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Audie Award, Autobiography/Memoir, 2015
Dark, painful memories can be like a cage. Or, in the case of Alan Cumming, they can be packed away in a box, stuck in the attic to be forgotten. Until one day the box explodes and all the memories flood back in horrible detail. Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan's father.
When television producers approached Alan to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, he enthusiastically agreed. He hoped to solve a mystery that had long cast a shadow over his family. His maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, had disappeared into the Far East after WWII. Alan's mother knew very little about him - he had been a courier, carrying information between battalions on his motorbike. The last time she saw her father, Alan's mother was eight years old. When she was 13, the family was informed that he had died by his own hand, an accidental shooting.
But this was not the only mystery laid before Alan's feet. His father, whom Alan had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade, reconnected just before filming for Who Do You Think You Are? began. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to his very core and set into motion a journey that would change Alan's life forever.
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 the celebrated actor of film, television, and stage. At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always incredibly brave and honest, Not My Father's Son is a powerful story of embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside.
The way an audio book works is this: you listen to a chapter, maybe two if you're extravagant, then you put down your iPod and get on with what needs doing.
But Alan Cumming doesn't play fair. Not only is he a great reader (I mean, he's Alan Cumming, for crying out loud) but he's also an amazing writer. He has mastered the art of narrative and the chapter ending cliff hanger, and as a result I spent the best part of my Saturday not working, but listening. I tried to listen while I worked, but then I found myself just standing in the middle of my living room with a dust cloth in my hands, listening.
This is not your typical collection of show biz party stories, but a painful memoir of a man coming to terms with his very difficult childhood. This should be a real downer, but somehow it's not. It's a triumph. There is not only honesty in this story, but love -- love for his family, love for the reader, love for the craft of story telling.
Not My Father's Son is simply the most satisfying "listen" I've had all year. Buy it.
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes! Alan Cumming tells his story openly, without apology or any semblance of self pity. His is not merely a morbid tale. Mr. Cumming is a bright, talented, positive, joyful, loving man. The dark early years of his life are balanced by the accomplishments of his adult years. Both dark and light times unite as Mr. Cumming works through his pain and uncovers the truth about the abuse suffered at the hands of his disturbed father, alongside revelations regarding his maternal grandfather, whose fate had been a long time family mystery. In relating his story, Mr. Cumming switches back and forth from "then" to present time, a marvelous technique. His life plays out like one of those fascinating "Mystery!" shows that he introduces on public TV--suspenseful, dramatic, yet also warm and often humorous,
What was one of the most memorable moments of Not My Father's Son: A Memoir?
Many moments were pivotal. I think the greatest had to do with the ultimate answer as to whether Alan's dad was his real father. I was spellbound when he confronted his dad with the truth.
Which scene was your favorite?
Again, so many to choose from. For me, the most moving was Mr. Cumming's return visit to his childhood home, related near the end. I recently had a similar experience viewing my childhood home. I felt so many strong, conflicting emotions--some good, some painful. My dad had his share of dark and negative parenting moments, but he did sometimes mange to be positive, appreciative and supportive. Still, our family had to keep much to ourselves in order to avoid provoking angry outbursts and deeply painful criticism from my dad, along with occasional overly vigorous corporal discipline. But my dad was an amateur compared to Mr. Cumming's father when it came to physical and emotional abuse. <br/>
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
See the above. In this case, favorite and most moving scenes are the same for me. (These review questions are somewhat redundant.)
Any additional comments?
I loved listening to Mr. Cumming as he related his story. It wasn't just his charming accent that made him a good narrator, nor his actor's abiltiy to use his voice to best advantage. Mr. Cumming's every word carried sincere emotion. I felt like we were sitting together in private, and he was kindly sharing his life with me. His narration was not a performance. It was a gift.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Not My Father's Son: A Memoir to be better than the print version?
Listening to Alan Cumming relate his own story made the telling of abuse, a difficult period of revelation and the triump of spirit; learning to love himself without a father's love; and the love of his brother, mother and partner left a footprint in my heart and soul-forever! Thank-you!Your honesty will heal other victims of abuse!
What about Alan Cumming’s performance did you like?
I was in the moment of rawness, pain, joy and searching from beginning to end. He truly gave us a window into his soul! He stilll managed to provide moments of joy, laughter and gratitude. I hope the book and the reading/telling of the book eased his life and childhood pain. I am glad he found happiness, love and self worth! I will listen and watch any performance he gives! His lovely scottish lilt was musical, with a wide scale of varied, emotional nuances.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
I listened while I drove for 30-60 minutes at a time. I could not wait to get back to the story. However, I am not sure one could endure all the pain and emotion in one sitting. similar to War and Peace. You have to take a break to continue taking in all the human pathos and emotion! Thank you a million times for the courage you had in bringing your story to print and in also performing the book!
