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How I Came into My Inheritance: And Other True Stories

How I Came into My Inheritance: And Other True Stories

by Dorothy Gallagher

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Dorothy Gallagher began her literary career fabricating stories about celebrities for a pulp magazine. Nothing she invented, however, could rival the facts surrounding her own family.

In a singular voice–intimate, fierce, hilarious–Gallagher takes you into the heart of her Russian Jewish heritage with stories as elegant and stylish as fiction. From


Dorothy Gallagher began her literary career fabricating stories about celebrities for a pulp magazine. Nothing she invented, however, could rival the facts surrounding her own family.

In a singular voice–intimate, fierce, hilarious–Gallagher takes you into the heart of her Russian Jewish heritage with stories as elegant and stylish as fiction. From the wrenching last stages of her parents’ lives, Gallagher moves back through time: to her parents’ beginnings, the adventures of her extended family, and the communist ideology to which they cling. Her aunt Lily sells lingerie to prostitutes; a family friend is found murdered in a bathtub; her cousin Meyer returns to the Ukraine to find his village near death from starvation; and a young Gallagher endures sessions in self-criticism at a Workers’ Children’s camp. Together these episodes tell the larger story of a generation living through tumultuous history, and record the acts of loving defiance of a daughter on her path to independence.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Vogue Magazine
Funny and observant...Gallagher fills her book with amusing anecdotes of her fascinating upbringing in Washington Heights, where she was raised by Russian-immigrant parents whose socialist leaning often verged on the sublimely ridiculous. Throughout Gallagher's charming and tough memoir, there runs a wonderful voice: distinctly urban, mercifully whine-free, and delighting in the details.
Laura Shaine Cunningham
. . . connected essays that make up Dorothy Gallagher's mordant, entertaining account of her Ukrainian Jewish heritage. . . . a singular, unflinching personal memoir . . . alternately disturbing, comic and moving.
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gallagher's previous nonfiction (Hannah's Daughters: Six Generations of an American Family and All the Right Enemies: The Life and Murder of Carla Tresca) chronicled other people's lives. Now she turns her considerable talents to her own immigrant family's history, and the result is an autobiography written with the elegance and simplicity of a fine novel. The individual chapters--the "true stories" of Gallagher's life--beautifully render her experiences growing up as the child of left-wing Ukrainian migr s in 1940s New York. Discussions about Stalin and Trotsky were the stuff of everyday life; a framed picture of Lenin hung in the attic (which, Gallagher explains, she always thought was a picture of her grandfather). Gallagher recounts anxiously hiding her family's copy of the Communist Daily Worker in the New York Post, as well as her frustrations with Camp Wochica ("Workers' Children's Camp," she assures us, "in case you thought it was your standard inauthentic Indian name"). The family's friends and relatives are as richly vivid as fictional characters: an aunt sells lingerie to prostitutes during the Depression; a family friend is found mysteriously murdered in her bathtub; an uncle recites poetry to his fellow nursing home residents. Gallagher effectively conveys the sense of familial narratives that have been handed--sometimes with great solemnity and at other times carelessly--from one generation to the next. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Feb. 16) Forecast: Rapturously blurbed by literary luminaries Alice Munro, Susan Minot and James Salter, and supported by author readings in New York City, this resonant memoir is an obvious pick for fans of Jewish autobiography and New York history. If it garners the enthusiastic review attention it deserves in mainstream and Jewish publications, it could break out to wider audiences. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this new work, New York City writer Gallagher (Hannah's Daughters: Six Generations of an American Family) casts her clear, ironic eye on her own family--and what a group they are. Aunt Lily made good money selling lingerie to hookers; Aunt Sally's letters always cited the exact price of everything she mentioned. Individual and eccentric to the core, they nonetheless represent their time and place: Russian immigrant Jews living in Washington Heights and remaining loyal to Marx and Stalin. Their ideology was not designed to make Gallagher's childhood easy. Her mother, for example, insisted that the black girls who beat Dorothy up at school were the real victims. And for Gallagher, the mysteries of sex were simple compared to those of "Trotskyites" and "right-wing deviationists." Gallagher began writing by cranking out material for fan magazines at Magazine Management Co., and there she met a co-worker immersed in writing a novel about the Mafia: yes, Mario Puzo. Gallagher tells the story of her family and her writing career in short, sharply focused scenes that are frequently comic and sometimes (especially in the first title essay) very touching. Recommended for regional collections.--Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The boroughs of New York are fertile ground for ethnic traditions to flourish, but bumpy territory for the daughter of Russian immigrants who embraces communist philosophy. In this memoir, Gallagher introduces her parents at the end of their lives and then works backward to impart the tribulations of her colorful family dynamics. The personalities of her aunts, uncles, mother, and father are like a road map, with cloverleafs that eventually merge into Gallagher's life-the choices made for her and those she pursued independently. The story picks up speed with her post-teen dalliances. She describes with humor her attempts at various jobs and relationships before finding a niche in tabloid journalism and then writing books. Young adults will like the coffee-klatch style of writing and just might get a fresh insight into their own heritage.-Karen Sokol, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Random House
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242 KB

Read an Excerpt

After my mother broke her hip, I put her in a nursing home.
"You want to put me here?" she said.

