"Stunning... This is Kathryn Harrison in top form." --Augusten Burroughs
In the tradition of The Hare with Amber Eyes and Running in the Family, a memoir of the author's upbringing by her grandparents in a fading mansion above Sunset Boulevard -- a childhood at once privileged and unusual, filled with the mementos and echoes of their impossibly exotic and peripatetic lives.
Kathryn Harrison always understood that her family was beyond eccentric -- they'd breached the bounds of the unconventional. She was largely raised by her grandparents in an outsized Tudor confection of a house on the periphery of Bel Air, which she thought of as "Sunset," her kingdom of the imagination, inhabited by the past and its numberless artifacts. True wandering Jews, her grandparents had arrived in Los Angeles in the forties after dramatic, globetrotting lives. Harry Jacobs had been a fur trapper in Alaska, a soldier in the trenches of the Great War, a traveling salesman in a Model T. Margaret Sassoon had lived a privileged life as a member of a Jewish merchant family in Shanghai, turning down offers of marriage from Russian princes exiled by the Revolution. Kathryn Harrison grew up in an almost mythical realm of their letters and artifacts and stories -- until declining finances forced to sell the house on Sunset in 1971, and night fell fast. On Sunset seeks to recover that childhood, that place, those lives -- and does so with piercing poignancy.
Harrison (True Crimes: A Family Album) mines the lives of her grandparents in this touching family history. Harrison's young mother was largely uninvolved in her early life, as was her father, whom she did not meet until adulthood (she explored their incestuous relationship in The Kiss). Born in 1961 and raised in a house on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles by her mother's aging parents, Harrison had an insatiable desire to hear family stories. As the author retells her grandparents' reminiscences, she also shares glimpses of her "Victorian" upbringing (seven p.m. bedtime, no Barbie dolls). Her 79-year-old grandfather constructed a reading chair for her atop a "fey and fairy-dusted' avocado tree and shared stories of his youth in London, his apprenticeship to a Berlin cabinet maker, his becoming a member of the Hussars calvary, and his move to Canada, where he became an engineer. Her grandmother, meanwhile, told her of being born to Jewish merchants, living in Shanghai as a privileged girl and taking the Trans-Siberian Express through post-revolution Russia to boarding school in London; she also told of jilting a groom at the altar. Evocative and tender, this delightful memoir pairs the distant past with a safe and sacred time in the author's young life.