A Daughter’s Gift is a 2010/12 (depending on the edition) IPPY Award-winning memoir written by the acclaimed and accomplished Jacqui Tam. It chronicles the life of her father, Richard Joseph Barron, and his struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as she and her family’s coming to terms with it. It is unique in that it can be read as a memoir from two points of view: both as Tam’s account of her father’s illness and as a posthumous memoir of the man himself, preserving the memories of this great man in a way his illness, sadly, prevented him from doing.
Tam writes: Richard Joseph Barron had sailed the world over, fought in war, and returned home to Newfoundland to raise three children with his beloved wife. His life had been full of adventure, and he shared his stories without malice or ego, whenever he was asked. Until they were stolen from his memory. When ‘Dick’ Barron fought Alzheimer’s, awareness of the disease was still limited. He knew that he was forgetting, but not why. His family knew that he was disappearing, but not how. Yet beneath the shadow of that slow tragedy, the spirit of his life was not lost. Emerging from the darkness, his daughter learned an important truth: what the mind forgets, the soul remembers.
Memoirs are difficult to review. Discussions of plot, character, development, and closure all go out the window immediately: life doesn’t have those things, although I will argue that it’s obvious that Tam took great pains in arranging the scenes and moments in such a way to best convey her message to the reader. What a memoir does have in common with other literary work is style, composition, and execution: all of which Tam has in excess. No scene or emotional event is given too much time, or too little. The exact right amount of gravity is put on each event in Barron’s illness and his family’s struggle, meaning that each note hits home perfectly. This book can be emotional, and I did become emotional reading it, but Tam never manipulates: she’s not presenting the world in a certain way to elicit an emotional reaction, she’s presenting the world exactly as it is, and that in and of itself presents the reaction.
It is at times uncomfortable, as Tam pulls no punches with regard to putting you right there in her living room while her father bore the brunt of this ravenous disease.
In revisiting this wonderful book to write this article, I am at the very least filled with some measure of hope through the heartache presented here: in the years since the publication of A Daughter’s Gift, there have been great strides made in Alzheimer’s research. We now know about the musashi protein, a protein which actually causes memory erosion, proving that forgetting is an active process, rather than the lapse of an active process as we long thought. An active process can be thwarted, maybe.
So there’s hope.
I love taking the Freudian method of dream analysis and applying it to literature. Quick/Dirty rundown: you take the part of the book that bothered you the most, then spin the analysis so that that is what the book is about. At least, what it’s about for you.
What ‘bothered’ me about A Daughter’s Gift should be immediately apparent: the thought of losing my memories, and my sense of self, to something I can’t fight or control is immensely terrifying. Preserving those memories is what this book is all about. It’s on every page, in every line, and felt in every tear.
This book is a must read for anyone who has been touched by Alzheimer’s disease or anyone who is in dire straights and needs to be reminded of the amazing nature of the human spirit. It is one of those books that, if you haven’t read it, you simply aren’t complete.
I should also mention that a second book in Tam’s Standing Tall series, Twenty-One Days in May, was released two months ago. It deals with the death of Tam’s mother, Mary Louise Barron, after a twenty-one day battle with cancer.
Both books are available in print and electronic formats from Iceberg Publishing by clicking either cover on this page. I encourage anyone and everyone to try these wonderful, emotional books and be all the better for the experience.
‘Other Indie’ is a recurring series of articles on Engen Books in which authors highlight the best in independent publishing, in the hopes of helping readers break through the cluster of books they may not be sure about in an age when anyone can publish via digital formats. Engen Books is an independent small-press publishing company based in St. John’s Newfoundland and is proud to highlight the talent of independent authors not our own. A Daughter’s Gift is © 2010 Jacqui Tam. Twenty-One Days in May is © 2016 Jacqui Tam. This review is © 2016 Matthew LeDrew. ‘Other Indie’ banner photo credit: Steve Lake.