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The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss (and Learning to Tell the Truth about It) Hardcover – January 9, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Trumpeter; 1ST edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590304284
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590304280
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,185,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dann, the author of Mermaids, had been married almost 10 years to her Dutch husband, Willem, when he was suddenly diagnosed with a fatal brain cancer. In this memoir (the cute title undercuts the serious subject), Dann explains how the plans they'd so lovingly made—their future together—would abruptly come to an end. Worse, Dann had no idea how she'd explain to their three-year-old son, Jake, whom they adopted from Lithuania, that his father would begin to act strangely, that he would become very sick and eventually die. Fortunately, she enlisted the aid of an understanding child therapist, Sallie Sanborn, who taught Dann how to give Jake permission to grieve. While her son's reactions were Dann's focus, she also had to come to terms with the man she loved losing his language skills, his mobility, his thought processes, and their happy marriage coming to an end. Dann lets her story unfold as a series of short vignettes—some triggered by a mundane object, others by something someone said. Bittersweet and painfully honest, Dann's memoir of how she had to leave one life and begin another is remarkable. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

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"The most protective parent must one day reveal the hard truth that life ends. For Patty Dann, that wrenching task came sooner than any mother would wish. Dann's memoir is filled with brave arguments for accepting death and may underscore the very natural difficulty people have in doing so. Evocatively titled . . . striking."—The New York Times Book Review

"Patty Dann writes movingly of losing her husband Willem to cancer. In this affecting memoir, Dann chronicles Willem's quick decline and her own struggle to help three-year-old Jake deal with losing his dad. No goldfish-went-on-vacation euphemizer, she opts for straight talk while allowing Jake his talismans—Band-Aids plastered on his toy trucks, beach glass arranged in an intricate pattern on his parents' bed. . . . Dann brings home the enormity of their loss but you get the feeling they're two who, together will survive just fine."—People Magazine 

"What sets Patty Dann's volume apart is the remarkable three-year-old boy at its heart, and how, with the help of a smart therapist, he deals with the death of his father from brain cancer."—USA Today

"Dann lets her story unfold as a series of short vignettes—some triggered by a mundane object, others by something someone said. Bittersweet and painfully honest, Dann's memoir of how she had to leave one life and begin another is remarkable."—Publishers Weekly

"The book's strength lies in its emotional honesty, rendered beautifully—in spare, tender chapters—by Dann."—Adoptive Families

"A disarming memoir of loss will leave readers appreciating every moment."—Working Mother

"Patty Dann writes about love and loss in a way that is stirring and important. Like Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, this book takes readers through experiences they might be frightened to imagine, and it does so with poise, wit, and originality."—Meg Wolitzer, author of Surrender, Dorothy and The Position

"Writing with grace and candor, and vivid bursts of humor, Ms. Dann shares the hard-won wisdom that the way to speak about death is honestly and openly, and that the simple acknowledgment of shared loss is the kindest and most helpful path to take, especially with a child. This is a wonderfully generous and helpful book."—Abigail Thomas, author of Safekeeping and A Three Dog Life

"A lovely, beautifully rendered memoir. Dann merits particular praise for her frank, unsentimental, sensitive exploration of the challenges of teaching children to understand loss and death as an integral aspect of love and life. A great wisdom resides in these short chapters, and Dann presents it in straightforward, succinct, crystalline prose."—Fenton Johnson, author of Geography of the Heart: A Memoir

More About the Author

The first word I remember learning as a child was "eavesdrop," and I've been drawn to stories ever since. I've published two novels and two "real" stories, although they come from the same place, a brew of memory and imagination. Having my first book, MERMAIDS, become a movie with Cher, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci, was a remarkable experience. In college I noticed that my best work was drawn from difficult subject matter. "Don't worry," my professor assured me. "You all will have a lifetime of challenges to write about," and he was right.


Patty Dann is the author of THE GOLDFISH WENT ON VACATION: A MEMOIR OF LOSS and THE BABY BOAT: A MEMOIR OF ADOPTION. She has also published three novels, STARFISH, SWEET & CRAZY and MERMAIDS. Her work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Korean and Japanese. MERMAIDS was made into a movie, starring Cher, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci.

Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Christian Science Monitor, O Magazine, The Oregon Quarterly, Redbook, More, Forbes Woman, The Writer's Handbook, Poets & Writers Magazine, and " Dirt: An Anthology About Keeping House," and "This I Believe: On Motherhood."

She has served as a judge for the Scholastic Young Writers Awards. She has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and a B.A. from the University of Oregon. Dann has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and the West Side YMCA. She was cited by New York Magazine as one of the "Great Teachers of NYC."

