The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities

The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities

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by Katharine Weber
     
 

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The Memory of All That is Katharine Weber’s memoir of her extraordinary family. 

Her maternal grandmother, Kay Swift, was known both for her own music (she was the first woman to compose the score to a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy) and for her ten-year romance with George Gershwin. Their love affair began during Swift’s

Overview

The Memory of All That is Katharine Weber’s memoir of her extraordinary family. 

Her maternal grandmother, Kay Swift, was known both for her own music (she was the first woman to compose the score to a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy) and for her ten-year romance with George Gershwin. Their love affair began during Swift’s marriage to James Paul Warburg, the multitalented banker and economist who advised (and feuded with) FDR. Weber creates an intriguing and intimate group portrait of the renowned Warburg family, from her great-great-uncle, the eccentric art historian Aby Warburg, whose madness inspired modern theories of iconography, to her great-grandfather Paul M. Warburg, the architect of the Federal Reserve System whose unheeded warnings about the stock-market crash of 1929 made him “the Cassandra of Wall Street.” 

Her mother, Andrea Swift Warburg, married Sidney Kaufman, but their unlikely union, Weber believes, was a direct consequence of George Gershwin’s looming presence in the Warburg family. A notorious womanizer, Weber’s father was a peripatetic filmmaker who made propaganda and training films for the OSS during World War II before producing the first movie with smells, the regrettable flop that was AromaRama. He was as much an enigma to his daughter as he was to the FBI, which had him under surveillance for more than forty years, and even noted Katharine’s birth in a memo to J. Edgar Hoover.

Colorful, evocative, insightful, and very funny, The Memory of All That is an enthralling look at a tremendously influential—and highly eccentric—family, as well as a consideration of how their stories, with their myriad layers of truth and fiction, have both provoked and influenced one of our most prodigiously gifted writers.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Weber isn't just a novelist (e.g., Objects in the Mirror Are Closer); she's an interesting receptacle of American history. Her grandmother was Kay Swift, the first woman to compose music for a Broadway hit and George Gershwin's longtime lover, and her great-grandfather was Paul M. Warburg, creator of the Federal Reserve System and the model for Daddy Warbucks. Maybe not as huge as, say, Trynka's David Bowie, but it sounds fascinating, and Weber certainly can write.
Publishers Weekly
Novelist Weber (Triangle) here paints a wry and engaging portrait of a powerful, talented, but troubled family. She relays memories of her father, Sidney Kaufman, a self-mythologizing filmmaker, and Andrea Swift, her self-absorbed mother, who retreated into photography and Angela Thirkell novels, and weaves them into her familial history: on her father's side, refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe; on her mother's, the German-Jewish Warburg banking dynasty. While the affair between her maternal grandmother, composer Kay Swift, and George Gershwin takes center stage (Weber's title derives from an Ira Gershwin lyric), Weber packs in other celebrated names related by blood or association. The most touching passages describe the impact of unavailable adults on Weber (she was left alone for five days on a film set) and Weber's relationship with Swift, who took her to Broadway shows, Central Park, and Schrafft's soda fountain. (July)
From the Publisher
The Memory of All That is a rigorous, heartfelt, often shattering history of Weber’s family and the people close to them. Making sense of family is always difficult but, for Weber, the difficulty is exacerbated because so many relatives are famous and widely written about, their stories of extramarital affairs, intimate betrayals, and falsehoods common knowledge…Weber takes advantage of her insider position to sort out lies and myths, and give readers the straight scoop on her celebrated kin. In doing so, and in using her novelist’s skills in the development of character, she also lets us see what it is really like to inherit the legacy of so many stars behaving with such astounding infidelity to the ideas of truth, marriage, and family.”
—Floyd Skloot, The Boston Globe

“Highly appealing….a book infused with the doubt that we all bring to the contemplation of those mysterious beings who birthed us, along with our certainty that few subjects are more fascinating….It’s when Ms. Weber remembers Papa that her considerable skills as a writer are most seductively on display. And it’s not just because the exasperating Kaufman is such a good subject. It’s that Ms. Weber is able to arrange words musically, so that they capture the elusive, unfinished melodies that haunt our memories of childhood. As her grandmother’s lover might have put it, she’s got rhythm.”
The New York Times
 
The Memory of All That is less a family memoir than a family biography. Which is good because Weber’s kin are more than fascinating enough to stand on their own without embellishments of personal memory. (A-) ”
Entertainment Weekly
 
