4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
To Begin To Know by David Leser is a hybrid of a biography and a memoir. It is the story of a father, told by his son, which then morphs into the son’s own story. The author confesses that his father’s character was difficult to capture honestly, primarily due to the tendency of men of that generation to hide their weaknesses. The title of the book represents the author’s longing to understand his own history, his inability to ever fully know his father’s, as well as his realization that the purpose of life may lie in accepting how much of everything we don’t know.
The author’s father, Bernard Leser, was a dynamic personality, and was vividly portrayed in the pages of this book. Having escaped Nazi Germany as a young boy, he settled overseas and reinvented his life, rising to the top of the world of publishing. As the founder of Australian Vogue magazine and eventually the president of the Conde Nast corporation in the United States, he crossed paths with many of the highest paid celebrities and most well-known names in fashion and journalism. The impact of these various personalities on the author’s own life is the subject of these pages, as is the author’s occasional rebellion against the old-world values he sometimes perceived in his father. David Leser skillfully achieves the balance between awe-filled reverence for his father’s achievements and an honest dissection of his father’s qualities and habits that were less admirable.
The narrative flows smoothly despite not being chronological, as the author is able to transition effectively between describing his father’s life and describing his own. He links the two life stories with his analysis of the impact of his early environment on his later choices, including the choice to work in journalism just like his father. The book’s anecdotes range widely from hilarious encounters with a colony of nudists, to heavier experiences, including his journalistic assignments in the conflict-scarred Middle East. Some of the most fascinating passages describe the author’s journeys to Israel as well as Germany, where he must confront the generational impact of the collective suffering of the Jewish people and realize the significance of his family history.
The author beautifully captures the essence of some of the life-changing conversations and meaningful lessons of his past. One characteristic of his writing style that I found personally endearing was the profound respect for women that came across in his descriptions of his mother, wife, and daughters. The author explained that his exposure to powerful and intelligent women through his father, as well as during his time working for a women’s magazine, shaped his understanding of his relationships with women in his family. I enjoyed the nuance and complexity with which he brought these women to life on the page.
Overall, I don’t have any negatives to report about this book. I enjoyed the fluid writing style and the fact that it was not weighty and repetitive like some memoirs, but instead rolled along briskly on the momentum of the individual stories. Though I noticed one minor typo, I generally found the writing style engaging and relatable. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars and recommend it to readers who are interested in journalism and publishing, as well as folks who enjoy memoirs and biographies.
To Begin To Know
View: on Bookshelves
Like bluegreenmarina's review? Post a comment saying so!