Mysteries of My Father

Mysteries of My Father

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by Thomas Fleming
     
 

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A son comes of age in a fiercely political world

"Thomas Fleming gives us an unforgettable story about an immigrant family—his family—as it struggles to find a place in the American century. He shares with us the dreams and heartaches of his parents, and, in the end, he reminds us of the mysterious and forgiving power of love."
—Terry

Overview

A son comes of age in a fiercely political world

"Thomas Fleming gives us an unforgettable story about an immigrant family—his family—as it struggles to find a place in the American century. He shares with us the dreams and heartaches of his parents, and, in the end, he reminds us of the mysterious and forgiving power of love."
—Terry Golway, author of The Irish in America

"A truly moving story of a lifelong duel between father and son, Mysteries of My Father also vibrates with the great good humor that grows out of ward politics, and pulses with the heartfelt drama of a family just getting by. There were some bad times in the Fleming family story, but Tom Fleming prevails to the good times, and the best time is left to the reader. What a wonderful time I had reading this book."
—Dennis Smith, author of the Report from Engine Co. 82 and Report from Ground Zero

"A well-written, fascinating political history."
—Margaret Truman, author of Murder at Union Station

"With a historian's fidelity and a poet's empathy, Tom Fleming has created a textured study of three generations of Irish-Americans, whose clashing spiritual values inform their integration into New Jersey's social and political hierarchy. Mysteries of My Father is an American classic achieved by a master storyteller's talents for exploring the tensions and bonds between a father and his sons. Among the literary wonders of this brisk and moving memoir is the father's emergence as a seminal American character—brusque and pragmatic, yet capable of expected tenderness to his sons."
—Sidney Offit, author of Memoir of the Bookie's Son

"If you care about what it means to be an Irish-American, or about New Jersey political history, or about the relationships between fathers and sons, or about wonderful writing, run—don't walk—out to buy Tom Fleming's Mysteries of My Father."
—Nick Acocella, publisher of Politifax

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* "Mysteries of My Father is a rich book. Rich in Fleming’s textured description of Jersey City politics. Rich in wonderful personal anecdotes (Frank Hague’s last hurrah on a platform amid the surging, rebellious voters of the Second Ward is the stuff of epic poetry). Rich in sympathetic understanding of Teddy and Kitty and of their tempestuous marriage. Rich in honest evocation of ‘the morally grey world of Hudson County politics.’ And rich in its power to bring alive the once vital, now vanished world of the big-city Irish-American political machine… A moving, masterly, forgiving remembrance." (Commonwealth Magazine)

Although a paternal portrait may be his primary aim, Thomas Fleming's subtitle promises, more broadly, "an Irish-American memoir." For some of us, that's a worrisome vow, portending crapulous fathers who imbibe paychecks, pious wives who berate husbands for same and hordes of children wailing in squalor. True to form, the late-19th-century Jersey City to which Mr. Fleming's grandparents migrated was home to these auld Gaelic clichés. What adds the American to the Irish in this story, though, is its celebration not merely of stumbling and wallowing but of rebelling and ruling.
Following an eminent career as a writer of both history and fiction, Mr. Fleming has gone rummaging in his own family archives to produce Mysteries of My Father, a memoir of his father's fight to emerge from corrupting poverty with some part of his soul unbruised. And quite a scrap it was.
From his earliest (if never exactly tender) years, Teddy Fleming slugged his way out of obligations and into opportunities. One of his earliest bouts involved menacing a schoolmate into serving as his proxy for mandatory weekday Mass so that Teddy could earn money for his family as a newsie in Manhattan, a situation he had to secure and maintain with yet more hand-to-hand persuasion. As he matured, Fleming the elder punched, shoved and occasionally even boxed his way through the ranks of the 312th Regiment in World War I and the Jersey City Democratic organization during the Depression.
The civilizing influence of the author's mother, Kitty Dolan, went a long way toward keeping the Fleming household free from alcohol, domestic violence and lawless grammar. Eventually, though, her Catholic aspirations to Protestant gentility and heavy-handed elocution lessons failed to soothe her brute of a husband. In fact, the rigorous application of her snobbery to his rough patches wore away only the affection from their marriage, leaving bare an estrangement that was — and continues to be — a source of anguish for the author.
Teddy Fleming enjoyed many decades as the muscle in Mayor Frank Hague's Jersey City machine but, at the end, his triumphs withered. Following Kitty's "unconscious suicide," in which she ignored obvious warnings of breast cancer until she succumbed to it, Teddy Fleming lost his political puissance and, ultimately, all the strength he once possessed to continue his contest with life.
Teddy's son eventually left Jersey City to traverse the broad atlas of American history in more than a dozen books (e.g., "Liberty! The American Revolution," "Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Future of America" and "The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I"). His talent for capturing the details of social and political history shines through in this memoir, particularly in the passages that give context to Teddy Fleming's rise to leader of the Sixth Ward, chairman of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, judge of the Second Criminal Court and sheriff of Hudson County. On these pages, Mr. Fleming evokes Edmund Morris's portrait of Teddy Roosevelt's political apprenticeship in "Theodore Rex."
Occasionally, though, when the focus constricts to the personal, one wonders whether Mr. Fleming labors under an excess of intimacy with his subject. For while the vigor of his father