“Gracefully written, poignant and droll, The Memory of All That is a gifted author’s brave look back at her eccentric, lively forbears — their dealings, foibles and affairs.”
Dallas Morning News
 
“Weber is an accomplished novelist; she knows well how to manipulate fictional form, as any reading of her 2006 novel Triangle will readily illustrate….In The Memory of All That, Weber’s eye for detail and for the right phrase is undiminished. No, no, they can’t take that away.”
Chicago Sun-Times
 
"Old scandals. What fun...The core of her tale is that of elegant sin and betrayal."
Daily News

"Weber is an elegant writer, and she can be witheringly funny."
Palm Beach Post

"To be a writer born into an illustrious and complex family is both a burden and a gift.  In THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT, Katharine Weber trains her novelist's eye and penetrating intelligence upon what may be her greatest subject: her own family's history as it stretches back, generation after fascinating generation.  Her achievement here is a literary one, to be sure—but even more than the beautiful, elegant story contained in these pages, I am in awe of the strength, tenacity and courage it took to rise up out of this fabled cast of characters and write one of the most powerful memoirs about inheritance I have ever read."
—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

“The Memory of All That is an engaging family memoir that centers on the ardent extra-marital liaison between the author's maternal grandmother, composer Kay Swift, and her eminent colleague George Gershwin....An entertaining, often poignant book.”
—Francine du Plessix Gray, author of Them
 
"A deeply moving book that is resonant and richly rewarding.  Katharine Weber’s loving and insightful look at her marquee worthy family fundamentally reminds us of our own in its strangeness and complexity.  The deeply bonded relationship between her grandmother Kay Swift and lover George Gershwin is finally fully revealed with accuracy and aching poignancy.  No one has ever properly told their story, and the combination of Weber’s inside family knowledge, assiduous research, and brilliant writing make this an unforgettable and essential read."
—Michael Feinstein

“I honestly don't believe I've ever read a memoir so filled with anything like Weber’s own, fierce, detached grace. Her ability to evoke the most horrifying events while reducing the reader to helpless laughter is uncanny….An extraordinary achievement.” 
Robb Forman Dew

 “Novelist Weber mines her rich family history, hitting the mother lode of pedigreed romances and remembrances….Grandmother Kay Swift, the first female Broadway composer and George Gershwin’s longtime lover; grandpa James Paul Warburg, FDR’s economic adviser, and daddy Sidney Kaufman, serial womanizer, unconventional filmmaker, and producer of the first feature film that literally smelled, thanks to a process called Aromarama, literally walk off the pages of this captivating multigenerational saga.”
Booklist
 
“A wry portrait of a powerful, talented, but troubled family.”
Publishers Weekly

 “Novelist Weber tells the story of her colorful family and the scandalous—but monumentally transformative—love affair between her grandmother, Kay Swift and George Gershwin….Rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions…. illuminating.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
"A thoroughly engaging family memoir."
Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

In this debut memoir, novelist Weber (True Confections, 2009, etc.) tells the story of her colorful family and the scandalous—but monumentally transformative—love affair between her grandmother, Kay Swift and George Gershwin.

"Growing up, I missed George Gershwin without ever knowing him, because two people I loved, my mother and grandmother, loved him and missed him," writes the author. Swift was the Protestant wife of James Paul Warburg, scion of a distinguished Jewish family of bankers. A gifted musician, she knew brief success as the songwriter for the 1930 smash Broadway hit, "Fine and Dandy." But where she earned her greatest notoriety was as Gershwin's longtime lover and most ardent defender of the Gershwin musical legacy. The book often reads like a who's who of the New York high society that Andrea Swift Warburg, Swift's gentle, but tragically child-like daughter, eschewed through marriage. Warburg's husband, Sidney Kaufman, was a social-climbing womanizer whose primary allure was a passing resemblance to Gershwin. "Born in the back of a grocery store in Brooklyn to immigrant parents," his sole claim to fame was as the purveyor of Aromarama, a technique that wed film scenes to odors. As Weber acerbically remarks, "Most of my father's movie career took place at the intersection of making it and making it up." The book is strongest in its rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions, including—in the figure of art historian Aby Warburg—mental illness. However, Weber is overly reliant on historical narrative to convey a very personal recollection, which creates an unintentionally brittle objectivity that makes it difficult for readers to connect with either Weber or her account, except at a distance.

