Harrison (True Crimes: A Family Album) mines the lives of her grandparents in this touching family history. Harrison’s young mother was largely uninvolved in her early life, as was her father, whom she did not meet until adulthood (she explored their incestuous relationship in The Kiss). Born in 1961 and raised in a house on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles by her mother’s aging parents, Harrison had an insatiable desire to hear family stories. As the author retells her grandparents’ reminiscences, she also shares glimpses of her “Victorian” upbringing (seven p.m. bedtime, no Barbie dolls). Her 79-year-old grandfather constructed a reading chair for her atop a “fey and fairy-dusted’ avocado tree and shared stories of his youth in London, his apprenticeship to a Berlin cabinet maker, his becoming a member of the Hussars calvary, and his move to Canada, where he became an engineer. Her grandmother, meanwhile, told her of being born to Jewish merchants, living in Shanghai as a privileged girl and taking the Trans-Siberian Express through post-revolution Russia to boarding school in London; she also told of jilting a groom at the altar. Evocative and tender, this delightful memoir pairs the distant past with a safe and sacred time in the author’s young life. (Oct.)
"A touching and at times jaw-dropping portrait of the maternal grandparents who raised [Harrison]... On Sunset – richly illustrated with photographs and personal documents – adds up to more than just sepia-toned nostalgia for a world on which the sun set long ago… It's an evocative record of unusual lives and loves that – disrupted by war and anti-Semitism – spanned continents and left their mark on subsequent generations.”
—Heller McAlpin, The Washington Post
"I regard The Kiss as one of the bravest and finest memoirs ever written. So a memoir from Kathryn Harrison is a Big Deal and her new one, On Sunset, is stunning. Harrison never protects herself as a memoirist, and her vulnerability, intelligence, insight, curiosity, emotional honesty, and breathtaking talent as a writer are just some of the reasons On Sunset is as excellent as it is. This is Kathryn Harrison in top form."
"[On Sunset] is not just memoir, not just family history, not just a meditation on culture and class, but a mystery, too… And this time [Harrison] has written a story — many stories, many characters, and a heroine, too (herself, that is) — to live alongside those by authors who made all of us want more: Dickens, Barrie, C. S. Lewis. And Lewis Carroll, too, who, in this account, is one of her favorites… On Sunset is more than one thing: not simply nostalgic, but tinged with anticipated sorrow and grief. Harrison’s touch is light (she’s a gorgeous writer)… As wise and all-seeing as it turns out to be, [On Sunset] is also a mostly happy story... It will, as with the best, make you laugh and cry. And it will make you remember how it was to be a child."
—Dinah Lenney, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Undeniably rich... Harrison is nothing if not a magnificent writer, and there is something deeply satisfying about her sentences. A kind of internal rhythm dictates, with utmost precision and nary a stray adjective. She has a knack for layering stacks of images, details and exact snapshots into place, separated by commas like beads strung into a kind of rhapsody. Each sequence is beautifully rendered... All memoirs are, by definition, collections of the past, but few interrogate it quite like Kathryn Harrison's On Sunset."
—Julia Wick, Los Angeles Times
“On Sunset is Harrison’s gentlest inquiry into the particular foreign country that is her past…[It's] not, in the end, a story of loss… the glittering riches of Harrison’s childhood [are] her most precious inheritance.”
—Penelope Green, The New York Times Book Review
"Transfixing... Fairy-tale fascinating, profoundly revealing of cultural divisions, and brilliantly and wittily told... Harrison's entrancing look-back casts light on resonant swaths of history."
—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"Evocative and tender, this delightful memoir pairs the distant past with a safe and sacred time in the author's young life."
"Blending family history and mythology, anecdotes and photographs, this book is not simply one woman’s open love letter to two magnificently eccentric grandparents; it is also a testament to the enduring power of memory. A poignant and eloquent memoir."
A notable novelist and nonfiction writer's account of the once-wealthy grandparents who raised her and their fall from financial grace.Received "as an unexpected late-life child" meant to balance out the "misdeeds" of her mother, a beautiful but irresponsible young woman with an insatiable obsession for designer shoes, Harrison (True Crimes: A Family Album, 2016, etc.) lived with her grandparents in a big house on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Though hardly wealthy, they were always impeccably turned out, quietly collecting Blue Chip trading stamps to pay for what they otherwise could not afford to do: "reshingle the roof, replaster the inside of the pool and resurface the driveway." The family's real "wealth" resided in the many stories her grandparents told the author and in the many photographs and curios they had collected during their eventful lives. Harrison's Jewish grandfather, Harry Jacobs, was born poor in London; after a stint as a soldier in World War I, he left England to seek his fortune in Alaska. There, he made a living as a fur trapper and had two sons with a Christian Scientist wife. Later, after her tragic death, he became a traveling salesman. The author's maternal grandmother, Margaret Sassoon, grew up in Shanghai. A member of the Jewish merchant class, her family once "had a 70 percent monopoly on the entire opium trade" and were labeled the "Rothschilds of the East." In her youth, Margaret jilted a wealthy businessman her father had chosen for her, turned down marriage proposals from an exiled Russian prince, and flirted with Edward VIII. When Harry and Margaret met in Los Angeles in 1941, both were middle-aged and ready to settle down. The wild-child daughter they had together was the unexpected byproduct of a marriage that began with an impulsive elopement. Blending family history and mythology, anecdotes and photographs, this book is not simply one woman's open love letter to two magnificently eccentric grandparents; it is also a testament to the enduring power of memory.A poignant and eloquent memoir.
Noted for her boundary-breaking memoirs as well as her fiction, Harrison introduces us to her fur trapper-turned-Model T Ford salesman grandfather and her grandmother, born into a privileged Jewish merchant family in Shanghai, who raised her in a Tudor mansion above Sunset Boulevard until the money ran out.