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Christine Quiriy on February 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Dann writes about the last year of her family's life in a series of vignettes. It's the story of how Dann met her husband, Willem, how she met her best friend at camp, how she and Willem decided to adopt a child, how the three of them lived their brief life together and loved each other. It is the heartbreaking story of how Dann kept life normal for her three year old son during the last year of his daddy's life, despite the tragedy relentlessly unfolding. Includes scenes from life after Willem's death, and an afterword by Sallie Sanborn, the counselor who helped Patty and Jake Dann get through the hard time.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Julee Rudolf VINE VOICE on February 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Patty Dann's memoir, which could be described as a short collection of extremely short stories (the longest spans just four pages) about life and death, is part self-help for those trying to assist a child in coping with the terminal illness or death of a loved-one; part personal history - childhood, adulthood, courtship, marriage, motherhood, (her husband's) illness, widowhood; and part death-related memories of others and excerpts from her students' written stories. The writing is clean, correct, and except for a handful of great sentences and phrases, unremarkable. Because of the nontraditional, seemingly unintuitive way she chooses to allow her three-year-old son, Jake, to be made aware of the facts concerning his father's terminal illness and imminent death, he seems to understand and deal with the situation better than might be expected. Both the author and the "Child Development/Child Life Specialist" who counseled her son, provide useful, insightful information about helping children appropriately handle issues related to death and dying.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Weiner on January 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book shares excellent insights about a topic that is so difficult to talk about that at times we truly wish that 'the goldfish were on vacation'. This book is written with deep feeling and honesty and is a MUST for all those people and professionals that face this topic.. I strongly recommend this book. Sallie Sanborn shares the important work that she does with the children and there is an excellent resource directory...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Barb F. on February 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book isn't very long at all..but I found myself taking my time reading it. The books author gives you (the reader) a lot of things to think about. I hope the author will write a second memoir to continue the conversation where she left off with this one.

A memoir about the way children grieve AND the way adults grieve, a very insightful book.
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Format: Hardcover
With the exception of losing a child, dealing with the death of a husband of wife -- at a time in life where most couples are at their busiest and happiest -- must surely be one of the most heart-breaking, and emotionally horrific experiences a human being can experience. Yet, horror visits us all in one guise or another and as we grow older we begin to realize that it is often only through the experience of tragedy that -- through a slow, painstaking recovery -- we find our true voice and "sense of place" in this world.

This a memoir of such an emotional journey -- straightforward, honest and warmly reflective -- we are recipients of a gift of story. Presented as a collection of writing exercises in two-to-three page diary-like entries, we learn a great deal about Patty Dann, her husband Willem, and their adopted son, Jake. Dann discloses and reflects on what she was thinking and experiencing during the time that she and Willem meet and marry, their decision to adopt a baby boy, and then settle into a daily routine that is broken forever when illness enters the home to claim Willem.

While the theme is how to be honest with oneself, and your child and husband -- how to tell a child that their father is dying and tell the husband you love that he will lose all memory and identity and die -- the true value of this book lies in understanding that her loss is universal. That is, the telling of a story of loss by one person and her struggle to convey the meaning of death to a child, helps us understand that we are all truly, "in this together.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on June 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In a support group for families dealing with a terminally ill member, a woman reveals that she had to flush her son's goldfish, but couldn't bear to tell him the truth about it, so her story because that "the goldfish went on vacation."

For author Patty Dann and her preschool son Jake, as dad Willem dies of a brain tumor, "now, we are two."

It's only natural that prolific essayist and writing workshop instructor Patty Dann would publish a book on the topic of loss when she was widowed after less than a decade of marriage. The author observes that with a 3-year-old just out of a stroller, and a husband with a degenerative brain tumor, she may soon be pushing two children around. The short, delicate chapters are peppered with poignant insights and frank discussions about death, but the worth as a whole strives too hard to be "that perfect pocket book for giving to a friend coping with loss."

I personally looked for just such a book when my best friend gave birth to a baby girl doctors predicted would live less than three years. I might have been tempted by this title had it been out, but with four years of maturity (and a still relatively stable, growing four-year-old child for my best friend), I would never select such an unremarkable, silly book to attempt to comfort a friend.

Dann does deal with a unique aspect of loss--she has a year to adjust to becoming a widow and a single parent, as she watches her husband lose his mental and physical faculties. Her ideas, like having family members write letters to her son to be opened in a decade, on his thirteenth birthday, help remind the reader how much we need to celebrate and cherish those around us every day. As a whole, though, the essays add up to little more than a cute book with a fish on the cover. For hard-hitting personal soul-searching about the death of a spouse and father, I would recommend Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.
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