The secret to a happy childhood is bonding, so the experts tell us. It stands to reason, then, that a key component of said happiness involves staying in one place long enough to establish friendships, community ties and a sense of belonging. By that measure, author Mike O'Connor had anything but a happy childhood. His earliest memories are of panic and despair at the prospect of being uprooted once again, to some unknown and likely unpleasant new home. His parents would never tell him the reasons for the quick getaways, giving only a falsely cheerful announcement that the family was embarking on an exciting new adventure.

The reality was significantly less appealing. His father would often disappear for weeks at a time, only to turn up unexpectedly, acting as if he'd never been away. Food was often scarce; promised funds routinely failed to appear. Early on, O'Connor began to realize that he was not privy to the whole story; his parents clearly held some secret that fueled their paranoia causing them to abandon houses, friends, even family pets as they dashed headlong into the night.

O'Connor went on to an illustrious career as an investigative journalist, first for CBS News, then for the New York Times and NPR. After his father died, he asked his mother the reason for their repeated flights. Her dismissive reply: Just a little trouble a long time ago. Nothing to talk about now. It was not until after his mother's death that O'Connor embarked in earnest upon the search into his family history. What he found was chilling and unexpected, the legacy of a Cold War witch hunt involving the FBI, the INS and local law enforcement agencies from Massachusetts to Texas and beyond. Hampered by a family reluctant to give up its secrets, but aided by sympathetic ex-Feds and the Freedom of Information Act, O'Connor painstakingly unraveled the mysteries that shaped his early life. The result is a disturbing book for disturbing times, a look back at the McCarthy era and the unsettling parallels to be found in today's politics, all at a very personal level.

 

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