Library Journal
Inspired by the discovery of a ring once worn by his father during World War I, historian and novelist Fleming (The Officers' Wives) chronicles three generations of his Irish American family in early 20th-century Jersey City, NJ. The narrative alternates between the families of Fleming's father and mother, both of whom had lower-class Irish American beginnings. His father, Teddy, rose to prominence as a sheriff under the reign of corrupt political boss Frank Hague, while his mother, Kitty, raised two sons and remained devoted to her husband, even after their love deteriorated. By uniting these two strands of personal history, Fleming's story transcends traditional memoir and becomes a moving examination of the unique challenges faced by 20th-century Irish Americans as they struggled to integrate into American society. The constant rift between Catholics and Protestants, survival in the midst of crippling poverty, the significance of education, and the deep, persistent bonds of family are key themes here. Recommended for large public and academic collections.-Ben Bruton, Murray, KY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471655152
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
03/25/2005
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.81(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A truly moving story of a life-long duel between father and son, Mysteries of My Father will become embedded in your memory. There will be reviewers who will call this an Irish-American story, but Thomas Fleming has given us one of the most uniquely American memoirs I have ever read. He brings us through the process of American social integration, not only of ethnic assimilation, but also of that wondrous travel from economic despair to that certain stability that comes with education and the hard work of determination.
But, this memoir also vibrates with the great good humor that grows out of ward politics, and pulses with the heartfelt drama of a family just getting by. There were some bad times in the Fleming family story, but Tom Fleming prevails to the good times, and the best time is left to the reader. What a wonderful time I had reading this book."
--Dennis Smith, author of Report from Engine Co. 82 and Report from Ground Zero

"With a historian's fidelity and a poet's empathy, Tom Fleming has created a textured study of three generations of Irish Americans, whose clashing spiritual values inform their integration into New Jersey's social and political hierarchy. Mysteries of My Father is an American classic achieved by a master story teller's talents for exploring the tensions and bonds between a father and his sons. Among the literary wonders of this brisk and moving memoir is the father's emergence as a seminal American character -- brusque and pragmatic, yet capable of expected tenderness to his sons."
--Sidney Offit, author of Memoir of the Bookie's Son

"A well-written, fascinating political history."
--Margaret Truman

"If you care about what it means to be an Irish-American, or about New Jersey political history, or about the relationships between fathers and sons, or about wonderful writing, run -- don't walk -- out to buy Tom Fleming's Mysteries of My Father."
--Nick Acocella, publisher of Politifax

"With Memories of My Father Tom Fleming clinches for himself the undisputed title of Historian-as-Storyteller Extraordinaire. This book is not only a history of three generations of an Irish-American family, it is a story of fathers and sons, the Irish in America, World War I, and the Jersey City of political boss Frank Hague. Fleming tells it like it was – unvarnished accounts of two-fisted politics, the complex influence of the Catholic Church, resentment against the WASP establishment for past discrimination, and how the Irish came to rule a city and a state -- with a vengeance."
--David S. Cohen, Ph.D., Director, Ethnic History Program, New Jersey Historical Commission

"Thomas Fleming's richly-recalled, compelling, multi-generational family chronicle--including the story of his stormy but loving relationship with a colorful father--is as poignant and beguiling as a superb novel."
-- Neil Hickey, Contributing Editor, Columbia Journalism Review

