Born in Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1960s to parents who quickly departed, Kathryn Harrison was received by her maternal grandparents as a late-life child. Harry Jacobs and Margaret Sassoon, true wandering Jews, had emigrated to L.A. after leading whirlwind lives in Shanghai, London, Alaska, Russia, and beyond. Harrison grew up in their fading Tudor mansion on Sunset Boulevard, a kingdom inhabited by gleaming memories from their extraordinary past. Their photos, letters, and souvenirs sparked endless family stories that spanned cultures, dynasties, and continents—until declining finances forced them to sell the house in 1971, and night fell fast. Vivid and poignant, filled with the wisdom of retrospect and the wonder of childhood, On Sunset seeks to recover a foundational time in her life, affirming the power of storytelling and the endurance of memory.
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.