The woman was certified senile, but she still knew how to push my buttons. Not that she didn't have reason to worry; had I listened when she'd begged me "Darling, please, please don't do anything
to hurt Daddy. It will kill him . . ."?

I swear, what I did, it wasn't just for the money.

You know that tone people take about old age? The stuff about dignity and wisdom and how old people (pardon me for saying old) should be allowed to make their own decisions. Allowed! My father treated nicely reasoned arguments like mosquitoes. As for dignity, let's pass over the question of bodily wastes for the moment; let's suppose that the chronologically challenged father of one such pious person decided to torture and starve his or her chronologically challenged mother. ("So she falls! She'll lie
there till she gets up! . . . What does she need orange juice for? If she's thirsty she'll drink water!") And not only that, but also gives away practically all that person's inheritance to a crook. Do you think you
might see any revisionism in attitude then?

Until the day I took him to court and the judge laid down the law, nobody, but nobody, interfered with my father. I mean, he was awesome. For instance, he owned this slum building. It was filled with some characters you wouldn't want to meet in broad daylight on a busy street. The tenants didn't pay rent, welfare paid the rent. But welfare didn't pay exactly as much as my father was legally entitled to. So every month, even when he was up in his late eighties, he'd get in his car and drive over to that building, haul himself up the stairs, bang his cane on every door, and demand his five or ten dollars. He got it. Nobody laid a finger on him. Nobody even slammed the door in his face. And the only way you could tell he might be even a little bit nervous was that he left his motor running. And the car was never stolen!

It wasn't easy to tell when my father began to lose his marbles, because he'd always been such a headstrong summabitch, as he called everyone who had a slightly different idea. But the winter he was ninety he took out the water heater. That was a clue. I went up there one day — they lived about sixty miles upstate in this house they'd lived in forever. Now, the house should have been my first clue. I knew that house. I grew up there. If ever there was a homemade house, that was it. My father built it all around us. First we were living in two rooms, then three; nine by the time he got finished, the rooms all stuck on in unexpected places, connected by closets you walked through to get to other rooms, short dark corridors and twisting staircases. He never got tired of making new rooms. When I was a kid I thought he had made the world. Like once, we needed a shovel for the woodstove. My father took a metal ice
tray, cut off one end, rounded it, put a hole in the other end, and stuck a bit of pipe in. Voilà! I idolized that man.

And now the house was a wreck: jury-rigged electrical cords you tripped over, water dripping from the roof, buckets on the floor, smells of accumulated filth. I'd piss in my pants before I'd go into the bathroom.

But the thing is, I still believed in my father; he'd always taken care of everything. So when I'd say, "Daddy, there's a leak over Mama's bed. Let me find someone to fix the roof,"and he'd say, "Don't you do anything, I'll take care of it," I'd think, Okay, I guess he knows what he's doing.

Or I might say, "I'll get somebody to clean the house."

"It's clean! Mama cleans!"

So I say, "Mama, when did you clean the house?" She says, dementedly, "You saw, I just swept out. You know it doesn't get so dirty in the country."

I say, "But it smells bad," and my father says, "It doesn't smell!" I'd think: He seems sure. I guess it's not so bad. And everything happened so gradually.

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

Susan Minot
In telling the story of the wayward, stubborn, and faithful characters in her family--Russian Jews living on the edge of Harlem--and of her own not exactly full-of-glory coming-of-age, Gallagher does a brave thing. She tells the truth, and without sentimentality, and manages to make it hilarious. These stories are so funny and Dorothy Gallagher is such a penetratingly wry and rare comic writer that I want to press this book into people's hands.
Edward Said
A brilliantly crafted marvel of style, unsentimental recollection, and mordant observation. Conventional family memoirs seem to limp by comparison, so extraordinary are Gallagher's distinctively audacious yet understated tone and originality of vision. Above all, she provides her reader with jolts of delighted satisfaction with each episode.
James Salter
She has the seductive power of someone you've met by accident who, mesmerizingly, tells you absolutely everything. If you are a writer, Dorothy Gallagher is the woman you would love to have for a reader, and if you are a reader, you will love this book.
Alice Munro
What a fresh bright voice, what courage and clear-eyed love Dorothy Gallagher has, to take us on this essential journey into a family's life. A book that made me rejoice--there's no other word for it--in the perfect rightness of its tone and the hard-won compassion of its vision.

Meet the Author

Dorothy Gallagher was born and raised in New York City, where she lives with her husband, the writer and editor Ben Sonnenberg. She is the author of Hannah's Daughters and All the Right Enemies.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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