Circling My Mother
By Mary Gordon
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375424564, 272pp.)
Publication Date: August 14, 2007
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In this triumphant return to nonfiction after two critically acclaimed works of fiction, Mary Gordon gives us a rich, bittersweet memoir about her mother, their relationship and her role as daughter.
Anna Gagliano Gordon, who died in 2002 at the age of 94, lived a life colored by large forces: immigration, world war, the Great Depression, and physical affliction--she contracted Polio at the age of 3 and experienced the ravages of both alcoholism and dementia. A hard-working single mother--Gordon’s father died when she was still a girl--Anna was the personification of the culture of the mid-century American Catholic working class. Yet, even in the face of these setbacks, she managed hold down a job, to dress smartly and raise her daughter on her own, and though she was never a fan of the arts which so attracted Mary, she worshiped the beauty in life in her own way, with a surprising joie de vivre and a beautiful singing voice.
Gordon writes about Anna in all of her roles: sister, breadwinner, woman of faith and single mother. We discover Anna’s wry and often biting humor, her appreciation of life’s simple pleasures, her courage in breaking out of the narrow confines of her birth. Toward the end of Anna’s life, we watch the author take on all the burdens and blessings of caring for her mother in old age, beginning even then to reclaim from memory the vivid woman who helped her sail forth into her own life.
Bringing her exceptional talent for detail, character, and scene to bear on the life of her mother, Gordon gives us a deeply felt and powerfully moving book.
Mary Gordon is the author of six novels, two short-story collections, and a memoir about her father, The Shadow Man. She has received the Story Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, and a 1997 O. Henry Award for best story. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.