credit my own inspiration to years of tedious work on story drafts, endless revision of sentences, countless nights hunched in front of a computer screen, and, just maybe, a few lucky hours rocking on a camel in the hot Indian sun. --George Bishop

(Photo © Michihito)

From Publishers Weekly

This slight and gauzy novel fails to find anything new in the familiar terrain of mothers and their volatile teenage daughters. After Elizabeth storms out of the house in the wake of an argument on her 15th birthday, her mother, Laura, writes her a letter, endeavoring to tell Liz the truth about how a girl grows up by recounting her own adolescence. Laura's high school romance with Tim, a poor Cajun boy, is an act of rebellion against her intolerant parents that resulted in her transfer to a Catholic girls' school. Though Laura's relationship is a source of cruel mirth for her classmates, her correspondence with Tim continues, even as Tim ships off to Vietnam and Laura questions her devotion to her long-distance lover. Bishop's debut may be an interesting exercise in writing from the opposite gender's point of view, but most of the novel's insights into the mother-daughter relationship, and into female adolescence, have been explored innumerable times—and in more compelling ways—in countless young adult novels. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1270 KB
  • Print Length: 178 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B0055ND4Y6
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 5, 2010)
  • Publication Date: February 16, 2010
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036S4AYK
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,614 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

George Bishop, Jr., worked as an actor for eight years in Los Angeles before traveling overseas as a volunteer English teacher to Czechoslovakia in 1992. He enjoyed the ex-pat life so much that he stayed on, living and teaching in Turkey, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, India, and most recently, Japan. He holds a BA from Loyola University in New Orleans, an MFA from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, and an MA from the School for International Training in Vermont.

His stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The Oxford American, The Third Coast, Press, American Writing, and Vorm (in Dutch). His first novel, Letter to My Daughter was published by Ballantine Books in 2010; his second, The Night of the Comet, came out in 2013, also with Ballantine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Nicole T. VINE VOICE on January 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of the best short stories that I have read in a long time. However, I didn't see it as a commentary on a mother/daughter relationship - but rather, I saw this as the story of a young girl struggling through her teenage years in the Vietnam Era.

The story is a letter from Laura to her daughter Liz. Liz has run away after an awful fight with her parents in which Laura slapped Liz. While anxiously waiting for her daughter to return, Laura pens a letter - telling her of what she went through when she was Liz's age. Laura starts out by apologizing to Liz for not being the kind of mother that she wanted to be. She then gets in to the story of her youth, starting from when she was 15.

Laura's story is heartbreaking and courageous. At 15 years old, she fell in love with a young man, Tim. Her parents did not approve of her relationship and sent her away to Catholic Boarding School. Laura felt estranged from her parents and alone except for her relationship with Tim, which consisted of mostly letters. When Tim enlisted in the Army and was sent to Vietnam, Laura's life starts to change.

George Bishop gives Laura a poignant and honest voice. It was hard to believe that this story was written by a man - as it feels like you are reading an autobiography. Laura's character is completely relatable and I can remember feeling many of the things that she felt as a teenager. Laura's letter to Liz is beautiful story of love, loss and family. I highly recommend this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne Anderson VINE VOICE on December 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is remarkable to me that a man wrote this. In slightly over 100 pages he manages to capture mother/daughter dynamics quite well, not to mention the difficulty of being a teenage girl.

A mother writes a letter to her daughter after she fled the house during an argument. The letter writing was meant to pass time but more important it explains to her daughter what it was like when she was 15 herself. These are truths she has never completely shared with her daughter.

This touching letter reveals the reality all mothers and daughters face. When we are teenagers we feel our parents do not have a clue to what makes us tick. This letter helps this mother with realizing she too had the feelings her daughter most likely has. It depicts the feeling of a time in this mothers life with such grace.

This is such a gem of a book. I still marvel that a man wrote it. I really liked this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. Groh TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First of all, this is a very quick read. Part of that is the number of pages (160) the other part is the conversational way in which it is written. It is a letter from a mom to her runaway daughter and so it reflects the way one would talk (late into the night) to a teen.

The story is a fairly good one. I like the way the mother slowly unravels her own tale of being a teen. I think she illustrates that as parents, we forget that there are often very deep feelings as to why a teen makes decisions. Parents make decisions because they want the best for their children and they are all too aware of the dangers of making poor choices early in life. The problem is how do these two worlds meet and find a way to keep the relationship open while maintaining a balance of power.

The letter starts out almost in a panic since Laura is fully aware that it may have been her actions (an argument, a slap) that drove her daughter, Elizabeth, out of the house. As Laura continues her letter and reminisces about the journey she took as a teen, I think she softens as little in her angst as she realizes that she did some risky things as a teen and she made it through.

I liked the development of Laura's story as a young teen in love. We get small glimpses into the life of Liz but maybe not enough. It may have helped if we knew they were more similar than they thought. George Bishop alludes to this a few times but we don't really get to know much about Liz.

All in all, the story writing is good and it made me think A LOT about how I might handle my relationship with my daughter, who is only 5 years old, but will soon be an opinionated and independent teenager before I know it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Tracy L. VINE VOICE on January 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's hard to believe that a man could write such a beautiful novel, but author George Bishop has created a truly moving story.

LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER is just that, a mother's letter to her 15 year-old daughter, who has just stormed off after an argument. The mother, Laura, tells her daughter Liz about her own life as a 15 year-old and the boy she loved, Tim, who was sent to Vietnam.

This is a short read, but a profound and emotional one. I can honestly say that I was truly moved by this story, and actually thought it ended much too soon. I would have loved to have read more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By LegalBeagle on February 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
After a terrible family fight, Laura, the protagonist in a Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop, pens a letter to her runaway daughter Liz. While Laura awaits fifteen year old Liz's return she decides to write her a letter. In short, to tell her daughter the things she always wanted to tell her, but never did.

Laura's conversational letter, which spans the length of the novella, is her attempt to share her own tumultuous teenage years during the Vietnam era. As Laura confesses:

" If I could speak now to my fifteen-year-old self, I might tell her to be more forgiving of her parents. Maybe they were doing the best they could. It's possible. If adulthood has taught me anything, it's that even grown-ups are fallible. We're not a whole lot smarter than we were at fifteen. We still feel the same stir of emotions, the same awkward human needs and doubts we felt when we were teenagers. Only the shell grows thicker; the inside, the more tender parts, remain surprisingly unchanged. Often - and this is a secret that not many parents will tell their children - often we don't know what the hell we're doing. And so we yell, we shout, we slap our children.

We still make mistakes, daughter. Oh yes, all the time."

This slender (126 pages), yet riveting novella, can easily be devoured in one sitting. The letter itself is believable as a mother writing to her young daughter. Letter to My Daughter is a compelling and candid coming of age saga of young life and love during the early seventies.

Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 16, 2010), 160 pages
Advance Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the Publisher.
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