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My Father’s Son: Memories of War and Peace

Reviewed: November 13, 2007
By: Farley Mowat
Publisher: Seal Books
373 pages, $8.99

Farley Mowat went off to war at the age of 19, and served in the Italian campaign as a soldier and intelligence officer for several years before his unit was relocated to Holland after D-Day. He has written about part of his Italian experience in the memoir And No Birds Sang.

My Father’s Son is a different sort of book. To produce this sort of volume you have to have a mother who has saved every letter you’ve ever sent, and then you have to have done the same with the letters you received. For that’s what this is: a collection of the war time correspondence between Farley and his parents.

Most of it is the somewhat disjointed dialogue between Farley and Angus, his father, with less frequent contributions from Helen, his mother. The disconnection comes from the fact that the letters are presented according to when they were written. The vagaries of the war time postal service meant there were overlaps, droughts and floods in the flow of material, but it’s not that hard to keep track of what’s happening.

As Mowat writes in his preface:

“This book is about coming of age is a world gone mad.

“It is about coming to terms with life in a madhouse.

“It is also about the way in which a wise and loving father counselled and sustained his son during a time of trial.”

He might have added that is is about the development of a writer, for you can see the gathering strength of Mowat’s prose as the years pass and if you didn’t already know what kind of writing he would go on to produce, you could almost guess at it from what he wrote to his parents.

It seems that part of the purpose of the book is also for Farley to make peace with the memory of his father, from whom he was estranged after the septuagenarian Angus deserted Helen for a woman in her forties many years after this correspondence.

However it came to be assembled, the book is an interesting addition to the autobiography which Mowat has been writing for most of his career.

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