"Tom Fleming’s moving memoir of his father, Teddy, stands alone as a portrait of a man seeking the path to the American dream in the midst of the big city politics of the first half of the twentieth century. Fiercely loyal to Boss Frank Hague, Teddy is confronted along the way with the loss of his wife’s love, and the danger of losing the affection of his sons as well. No storybook ending here, only understanding. The writing is so true to life that I came away having felt part of this story."
--Lloyd Gardner, Rutgers University, author of The Case That Never Dies: The Lindbergh Kidnapping

"A poignant recollection of family, politics, and power that combines the pains of memory to reach the passions of perception. A superb narrative, an absorbing read."
--John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History, Graduate Center, CUNY

"Thomas Fleming gives us an unforgetable story about an immigrant family -- his family -- as it struggles to find a place in the American century. He shares with us the dreams and heartaches of his parents, and, in the end, he reminds us of the mysterious and forgiving power of love."
--Terry Golway, author The Irish In America

"Thomas Fleming's Mysteries of My Father is a remarkable book, fascinating as social and political history, and deeply moving as the brutally honest and touchingly told story of one American family. This is the story of what it was like to grow up in the rough-and-tumble world of Jersey City politics as the son of one of its principal leaders during the reign of the legendary Frank 'Boss' Hague, but it is far more than that. The reader goes to the battlefields of the First World War with Fleming's tough and heroic father, and gains painful insight into the intellectual and social ambitions of his sensitive mother, who loved his father but could never accept the consuming life of ward politics in which he moved and thrived. The Fleming clan was filled with colorful, complicated characters who lived their desperate lives with great and often tragic intensity.
Within this crucible, young Fleming meets, survives, and finally triumphs over competing challenges and emotional demands to become the fine writer that so many readers know today. This has to have been a hard book to write, but the reader walks in the presence of a man who in his quest for identity sees, understands, resolves, forgives, and frequently makes the reader laugh. A greatly rewarding book to read, Mysteries of My Father transcends its time and place: it is hard to imagine a more interesting, honest, vivid account of a family than this one is."
--Charles Bracelen Flood, New York Times bestselling historian, biographer and novelist.

"Mysteries of My Father is a classic memoir: The story of one family, set in a larger historical framework - Frank Hague's ruthless political fiefdom in Jersey City. Thomas Fleming writers about his parents' unraveling marriage with tenderness and with fierce honesty."
--William Zinsser, author of Writing About Your Life

"Thomas Fleming's Mysteries of My Father is a remarkable book, fascinating as social and political history, and deeply moving as the brutally honest and touchingly told story of one American family. This is the story of what it was like to grow up in the rough-and-tumble world of Jersey City politics as the son of one of its principal leaders during the reign of the legendary Frank 'Boss' Hague, but it is far more than that. The reader goes to the battlefields of the First World War with Fleming's tough and heroic father, and gains painful insight into the intellectual and social ambitions of his sensitive mother, who loved his father but could never accept the consuming life of ward politics in which he moved and thrived. The Fleming clan was filled with colorful, complicated characters who lived their desperate lives with great and often tragic intensity.
"Within this crucible, young Fleming meets, survives, and finally triumphs over competing challenges and emotional demands to become the fine writer that so many readers know today. This has to have been a hard book to write, but the reader walks in the presence of a man who in his quest for identity sees, understands, resolves, forgives, and frequently makes the reader laugh. A greatly rewarding book to read, Mysteries of My Father transcends its time and place: it is hard to imagine a more interesting, honest, vivid account of a family than this one is."
--Charles Bracelen Flood, New York Times bestselling historian, biographer and novelist.

Meet the Author

THOMAS FLEMING is the author of more than forty novels and nonfiction books, including bestsellers such as The Officers' Wives, Time and Tide, and Liberty! The American Revolution. He is a frequent guest and contributor to NPR, PBS, A&E, and the History Channel. He was the principal commentator on the award-winning PBS documentary The Irish in America: Long Journey Home. A Fellow of the Society of American Historians, Fleming has served as chairman of the American Revolution Round Table and president of the American Center of P.E.N., the international writer's organization. He lives in New York City.

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Mysteries of My Father 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's great read it slowly, so you can pick up what he is saying