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The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father Hardcover – 27 Jun 1996

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Edition, First Impression edition (27 Jun. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747525765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747525769
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 15.2 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,817,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Andre Gerard on 2 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father sketches a passionate portrait of a deeply flawed man, a shabby pornographer with literary pretensions, a convert to Christianity who was so ashamed of his immigrant and Jewish origins that he hid his past and became a nasty anti-Semite and a writer of speeches for Joe McCarthy. In the course of investigating her father's life and of reflecting on the motives for her search, Mary Gordon also had her father's bones dug up and reburied. The intensity of her obsession with her father, a father who died when she was only seven, is terrifying--yet readily understandable. The father of her childhood, after all, was not a real human being. He was a fairytale father, an Angela Carter father, a "magic uncle," a Pied Piper strewing candy and trailing kids. In trying to find her "real" father, in trying to come to terms with the lies her father told her, Gordon confesses that "I have done things to my father. I have remembered him, researched him, investigated him, exposed him, invented him." The one thing she cannot do is exorcise him. Gordon is a spiritual sister to Sylvia Plath--Plath who lost her father when she was eight--and despite her ironies, her literary inventiveness, her distancing techniques, she cannot escape the curse of victimhood which her father's early death bequeathed her.

Andre Gerard,
Editor of Fathers: A Literary Anthology
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A hymn to self 24 April 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Mary Gordon fails at making her readers sympathetic to her self-proclaimed traumas. Yes, she does raise the questions of the validity of memory. But she does so only to justify her own existence. She needs to ground her irrational love for her father, which at times verges on the Electra Complex. She paints the picture of a man who, a Jew himself, was a rabid anti-Semite. Who, a converted Catholic, published a soft-porn magazine. Who lied about not having a family, when the one he did have disowned him, and about attending Harvard and Oxford, while he never even finished high school. Who said he was born in the States, while he came from Eastern Europe. I understand what Gordon attempted to accomplish - she tried to show that despite all this, she is capable of loving her father unconditionally. But she fails. Her suffering and mourning are artificial, pompous, and almost pathetic. Gordon's intellectual snobism is something of which many (all?) of us are guilty, but her expressions of it are exaggerated and too blatant to be accepted. She does not fail to mention that she could stay with "Toni Morrison's friends" on a research trip. Or that she has tenure at Columbia, or that she publishes frequently (and the biggest names in the business, of course, adore her work), or that she is an insider in the New York intelligensia circles. She has tied herself so closely to her father that those statements make me wonder is she is trying to atone for his lack of education, sophistication, and morality. The only redeeming chapter in the book is the one in which Gordon describes her mother, now an old woman bound to a wheelchair in a nursing home. Instead of musing over the supposed complexities of her feelings toward her father, Gordon should devote more time to making the reality of her mother a happier one.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An Electra Complex Unrestrained 11 Jan. 2006
By Donald J. Richardson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Much as this reader enjoyed Mary Gordon's other writing, especially Final Payments, he must fault the writer for this maundering, meandering piece of work. Bloviated with rhetorical questions, she plows the same ground over and over again, bemoaning her fate, and crying out, "Why? Why?" One is tempted to respond, "Because. Because." Without the self-conscious and self-serving rhetorical questions, this book would be 1/3 shorter, and it would be improved. If you've ever fantasized about being a psychiatrist, wondering what it would be like to listen at length to someone who refuses to accept life, this book should satisfy you. For the rest of us, let's hope that Gordon finally accepts herself. Frankly, Kathryne Harrison's The Kiss was more fully honest and better written.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
An extremely poor example of the memoir genre 8 July 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Mary Gordon raises obfuscation to a high art in this sophomoric, self-pitying, excuse for what actually appears to be an exercize in memory retrieval for the emotionally challenged. The title of the book is quite appropriate.

Angela's Ashes, in contrast, which is a memoir about the life and times of the author is a lush journey through dark and passionate times. While his life could be construed as pitiful he does not beg for pity. He has painted a portrait as vivid as any I've seen and thus made the memoir he wrote as memorable as any I will probably ever read.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A QUEST FOR IDENTITY.... 7 Nov. 2010
By Laurel-Rain Snow - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Author Mary Gordon's father died when she was seven years old. For a long time, this fact seemed to be a defining aspect of her life. She was happy to think of him in terms of the man who loved her "more than God" and then disappeared. But thirty years later, she begins a quest to find out who her father really was.

Her search takes her to libraries, archives, and her own memory, but what she learns on this journey begins to test her credulity and her view of the man. Her many discoveries included the fact that he was actually an immigrant, rather than a man born in Ohio; he was a Jew who became an anti-Semite; he was a convert to Catholicism who wrote devout Catholic poetry; he was also a publisher of pornography.

In Ohio, where he grew up, she can find nobody who remembers him, or those who think they do, but have negative reactions to him. She discovers many facts that led to her realization that the man she thought was her father was a fictionalized version of a man. She has to decide what to do with this conflicting information.

Even her own mother is not a reliable source of memories, as she is losing hers. She scarcely can distinguish one event from another.

Throughout The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father, I felt a connection to Gordon's quest, in that we desperately need to understand who we came from in order to completely know ourselves. Those defining connections can make or break us.

The first part of the story was tedious and not as interesting as the later parts. I especially enjoyed the sections that included her mother and their history together--a piece to the puzzle that completed the whole picture for me.

Because I enjoy this author's work, I was curious to know more about her history. This book filled it in very well, and except for the beginning parts, portrayed a compelling family portrait. Four stars.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating memoir of ambivalence 28 Jan. 2000
By bill green - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is very much in the same vein as Geoffrey Wolff's Duke of Deception... a man who was a failure as a person yet a loving father. A chilling portrait of the ambivalence of knowing one's imperfect parent.
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