Faced with seven hours of driving in one day, I headed for our collection of nonfiction books on disc and selected a title that has been on my pending list for a while: Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming. The print book and the audio version were both published in late 2014, to positive reviews. I enjoyed it very much, although parts of his story are difficult to listen to (or read, I’m sure).
Cumming weaves together two main story lines in the book. The first is about his painful relationship with his troubled father, who was both physically and emotionally abusive throughout Cumming’s childhood–and in fact, into his adulthood. The other focus is the mystery of his maternal grandfather, who died in Malaysia after his participation in World War II. That mystery is investigated and solved through Cumming’s participation in the UK television show Who Do You Think You Are?, a program that researches celebrities’ genealogies. While both story lines are painful at times, there are many uplifting and positive moments. His relationships with other family members are loving and supportive, and one feels that his journey to learn more about his father and grandfather makes him a stronger person.
The audio book is narrated by Cumming himself, so I knew that all the right bits were being emphasized. One of the most charming parts of the book is that every time he refers to his mother Mary he calls her “Mary Darling”. Her maiden name was Darling, and Alan and his brother always refer to her that way “because her name so suits her. She is a darling.” His love for her is heard in his voice.
It is a suspenseful story, with several–if that’s possible–wrenching and heartwarming endings. The audio version is six hours and thirty minutes. If you choose the print version, you will see black and white photos of some of the key people. And, if you are looking for activities to complete your summer reading program, Not My Father’s Son will fulfill letter S: Read an autobiography by a celebrity.