Before she was a bestselling author, Deborah Tannen was a girl who adored her father. Though he was often absent during her childhood, she was influenced by his gift for writing and storytelling. She spent countless hours recording conversations with her father for the account of his life she had promised him she'd write. But when he hands Tannen journals he kept in his youth, and she discovers letters he saved from a woman he might have married instead of her mother, she is forced to rethink her assumptions about her father's life and her parents' marriage.
In the first four words of her debut memoir, Deborah Tannen makes the message of her book perfectly clear ... Finding My Father is indeed on the sentimental side, and Tannen’s many attempts to convey her father’s 'wry humor' fall a bit flat ... Fortunately, Eli Tannen’s century-spanning Jewish American life is well worth reading about.
Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, is an expert on how we use words to both reveal and hide ourselves from the people who mean the most to us ... Finding My Father is a beautifully constructed patchwork that Tannen has pieced together from her father’s words ... Finding this Eli allows Tannen to see herself, her family and most especially her mother in a new and conciliatory light. Memory doesn’t only reconstruct the past, Tannen reminds us; it can also forge a new present.
... [Tannen] displays an acute ability to decode and explain the hidden messages and assumptions our words unwittingly convey, whether about power, status, a wish for greater connection or its opposite ... appealing ... overly discursive early chapters ... I wish Ms. Tannen—and her book—had arrived at this knowledge in fewer pages, but the ultimate recognition of her father’s painful need for connection is searing, the depiction of the Jewish community in World War I-era Warsaw riveting. Not only does Ms. Tannen’s heartfelt portrait keep her father—and his memories—alive, but her story also hints at the undiscovered currents that may await us, too, if we but delve beneath the surface of our own family myths.