Any additional comments?
I first knew of Alan Cumming from the Good Wife, a politician with a hidden layer of leprochaun and mischief with sparkling, beautiful eyes. He is one of my favorite characters. then I saw his performance on the Tony's of cabaret, so I started looking him up and found out about the book and several of the plays/movies he was written, directed and starred in and about this book. So I started reading and watching all of his work available! I too had a father who created an atmosphere of mental, psychological abuse and Alan was spot on in his descriptions and a life journey to become and believe one is okay! Thanks!
27 of 29 people found this review helpful
such a brave memoir. Even though it seems that as an actor he is probably used to opening up, I still think it is brave of him to share such a deeply personal and touching story. And consequently helping other people like me who read these types of stories as a form of self therapy. As previously stated by another reviewer, the memoir is especially for people who also had traumatic childhoods. Relating to others experiences helps to process our own in the intricate complexities of abusive parental/familial relationships.
It is a short account of just one aspect of Cummings life, but it is powerful, eloquent, poignant, and inspiring.
33 of 37 people found this review helpful
I write this as one who had a lovely childhood. Oh, my family had issues and ups and downs, but there was never any doubt about the love, respect, support, and security offered by my parents.
So it should be for all children! I've long admired Alan Cumming as a fearless actor and as a wonderful narrator - now I also admire him as a survivor who shares his painful story with emotion and frankness which can not fail to be an inspiration for us all and especially for those who have also suffered childhood abuse.
The book moves back and forth in time to reveal the fear and confusion of a child dealing with that abuse and the struggle of an adult to comprehend and come to terms with it and the inevitable effects it had on himself and his family. And it's all told within the context of the filming of an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?", a series which explores the family trees of celebrities. We learn a lot about the process of that show and about the life it is focusing on in this case - that of Cumming's troubled grandfather. The two stories seem in ways to be completely different, yet there are striking similarities and the juxtaposition works.
No one but Alan Cumming could have narrated this book. Listening to it is an incredible experience!
60 of 68 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Not My Father's Son: A Memoir again? Why?
Absolutely! It hurt to listen to this story, but it was beautifully wrought. Alan Cumming is a gifted writer, storyteller, and narrator. He gives you just enough hope to make you keep listening.If I find myself feeling down, I may listen to this again in a few years.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Alan is likable, even when he's flawed. I love his proclamations against shame. He acknowledges the difficult times in his life, he accepts himself for who he is, and he lives life with relish. Would that more people lived that way.
Which scene was your favorite?
It is a minor scene, but Alan's description of himself at King's Cross Station filled me with so much joy. Hearing someone talk about how awesome they are is too rare. He's not pompous, he just acknowledges that he grew into a fantastic, pixie-like adult.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
I'm very close to a few survivors of child abuse. Listening to Alan's descriptions of how his father treated him and how it impacted him was heart-wrenching, not just because it is awful when someone is abused like that, but because it paralleled the stories I've heard before. The similarities between stories of child abuse survivors are eerie.
18 of 20 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I have already recommend this week to some of my friends, the story of Alan Cumming, <br/>starts with the horror of a violent childhood, but ends with the triumph of survival and looks forward to a fulfilled future.
What did you like best about this story?
I enjoyed this books from start to end, but as I had watched "who do you think you are", it gave me a much deeper understanding.
What does Alan Cumming bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
His voice, his passion and the experience of having lived through the abuse.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?
A story of survival against physical and mental abuse.
Any additional comments?
probably one of the best books I have heard.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
I loved this book - I couldn't stop listening to it - it's an amazing story told with honesty and candor. Very touching, and Alan's voice is beautiful to listen to. Thank you for sharing your story!
28 of 32 people found this review helpful
I think anyone who listen's to Mr. Cummings memoir will find it hard to stop. For those of us who have experienced an extremely difficult childhood this will prove to be an especially poignant listening experience. I identify with so many of the things he went through and his subsequent reaction both as a child and an adult.
Rest assured, this book is no downer. On the contrary, it is uplifting. Mr. Cummings points out how all of his experiences have contributed to the person he is today. He seems like a funny, talented, and kind soul with a zest for life.
If you already appreciate his work you will love him even more. If you aren't yet familiar with his work, this book will make want to rent his previous films.
Definitely give this one a listen.
103 of 120 people found this review helpful
I was always fascinated by how believably Alan Cumming (a Scotsman) could play an American, Jewish political consultant on the Good Wife so I had to read his memoir to see what he was all about. Turns out that he is a terrific writer who can weave a down right crazy tale. It is amazing that this brilliant actor was brought up under such terribly abusive circumstances and was still able to become a hugely talented actor. His story is a testament to survival and ultimately thriving despite the worst of circumstances.
36 of 42 people found this review helpful