Father and Son: A Memoir (Hardcover)
A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • A poignant memoir of love, trauma, and recovery after a life-changing stroke, twinned to a powerful account of his father's experience in World War II, by a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.
“A beautiful, compelling memoir...Raban’s final work is a gorgeous achievement.” —Ian McEwan, New York Times best-selling author of Lessons
In June 2011, just days before his sixty-ninth birthday, Jonathan Raban was sitting down to dinner with his daughter when he found he couldn’t move his knife to his plate. Later that night, at the hospital, doctors confirmed what all had suspected: that he had suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke, paralyzing the right side of his body. Once he became stable, Raban embarked on an extended stay at a rehabilitation center, where he became acquainted with, and struggled to accept, the limitations of his new body—learning again how to walk and climb stairs, attempting to bathe and dress himself, and rethinking how to write and even read.
Woven into these pages is an account of a second battle, one that his own father faced in the trenches during World War II. With intimate letters that his parents exchanged at the time, Raban places the budding love of two young people within the tumultuous landscape of the war’s various fronts, from the munition-strewn beaches of Dunkirk to blood-soaked streets of Anzio. Moving between narratives, his and theirs, Raban artfully explores the human capacity to adapt to trauma, as well as the warmth, strength, and humor that persist despite it. The result is Father and Son, a powerful story of mourning, but also one of resilience.
About the Author
JONATHAN RABAN is the author of the novels Surveillance and Waxwings; his nonfiction works include Passage to Juneau, Bad Land, and Driving Home. His honors include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/West Creative Nonfiction Award, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and the Governor’s Award of the State of Washington. Raban died in 2023.
*One of the most anticipated memoirs of Fall 2023, appearing on most-anticipated nonfiction lists in The New York Times, the Lost Angeles Times, The Guardian, and The Seattle Times!*
"Father and Son is a deeply moving career capstone... his final book, [it] recounts his struggle in that rehab, juxtaposed with his father’s experience as a young British officer in World War II, during his parents’ first years of marriage. It seems an odd pairing at first... until, bit by bit, something remarkable and beautiful and ever so subtle grows, and Father and Son becomes Raban's finest and most moving book... It is poignant and crushing. The father arriving home from war, the son arriving home from a stroke...A story about life, its arc from beginning to end... A life ending, a life beginning. Father and son. I wept."—Carl Hoffman, The Washington Post
"Raban...was perhaps the most subtle and percipient writer on travel of his generation...credited with reviving travel writing as a literary genre... [Father and Son] is, typically, an ambitious and multifaceted work....his recollections play out on the page in intimate episodes and images...[and] the few digressions that describe remembered travel... [are] replete with evoked landscape, a complex human geography, and a needling critique of intrusive industry."—Colin Thubron, The New York Review of Books
"[Jonathan Raban] was the kind of writer we don't have in quantity... It's our luck that he left this lively and bittersweet memoir behind... We find ourselves inside the mind of an outraged, indefatigable commentator on life... Every writing day, he asked himself two questions: 'What have I lost?' and 'Am I fooling myself?'...[The] result of his labors makes the responses clear: a) very little, and b) no."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"A world-class writer no matter where he decided to make his home. His keen observational eye, wry sense of humor, and brilliant ability to prize apart the nonsense and find the tiny seed of truth at the heart of any situation were unique among his peers." —Paul Constant, The Seattle Times
"A moving coda to a writer's life...[Jonathan Raban was] an influential English writer and dedicated smoker, who was admired for his stylish prose and sharp intelligence...His analysis of himself was as acute as his observations about the places he visited...[and] his writer’s instincts were intact even in his stroke’s immediate aftermath...[Father and Son] is an unexpected opportunity to share his funny, self-deprecating and perceptive company one last time and to mark his passing with the significance it deserves."—Max Liu, Financial Times
"You’d be hard put to find an invalid with less self-pity than Raban, who recounts [in Father and Son] the effects of the stroke and his six-week stay in a rehab facility with an air of ironic detachment...He admits that each time he sat down to write after his stroke he would ask himself: ‘What have I lost?’ This memoir shows that his skill as a writer never deserted him."—Constance Craig Smith, The Mail on Sunday
"[Father and Son is] the finely-observed and moving account of Raban’s recovery from a stroke at age 69, intertwined with his parents’ love story, largely conducted through correspondence during WWII. The sections involving Raban’s physical rehabilitation are especially gripping—understated, never self-pitying. This meditation on fatherhood and what it means to be a son is to be savored."—Alex Belth, "The 25 Best Books for Holiday Gifting," Esquire
"[As] his struggles played out on a Seattle rehab ward...[Jonathan] Raban hoped to draw courage from his parents’ wartime experiences — and to understand his father better...Twelve years in the making, [Father and Son] is a singular accomplishment...Everything that’s matchless about Raban’s work — his hyperacute eye for detail, his powers of synthesis, his mordant sense of humor, his vast reservoirs of knowledge and his love of travel — is there.... As he chronicles his own pain, anger and determination to play the hand his failing body has dealt him, the word bravery comes to mind over and over, and perhaps that above all is his true inheritance. Like father, like son."—Mary Ann Gwinn, Los Angeles Times
"Reading his father's wartime letters changed how Jonathan Raban understood their relationship. A stroke changed how he understood himself... As full of eloquence as it is free of sentimentality, [this] memoir is a parting gift from a figure of insight and fierce independence... the pages turn quickly because the lines are so raw."
