Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Painful Journey Toward the Truth

The Impostor's Daughter
By Laurie Sandell
Little, Brown & Co., 247 pages, $24.99

Laurie Sandell's father was a former Green Beret who'd served in Vietnam. He had a law degree and a Ph.D. Although in her earliest memories he was teaching at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, he had once taught at Stanford, and while there had become an adviser to President Richard and a friend of Henry Kissinger. As a young girl, she worshiped her father, and drew pictures of him as one of the faces carved into Mt. Rushmore.

But her father had secrets. In fact, as it turns out, only the last sentence above is true. Everything Laurie thought she knew about her father turned out to be an elaborate concoction of lies.

The book opens with a chapter called "Secrets," that starts like this:

Whenever my father went out of town, he had the mail stopped. It didn't matter if he was gone for one, two, or ten days - if my father wasn't home, the mail didn't come.
A few times, Laurie tells us that she did manage to get to the mail before her father did, and saw every letter was addressed to a different name. Once, she answered the phone and told some who asked for a "Winston Rambleau" that they must have the wrong number. Her father later was angry with her because that call was for him. "After that," she reports, "whatever name they gave, I just yelled for my dad."

Given the title and this opening, you can see that I did not really give away anything by opening this review the way I did. It's clear from the outset that something is very wrong with Laurie's father, and her shocking discoveries that her father is not what she believes seem unsurprising and almost inevitable to the reader - not that they are any less heart-rending for that.

When her father went out and bought her a bunch of brownie-scout badges she hadn't earned and had her wear them, did that plant a seed of doubt in her mind then? Or was it only on reflection, years later, in putting together this story, that she realized what an obvious symbol of his own life that moment was?

This is one of those "graphic novels" that definitely is not a novel. It is almost aggressively anti-fictional, dedicated to "the truth tellers" and looking at the past as honestly as possible, sparing neither her own nor others feelings along the way. It's a fascinating book that I highly recommend.