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The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father Paperback – April 29, 1997

2.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For a so-called "Catholic novelist," the revelation that her father was born a Jew qualifies as something of a literary bomblet; that his past was a tissue of fabrications, that he became an anti-Semite and reactionary, is a revelation that haunts this unusual book. Gordon's search for her father, who died when she was seven, leads her to libraries and archives, to interviews with his associates, to family birth records and finally to the extraordinary project of disinterring and reburying her father's remains. The search becomes a literary quest in which Gordon transforms herself by transforming her images of her father.

From Publishers Weekly

Popular feminist novelist and short story writer Gordon (Final Payments), in her mid-40s, discovered that the father she had idealized, the man who set her course as a writer, was a liar and an impostor. David Gordon died in 1957, when Mary was seven, and she grew up revering a supposed Harvard dropout who faced ostracism because he was Jewish, and who then became a literary critic and Jazz Age bohemian in Paris, Oxford and New York. But through library research, sleuthing and interviews, she learned that these were mostly fabrications, perpetuated by family myths. Her father, a high-school dropout, never went to Harvard, Paris or Oxford. Born Jewish, he converted to Catholicism in 1937, wrote vile anti-Semitic articles and pretentious literary journalism and ardently supported Mussolini, Franco and right-wing radio priest Father Coughlin. He also edited a tawdry nudie magazine. He was not born an only child in Ohio in 1899; in fact, his real name was Israel and he was born in Vilna, Lithuania. Further, he hid from the author's mother his first marriage, to a Protestant flapper. In this eloquent, deeply moving memoir, we watch Gordon reconstruct her identity, come to terms with her father and recognize her own Jewish roots. She also visits her octogenarian mother, who has suffered massive memory loss, in a nursing home. Ultimately, Gordon reburied her father?who was interred in her mother's family plot?in a separate grave under his own name. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed. edition (April 29, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749318
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #455,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald J. Richardson on January 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
Much as this reader enjoyed Mary Gordon's other writing, especially Final Payments, he must fault the writer for this maundering, meandering piece of work. Bloviated with rhetorical questions, she plows the same ground over and over again, bemoaning her fate, and crying out, "Why? Why?" One is tempted to respond, "Because. Because." Without the self-conscious and self-serving rhetorical questions, this book would be 1/3 shorter, and it would be improved. If you've ever fantasized about being a psychiatrist, wondering what it would be like to listen at length to someone who refuses to accept life, this book should satisfy you. For the rest of us, let's hope that Gordon finally accepts herself. Frankly, Kathryne Harrison's The Kiss was more fully honest and better written.
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By A Customer on April 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Mary Gordon fails at making her readers sympathetic to her self-proclaimed traumas. Yes, she does raise the questions of the validity of memory. But she does so only to justify her own existence. She needs to ground her irrational love for her father, which at times verges on the Electra Complex. She paints the picture of a man who, a Jew himself, was a rabid anti-Semite. Who, a converted Catholic, published a soft-porn magazine. Who lied about not having a family, when the one he did have disowned him, and about attending Harvard and Oxford, while he never even finished high school. Who said he was born in the States, while he came from Eastern Europe. I understand what Gordon attempted to accomplish - she tried to show that despite all this, she is capable of loving her father unconditionally. But she fails. Her suffering and mourning are artificial, pompous, and almost pathetic. Gordon's intellectual snobism is something of which many (all?) of us are guilty, but her expressions of it are exaggerated and too blatant to be accepted. She does not fail to mention that she could stay with "Toni Morrison's friends" on a research trip. Or that she has tenure at Columbia, or that she publishes frequently (and the biggest names in the business, of course, adore her work), or that she is an insider in the New York intelligensia circles. She has tied herself so closely to her father that those statements make me wonder is she is trying to atone for his lack of education, sophistication, and morality. The only redeeming chapter in the book is the one in which Gordon describes her mother, now an old woman bound to a wheelchair in a nursing home. Instead of musing over the supposed complexities of her feelings toward her father, Gordon should devote more time to making the reality of her mother a happier one.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Author Mary Gordon's father died when she was seven years old. For a long time, this fact seemed to be a defining aspect of her life. She was happy to think of him in terms of the man who loved her "more than God" and then disappeared. But thirty years later, she begins a quest to find out who her father really was.

Her search takes her to libraries, archives, and her own memory, but what she learns on this journey begins to test her credulity and her view of the man. Her many discoveries included the fact that he was actually an immigrant, rather than a man born in Ohio; he was a Jew who became an anti-Semite; he was a convert to Catholicism who wrote devout Catholic poetry; he was also a publisher of pornography.

In Ohio, where he grew up, she can find nobody who remembers him, or those who think they do, but have negative reactions to him. She discovers many facts that led to her realization that the man she thought was her father was a fictionalized version of a man. She has to decide what to do with this conflicting information.

Even her own mother is not a reliable source of memories, as she is losing hers. She scarcely can distinguish one event from another.

Throughout The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father, I felt a connection to Gordon's quest, in that we desperately need to understand who we came from in order to completely know ourselves. Those defining connections can make or break us.

The first part of the story was tedious and not as interesting as the later parts.
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Format: Paperback
Mary Gordon raises obfuscation to a high art in this sophomoric, self-pitying, excuse for what actually appears to be an exercize in memory retrieval for the emotionally challenged. The title of the book is quite appropriate.

Angela's Ashes, in contrast, which is a memoir about the life and times of the author is a lush journey through dark and passionate times. While his life could be construed as pitiful he does not beg for pity. He has painted a portrait as vivid as any I've seen and thus made the memoir he wrote as memorable as any I will probably ever read.
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Format: Paperback
This book is very much in the same vein as Geoffrey Wolff's Duke of Deception... a man who was a failure as a person yet a loving father. A chilling portrait of the ambivalence of knowing one's imperfect parent.
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