—Michael O'Donnell, The Wall Street Journal
"Blessed with a lyrical flowing style, Jonathan Raban... was noted for his pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and flights of the imagination, but also for evocative powers and sardonic humour... A quixotic and nomadic seafaring writer, Raban was fascinated by the lives of the people he met... [In] his posthumous memoir...his thought-provoking approach, with trademark whimsy, illustrates his watchful eye."—Paul Clements, The Irish Times
"[In Father and Son,] the chapters concerning Peter Raban (in his mid-20s) and the letters he exchanged with his new wife, Monica...are written with the mastery one expects of... [Raban]: his impeccable historical scholarship, his erudition of all things nautical and geographical, and, most importantly, his command of the language. The sections concerning his stroke and time in the hospital... are unusually conversational. Indeed, while reading these chapters, I could see his ghost talking to me from across the dinner table on the third floor of his Queen Anne home."—Charles Mudede, The Stranger
"Raban’s posthumously published final work follows an English father and son whose lives take diverging paths...The war chapters, which excerpt correspondence between Raban’s parents, are compelling, but it is Raban’s reckoning with his own frailty that carries the emotional weight of the book."—Briefly Noted, The New Yorker
"Jonathan Raban, who died earlier this year, left this memoir almost complete. It tells two stories, artfully braided...[and] with Raban’s interpolations, the Anzio pages [about his father] read like a military thriller....He was a master of close observation and wry self-deprecation, and had a cameraman’s ability to switch to a wide-angle lens in a heartbeat."—Sara Wheeler, The Spectator
"The late travel writer and novelist’s study of his dad.... offers a beautifully written portrait rather than judgment." —Anthony Quinn, The Observer
"Coasting, observing, reporting candidly on what he saw, floating between genres...mixing adventures with memories and making a pattern of his journey through life was what Raban did best. And did exceptionally well... Father and Son is a fine achievement, a wide-ranging and compelling account with the author's hallmarks of intelligence, erudition, humour and honesty."—Norma Clarke, The Times Literary Supplement
“A world war fought on three fronts by a young artillery officer; a courtship, marriage, and forced separation in a hesitant, old-fashioned English style; a sudden, devastating upheaval in the author’s own life — Jonathan Raban deploys the skills of an accomplished novelist to braid these elements into a beautiful, compelling memoir drawn from his parents’ wartime love letters. He is a master, as he has shown in his legendary travel writing, of summoning place and people with vivid economy. Haunting Father and Son is an exquisite, sometimes lunatic tension between powerful emotions and carnage on one side, and on the other, the conventional codes of what must remain unsaid. This, Raban’s final work, is a gorgeous achievement.”—Ian McEwan, author of Lessons
"[Father and Son is] a brave book...[Raban's] account of rehab is compelling. And his parents’ letters are eloquent and impassioned...Raban was best known as a travel writer. But...any book, he thought, should roam as freely as it likes and this final volume is an illustration of that, taking in everything from...his father’s 'equanimity in situations of extreme peril', to the strange good humour he felt after his stroke....That’s what makes his memoir so lively, even when it stares death in the face."—Blake Morrison, The Guardian
“[Raban is] always a lucid, perceptive writer. . . . His experiences as a patient will ring true to anyone who has spent significant time in the hospital. . . . [Father and Son is] a touching farewell from a careful, thoughtful observer of life.”—Kirkus Reviews
“This exceptional posthumous memoir . . . runs on two equally rewarding tracks. . . . Raban catalogs ‘the catastrophic progress of one’s own deterioration’ with warmth and intellectual rigor, effortlessly weaving together personal history and literary critique. Tirelessly researched and told with remarkable candor, this often breathtaking memoir is a worthy successor to Raban’s hero’s.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)