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My Mother's Ghost Hardcover – December 26, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (December 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385491298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385491297
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

At age 14, Bordewich (Killing the White Man's Indian) witnessed his beloved mother's fatal fall from her runaway horseAand her accidental landing beneath the hooves of his own galloping horse, which he had urged forward in an attempt to help her. An only child, he had been unusually close to his mother, viewing her as "bold and courageous and indefatigable"Avery different from his father. She was, indeed, a remarkable woman: intelligent, well-educated and passionate about her work on behalf of Native American tribes in the early 1960s, often traveling alone and fearlessly standing up to both Indian chiefs and congressmen who were suspicious of her motives as a diminutive blonde woman of Irish descent. The core of his account is more biography than memoir, as professional journalist Bordewich delves into his mother's world, ferreting through dusty boxes and yellowed library archives, interviewing octogenarians who remembered his mother from New York University, the Association on American Indian Affairs (which she directed for many years) and the reservations she had frequently visited, sometimes accompanied by her son. Through a synthesis of memory and investigation, the author is able to reconstruct an image of a woman who was not only the confident, heroic figure he admired, but who also had a darker side, and whose world was quickly falling apart (the end of her marriage, the loss of her lover) just before her tragic death. Returning to the Vermont vacation home of his youth with his own family, Bordewich finds that fatherhood finally allows him to let go of the past and releases him from his guilty obsession with his mother's death. Agent, Carl Brandt of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agency. (Dec. 26)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Every few years, a book comes along that wakes one up to the sheer joy of reading. This gripping, unforgettable memoir is such a book. That Bordewich unravels the somber consequences of childhood trauma--in his case, witnessing the bloody, accidental death of his mother--accounts for much of its appeal, for many others struggle with forgiving their parents, the world, themselves, or all three, and appreciate the stories of "survivors," despite horrific specifics. That Bordewich's mother was such a compelling person--a national leader in advocating the rights of indigenous peoples, though she was not herself Indian--makes it an important book, for there are few biographies of the pioneers of that movement. But it is the emotional power with which Bordewich tells the double story of the driven yet loving mother and the son who struggled to come to terms with losing her that raises the book above the ranks of typical autobiographies. Bordewich, who honed his craft in several earlier nonfiction books, including the trenchant Killing the White Man's Indian (1996), is a master of pacing, sensuous detail, and filmlike narrative. But he does not hide behind or within technique; he lets us share the complexities of his search for wholeness. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

FERGUS M. BORDEWICH is the author of six non-fiction books: America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union (Simon & Schuster, 2012); Washington: The Making of the American Capital (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2008); Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2005); My Mother's Ghost, a memoir (Doubleday, 2001); Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (Doubleday, 1996); and Cathay: A Journey in Search of Old China (Prentice Hall Press, 1991).

In his newest book, America's Great Debate, Bordewich tells an epic story of the nation's westward expansion, slavery and the Compromise of 1850, centering on the dramatic congressional debate of 1849-1850 - the longest in American history - when a gallery of extraordinary men including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Stephen A. Douglas, Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward, and others, fought to shape, and in the case of some to undermine, the future course of the Union.

He has also published an illustrated children's book, Peach Blossom Spring (Simon & Schuster, 1994), and wrote the script for a PBS documentary about Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Jefferson's University. He also edited an illustrated book of eyewitness accounts of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, Children of the Dragon (Macmillan, 1990). He is a regular contributor to Smithsonian magazine, mainly on subjects in nineteenth century American history. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and daughter.

Bound for Canaan was selected as one of the American Booksellers Association's "ten best nonfiction books" in 2005; as the Great Lakes Booksellers' Association's "best non-fiction book" of 2005; as one of the Austin Public Library's Best Non-Fiction books of 2005; and as one of the New York Public Library's "ten books to remember" in 2005.

Washington was named by Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post as one of his "Best Books of 2008."

Bordewich was born in New York City in 1947, and grew up in Yonkers, New York. While growing up, he often traveled to Indian reservations around the United States with his mother, LaVerne Madigan Bordewich, the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, then the only independent advocacy organization for Native Americans. This early experience helped to shape his lifelong preoccupation with American history, the settlement of the continent, and issues of race, and political power. He holds degrees from the City College of New York and Columbia University. In the late 1960s, he did voter registration for the NAACP in the still-segregated South; he also worked as a roustabout in Alaska's Arctic oil fields, a taxi driver in New York City, and a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter.

