by Julie HaleJuly 2008
Fathers and Sons
This delicious memoir by the grandson of the esteemed British writer Evelyn Waugh is a no-holds-barred account of life in one of England's most famous literary families. The author's great-grandfather was Arthur Waugh, an old-fashioned Victorian and powerful publisher. Waugh very obviously favored his older son Alec over Evelyn, who became an irredeemable alcoholic and a bit of a rebel. As a parent himself, Evelyn flouted the responsibilities of fatherhood, lost himself in his work and largely ignored his children. Yet Auberon, the author's father and a clear inheritor of Evelyn's talent, developed into a much-praised journalist, as well as a devoted and indulgent parent. Alexander Waugh peppers the story of his distinguished family with perfectly polished anecdotes about Evelyn's drinking and bisexual inclinations, and his own father's struggles as a writer. Despite - or perhaps because of - the domestic tempests that marked the clan's history, great literature was produced: The Loom of Youth (Alec); Brideshead Revisited; A Handful of Dust (Evelyn). Waugh draws on letters and diaries to lend authenticity to this informative and fascinating narrative. A gifted author in his own right, he has written a penetrating, emotionally charged examination of the father-son bond, skillfully tracing the relationship across four generations and crafting a lively narrative that will appeal to lovers of memoir as well as fans of the Waugh family.
Swann offers an impressively constructed narrative about a pair of hippie parents and the children they raise in the Pennsylvania farm country during the 1970s and '80s. The children, Lu, Maeve, Tuck and Clyde, grow up roaming the fields and doing as they please. It's an idyllic existence until the children mature and become self-conscious about their unorthodox upbringing. Their father, Sam, is an intellectual who graduated from Harvard, while their mother, Dee, is an artist. Both are politically conscious members of the counterculture who try to instill in their children the importance of honesty and freedom. Their lessons about life start to ring false, however, once their marriage hits a rough patch. When Dee and Sam separate, the split turns the family upside-down. The children are soon exposed to unfamiliar facets of popular culture, including television and junk food. They also observe the romantic entanglements of their parents. There's Dee's new companion, a macho type named Bobby, and Sam's psychologist friend, who is gorgeous but dense. The events in this unconventional family history are recounted mostly by Maeve, whose narration is by turns hilarious, moving and wise. Swann's bittersweet novel convincingly documents the moods and manners of hippie culture, raising provocative questions along the way about the strengths, weaknesses and contradictions that defined a controversial generation.
A reading group guide is available at us.penguingroup.com.
Bloom, a critically acclaimed novelist and short story writer, returns with a remarkable work of historical fiction. Set in the 1920s, the novel tells the story of Lillian Leyb, a young Jewish woman who escapes from a Russian pogrom after the deaths of her husband and parents. Hopelessly separated from her three-year-old daughter, whom she assumes is also dead, Lillian arrives penniless and alone in New York City. Through a stroke of good luck, she secures work as a seamstress at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theater. There, she makes the acquaintance of dashing actor Meyer Burstein and his powerful father, Reuben, soon becoming romantically entangled with both men. Yet, when Lillian learns that her daughter may still be alive, she sets her sights on returning to Russia. Because traveling there directly is too expensive, Lillian's friend, an actor and playwright named Yaakov Shimmelman, comes up with a cheaper - and less direct - course of travel, a route that takes Lillian to Chicago, Seattle and the Alaskan wilderness. Lillian's adventures along the way are unforgettable, and what she discovers in the end transforms her forever. Ripe with the flavor of old New York, full of rich imagery and well-developed characters, Bloom's novel is beautifully realized - an old-fashioned immigrant story with a twist.
A reading group guide is included in the book.