The Florist’s Daughter

By PATRICIA HAMPL

I come from people who have always been polite enough to feel that nothing has ever happened to them. So wrote Patricia Hampl in her first memoir, A Romantic Education; that 1981 book is a telling exploration of family and inheritance, detailing her journey from her native Minnesota to pre-Velvet Revolution Prague in quest of her father’s Czech heritage. Meditative, lyrical, generous, it remains of the most memorable coming-of-age tales published in the past quarter-century.

Her new book, which begins at her mother’s deathbed and circles back through the author’s St. Paul childhood, focuses with similarly fulfilling attention on the two people she comes from most directly, a dapper florist and a fierce, savvy Irishwoman. “These apparently ordinary people in our ordinary town, living faultlessly ordinary lives, … why do I persist in thinking — knowing — they weren’t ordinary at all?” Her answer to that question — delivered in a voice by turns poetic, reflective, narrative, and incisive — is an aptly dutiful, extraordinarily beautiful testament. -