He has been an independent writer and historian since the early 1970s. His articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, American Heritage, Atlantic, Harper's, New York Magazine, GEO, Reader's Digest, and others. As a journalist, he traveled extensively in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, writing on politics, economic issues, culture, and history, on subjects ranging from the civil war in Burma, religious repression in China, Islamic fundamentalism, German reunification, the Irish economy, Kenya's population crisis, among many others. He also served for brief periods as an editor and writer for the Tehran Journal in Iran, in 1972-1973, a press officer for the United Nations, in 1980-1982, and an advisor to the New China News Agency in Beijing, in 1982-1983, when that agency was embarking on its effort to switch from a propaganda model to a western-style journalistic one.

America's Great Debate joins Bordewich's two previous books in exploring from a new angle the ways in which slavery and sectional conflict distorted American democracy in the years before the Civil War. In the aftermath of the Mexican War, new conquests carried the United States from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. How would the newly acquired empire be governed? Could it even be governed? Would that empire be slave or free? California's request to join the Union as a free state in 1850 pushed slavery's defenders to the brink of armed conflict. Many Americans expected secession and civil war to begin within months, if not weeks. The prevention of war through ten months of fierce debate was one of the greatest political achievements in American history. The compromise that resulted preserved the Union for another decade, ultimately enabling the North to ready itself for a war that it could win. America's Great Debate vividly recounts that story.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Akst on July 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This exquisitely crafted memoir so powerfully conveys the author's terrible loss that at times it's almost excruciating, but like the loss itself, the project is redeemed by Bordewich's remarkable writing, suspenseful narrative and indefatigable reportage. It's not just an investigation of his amazing mother and the gaping hole she left in his life, it's also a profound meditation on memory and loss, not to mention a vivid portrait of its times. The book deserves a much wider audience.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By "helenhs" on March 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Fergus Bordewich gives us a beautifully written book that intertwines his mother's story with his own story of obsession, alocoholism and recovery as he comes to terms with her death. LaVerne Madigan was a classical scholar at New York University in the darkest years of the Depression, a member of the Communist Party and writer of sonnets. After her marriage, she was anything but the typical suburban mom, sharing with her young son her love for Latin phrases and compassion for minorities. She took him with her on trips to Indian Reservations as she crisscrossed the country for her job as executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs. To him, she was a fearless woman who could accomplish anything. Her death in a horseback riding accident when Bordewich was 14 left him devastated. Bordewich takes the reader on a journey first of despair, depression and near suicide and then of recovery. An accomplished writer, he decides to research his mother's life and that of her parents and grandparents, separating truth from family legends. He walks in his mother's footsteps, fingers her papers and sniffs the stains her coffee cups left behind. In the process, he finds healing. He gives us an emotional and engrossing story readers won't want to put down.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Betty Burks on May 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This memoir was about a family tragedy, the first-hand experience of the accident in which his mother died instantly. He had witnessed her fall from a horse directly in front of the horse he was riding. He'd felt guilty and, as a boy of fourteen, he believed that he had killed his mother.

A son never gets over the loss of his mother at a young age. My brother would have been sixteen when our mother died of cancer. My father was having problems adjusting to the death of his first wife (even though it had been a long and horrible way watch her die), and so he took out his pain on Ralph and Cecil. To escape the daily thrashings and humiliation, Ralph got married the next year at the age of seventeen -- to leave a tormented home situation. In 1990 (42 years later), Ralph was dying from emphesema and liver failure when I visited him in the hospital. A nurse came in his room as he and I were alone and conversing (I lived 200 miles from here then), and casually asked him, "When did your pain begin?" The 58-yr-old man sobbed and said "when my mother died."

Like Ralph, Mr. Bordewich became a man overnight and had to cope with an alcoholic father. But life goes on and he lived through the turmoil to become a father himself. His mother (a beautiful person) was an important person, well-known on a national level. Our mother was an abused woman who'd borne nine children (five died at birth) without a doctor's care -- even I, the baby of the family, had been born at home -- and as a result developed cancer of the uterus. In effect, our fahter killed her. I was nine years younger than Ralph; Cecil and I both thought that we would die at the age of 36, our mother's longevity.
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