Journalist O’Connor’s riveting debut traces a childhood shaped by his mother’s and father’s lies and his adult quest to uncover the truths they hid.
The author grew up knowing virtually nothing of his parents’ pasts or extended families, though his mother’s accent did reveal that she was English. The absence of cousins and grandparents was just one oddity. The O’Connors were also constantly moving, establishing tentative, tenuous households and then fleeing town in the middle of the night. They had a particular fear of government officials, and any encounter with cops left Mrs. O’Connor shaken for days. Given all this moving, the O’Connors were unable to make much money, and they slipped from a precarious perch in the middle class to shocking poverty. In late adolescence, the author finally recognized that life at home was poisonous, his parents unstable and deceptive. He moved out and had only sporadic contact with them in the ensuing decades, when he worked as a reporter for CBS News, the New York Times and NPR. Only after both his parents died did O’Connor’s two younger sisters beg him to tackle the mystery of their lives as though it were a political scandal he was assigned to expose. He began to dig, grudgingly at first but then increasingly determined to discover the secrets that had shaped his childhood. His research took him to Boston, where he connected with his father’s large family; to Burnley, England, where an elderly union organizer told him stories about his mother and uncle; and into the offices of the CIA, FBI and INS, following a sketchy paper trail that shed light on the government’s interest in his parents. O’Connor is a sympathetic narrator, never bitter, who reveals the complexities of every last character. By the end of this suspenseful memoir, readers will be just as eager as the author to discover what kept his family on the run.
“This is a lot more than just a memoir. Mike O’Connor brings the pacing of a thriller, the eye of a great reporter and the intrigue of a life on the run to create a fascinating portrait of his own Boston Irish family and the secrets it held in McCarthy-era America. It is a page turner that takes you on a journey out of the confines of the Irish enclaves of New England through the big sky country of Texas and south of the border to Mexico. All along the way, O’Connor writes with a unique voice that manages to both enlighten the past and inform the present. This is a finely crafted work of non-fiction and one hell of a good read.” — Charles M. Sennott, author and staff writer for The Boston Globe
“This book is a mystery and a memoir. But more than anything it is an unforgettable romance about two people who willingly sacrifice everything – their finances, their future, and their families – to stay together. Mike O’Connor is an extraordinary writer and in retracing his parents’ footsteps he asks big questions. What is a family? Does the truth matter? And most importantly, what is love?” — Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief, Gourmet
“Mike O’Connor, the young son of a Boston Irish father and a British mother, spent his childhood on the lam in Texas, Mexico and California, never knowing what his parents were up to. Years later, after distinguished work as a foreign correspondent in war zones from El Salvador to the Middle East, O’Connor probes his bizarre past and gets to the bottom of what his parents feared most, what they were running from. The O’Connor family story is a story of post-war America. It is riveting, and it is unforgettable.” –David Gelber, Producer, CBS News
“O’Connor’s book is a gripping yarn of inscrutable dangers, broken dreams and the power of grit. It is also a searing story of his efforts–first as a boy and later as a savvy journalist–to understand and unravel the mystery of why his family has to keep moving from Massachusetts to Texas to Mexico, back to Texas, back to Mexico, then to California and back to Mexico. The scenes of border crossings are so haunting you feel as if you are there. In a voice that is at times youthful and at times world weary, he masterfully tells a tale that evolves from McCarthy era paranoia but goes well beyond that troubled time in our history.” –Henry Weinstein, Legal Affairs Writer, Los Angeles Times
“Mike O’Connor is a masterful writer. A brave and relentless war correspondent, he now turns his investigative skills to his own mysterious family and the secrets behind a childhood filled with danger and constantly on the run. It’s a poignant American saga that has its roots in a time when the country was intoxicated by fear, obsessed with enemies within as well as without. Powerful, elegant, compelling.” –Sylvia Poggioli, Senior European Correspondent, National Public Radio