Illuminating but often dry.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307888594
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
07/19/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
407,895
File size:
5 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
The Memory of All That is a rigorous, heartfelt, often shattering history of Weber’s family and the people close to them. Making sense of family is always difficult but, for Weber, the difficulty is exacerbated because so many relatives are famous and widely written about, their stories of extramarital affairs, intimate betrayals, and falsehoods common knowledge…Weber takes advantage of her insider position to sort out lies and myths, and give readers the straight scoop on her celebrated kin. In doing so, and in using her novelist’s skills in the development of character, she also lets us see what it is really like to inherit the legacy of so many stars behaving with such astounding infidelity to the ideas of truth, marriage, and family.”
—Floyd Skloot, The Boston Globe

“Highly appealing….a book infused with the doubt that we all bring to the contemplation of those mysterious beings who birthed us, along with our certainty that few subjects are more fascinating….It’s when Ms. Weber remembers Papa that her considerable skills as a writer are most seductively on display. And it’s not just because the exasperating Kaufman is such a good subject. It’s that Ms. Weber is able to arrange words musically, so that they capture the elusive, unfinished melodies that haunt our memories of childhood. As her grandmother’s lover might have put it, she’s got rhythm.”
The New York Times
 
The Memory of All That is less a family memoir than a family biography. Which is good because Weber’s kin are more than fascinating enough to stand on their own without embellishments of personal memory. (A-) ”
Entertainment Weekly
 
“Gracefully written, poignant and droll, The Memory of All That is a gifted author’s brave look back at her eccentric, lively forbears — their dealings, foibles and affairs.”
Dallas Morning News
 
“Weber is an accomplished novelist; she knows well how to manipulate fictional form, as any reading of her 2006 novel Triangle will readily illustrate….In The Memory of All That, Weber’s eye for detail and for the right phrase is undiminished. No, no, they can’t take that away.”
Chicago Sun-Times
 
"Old scandals. What fun...The core of her tale is that of elegant sin and betrayal."
Daily News

"Weber is an elegant writer, and she can be witheringly funny."
Palm Beach Post

"To be a writer born into an illustrious and complex family is both a burden and a gift.  In THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT, Katharine Weber trains her novelist's eye and penetrating intelligence upon what may be her greatest subject: her own family's history as it stretches back, generation after fascinating generation.  Her achievement here is a literary one, to be sure—but even more than the beautiful, elegant story contained in these pages, I am in awe of the strength, tenacity and courage it took to rise up out of this fabled cast of characters and write one of the most powerful memoirs about inheritance I have ever read."
—Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

“The Memory of All That is an engaging family memoir that centers on the ardent extra-marital liaison between the author's maternal grandmother, composer Kay Swift, and her eminent colleague George Gershwin....An entertaining, often poignant book.”
—Francine du Plessix Gray, author of Them
 
"A deeply moving book that is resonant and richly rewarding.  Katharine Weber’s loving and insightful look at her marquee worthy family fundamentally reminds us of our own in its strangeness and complexity.  The deeply bonded relationship between her grandmother Kay Swift and lover George Gershwin is finally fully revealed with accuracy and aching poignancy.  No one has ever properly told their story, and the combination of Weber’s inside family knowledge, assiduous research, and brilliant writing make this an unforgettable and essential read."
—Michael Feinstein

“I honestly don't believe I've ever read a memoir so filled with anything like Weber’s own, fierce, detached grace. Her ability to evoke the most horrifying events while reducing the reader to helpless laughter is uncanny….An extraordinary achievement.” 
Robb Forman Dew

 “Novelist Weber mines her rich family history, hitting the mother lode of pedigreed romances and remembrances….Grandmother Kay Swift, the first female Broadway composer and George Gershwin’s longtime lover; grandpa James Paul Warburg, FDR’s economic adviser, and daddy Sidney Kaufman, serial womanizer, unconventional filmmaker, and producer of the first feature film that literally smelled, thanks to a process called Aromarama, literally walk off the pages of this captivating multigenerational saga.”
Booklist
 
“A wry portrait of a powerful, talented, but troubled family.”
Publishers Weekly

 “Novelist Weber tells the story of her colorful family and the scandalous—but monumentally transformative—love affair between her grandmother, Kay Swift and George Gershwin….Rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions…. illuminating.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
"A thoroughly engaging family memoir."
Library Journal

Meet the Author

Katharine Weber is the author of the novels True Confections, Triangle, The Little Women, The Music Lesson, and Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber.

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