Nobody's Son: A Memoir

In a body of work that includes a PEN Award-winning essay collection (Essays From the Nick of Time) and a well-regarded novel (Brewster), Mark Slouka has demonstrated an incisive mind with supple prose. He brings those same qualities to bear in Nobody's Son, a memoir of displacement, longing and the searing pain of family conflict.

Natives of Czechoslovakia, Slouka's parents, Zdenek and Olga, were teenagers when the Nazis occupied the country, in two stages, in 1938 and 1939. In 1948, they made their hair-raising escape from the country--now under Communist control. That flight launched them on an odyssey that started with 18 months in an Austrian displaced persons camp and took them to Australia, New York (where Slouka was born in 1958), Bethlehem, Pa., and eventually back to their homeland after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

The Sloukas' journey was "not that different from that of the Syrian or Sudanese refugees in today's paper." And it left its scars on a couple whose marriage had been tension-filled from the start. Slouka wrestles bravely with the challenge that bedevils any conscientious memoirist--the unreliability of memory and the way every memoir is "riddled with fictions."

The title provides an ironic counterpoint to the reality of this intense, discomfiting account. Slouka's is, in fact, the story of a dutiful son, who, despite ample reason to do so, never abandoned his parents, even in an old age they chose to live thousands of miles from him. The sad truth of these pages is that love and the best intentions too often aren't enough to save vulnerable souls from the damage they inflict on themselves. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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