Thomas Fleming's Mysteries of My Father: An Irish-American Memoir is a heartening, sometimes painful, instructive tale about immigration that humanizes the ethnic clashes and odd dynamics cinematically explored in such films as Gangs of New York and In America. Fleming examines his father Teddy's life with a mixture of anguish, warmth, admiration, exasperation and, ultimately, respect and love. Teddy Fleming is depicted as a strong-willed, wily individual, extremely devoted to his wife and son, but not always able to articulate his emotions or handle the turmoil inherent in his career as a politician in New Jersey. But he instills in his son the importance of loyalty, integrity and personal strength. Fleming, a noted historian and the author of 40 books, adeptly divides his territory here into biographical, reflective and analytical portions, paralleling his personal development and evolution with that of his parents. He takes the reader inside a colorful and sometimes rather bizarre environment in the process. Most importantly, Fleming shows how the lessons gleaned from his father and mother positively affected later choices he made. He also provides insight into early 20th-century urban America, using Jersey City as a mirror of an era when political maneuvering and strategy were far less subtle and community identity was the key ingredient in determining one's destiny.
Mysteries of My Father opens with the moving story of the return of a gold ring Fleming had been given by his father. The ring had been lost three decades earlier while he was visiting the Argonne battlefield, the same place his father had fought in World War I. From that gripping start, the book simultaneously presents the history of the Fleming family and a wonderful coming-of-age narrative. These twin chronicles vividly show the reader how and why Thomas Fleming's father played such a key role in his life and reaffirm the importance of parenthood in shaping one's character. Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville City Paper.