John Darnton's father Byron (Barney) Darnton was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He was killed by friendly fire in New Guinea in 1942, leaving behind a wife, 2 year old son, and a newborn son. He left behind a hole in the family fabric that was not filled until many years later.
Barney Darnton, born in Michigan in 1898 and raised there. He fought in the waning days of WW1 and after that war, became a journalist, eventually hired by the New York Times. He was a traditional two-fisted newspaperman, married twice before he met and married Eleanor (Tootie) Choate, a fellow New York Times reporter. The two went to live in suburban Connecticut and envisioned a life of domestic tranquility. Two sons were born, Robert and John, and shortly after John's birth,in 1942, Barney Darnton journeyed to the South Pacific to cover that part of Pacific theater for the Times. He was killed in the friendly-fire incident and Tootie was left to raise two young boys.
She did a pretty good job of it, too, despite being an alcoholic. She tried to give her sons a normal upbringing while trying to maintain a journalism career. Many moves, many schools, many crises later, John went to work for the Times while his older brother, Robert, became a noted historian.Their mother died of cancer in the late 1960's.
But through their early lives, both John and Bob were aware of an emptiness at the center of their lives. A family of three that may have been a family of four if an errant piece of shrapnel hadn't found Barney Darnton's head. As adults both boys set off to find the truth about their father, his relationship with his wife and family, and with the world of journalism. After many interviews, a few facts - one startling - emerged about Barney Darnton. His sons visited many of the important places in Barney's life, culminating with John's return, with his wife Nina, to the beach in New Guinea where Barney was killed.
As befits the work of a professional writer, John Darnton's memoir is stunning. He writes with a deftness that is both elegant and simple. If you only read a few memoirs this year, let this be one.