Review: Not My Father’s Son

October 31, 2014 book review, memoir, non fiction, Uncategorized 6

Not My Father's Son

  • Written by:  Alan Cumming
  • Published by:  Dey St, an imprint of William Morrow Publishers, October 7, 2014
  • Length:  288 pages
  • Source:  Gift

Summary:  In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career

A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

My Thoughts:  Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Alan Cumming beyond his being Scottish and an actor. Reading his memoir was difficult, because an abusive childhood is just wrong.  As the book begins Alan takes us from Then to Now.  Then is the story of his growing up, the youngest son in his family, he has known from the beginning that his father treats him different, that he doesn’t like him.  His mother is always trying to get between the two of them, to protect Alan.  Sadly her efforts are rarely successful.

In the Now sections Alan is as we know him now, actor in stage, screen, TV.  He is a survivor, but he hasn’t been one to dwell on his past.  When he is approached by the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?  to be featured, he immediately said yes.  Alan then learns that the staff does extensive research into your family to find the angle or approach they want to pursue.  He is thrilled to learn that it is his maternal grandfather who’s life and death have remained a mystery the show wants to uncover.  Alan sees this as an opportunity to also give back to his mom.

While he learns much about his grandfather, Alan spends equal time learning about his father as well.  He has been estranged from his father most of his adult life.  His parents divorced when he went off to acting school.  He’s had no regrets not speaking to him, but as his involvement with the TV show becomes public some journalists reach out to his father to ask his opinion.  Nothing is ever good with his dad.  The details that Alan learns about his father, and the distant, troubled  relationship they have shared is shocking and sad.  Alan’s father is a cruel and bitter old man.

I’m always amazed at the wonderful human beings people can become despite such crippling mental abuse heaped upon them as children.  Alan Cumming is the product of such a life, but also the son of a woman who loved him and gave him everything she could, praise, love, support, a safe place. The journey of learning about his grandfather is fascinating, and gives him such pride and peace to share with his mom. Alan’s  resilience and eventual rise is such a lovely thing to see, and to read about in his memoir. Alan is humble, kind and giving.

I loved this book, it had me laughing and crying and even more enamored of the author.  I highly recommend this book, it’s unlike any recent memoir I’ve read.

6 Responses to “Review: Not My Father’s Son”

  1. BermudaOnion

    To be honest, I had no idea who Cumming is until I heard about this book. It sounds like just the kind of book I love, though, so I hope to get to it soon.

  2. My Home of Books (@duffygal777)

    I’ve hear of Alan Cumming and I think he is in The Good Wife (?) but anyway I like to read memoirs occasionally of the “everyman”, not the big-time celebrities. Mr. Cumming, though, seems to be more in the former group somehow.

    I hate to read of child abuse but this is what happened and this is what he turned out to be as a result, so I’m willing to read it. I love the American version of Who Do You Think You Are, hosted by Lisa Kudrow. It’s fun and informative to learn about how people behaved in past years and in many varied locations around the world. Thanks Anita, for writing a review that actually helped me make up my mind about this book that I’ve just seen fleetingly around the blogs.

  3. whatsheread

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Alan Cumming and have for years. He is just so supremely talented. I do have this one waiting for me on audio. I cannot wait to get to it!!

  4. Trish

    I think Alan Cumming is one of those that isn’t quite a household name for most but that you’ve likely seen something with him in it. He’s a very talented actor. Did you listen to this one? I know he’s narrated a few audiobooks so I wonder if he reads this himself. Sounds like a tough listen but I’m glad you found bright/light spots as well.

Leave a Reply