kirkus Reviews

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.

by Kathryn Harrison