Sep 16, 2009

The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell

The Impostor’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell

In The Impostor’s Daughter, Laurie Sandell tells the story of her difficult relationship with her father. She grew up idolizing him, and listening in rapture to his stories of duels in Argentina, adventures in Vietnam, and personal relationships with some of the world’s most influential people. But as she gets older, she begins to realize that her father is not the man she believed him to be. As she tries to discover and come to terms with the truth about her father, Laurie also has to deal with her own search for identity. Her story is one of world travel, loneliness, sexual experimentation, substance addiction, the search for intimacy, and, eventually, peace.

My reaction to The Impostor’s Daughter most likely has to do with how I feel about memoirs in general. For me to find them interesting, I have to be very interested in the person of whose life I’m getting a glimpse. And to be honest I feel like a bit of a jerk for even saying this, because it almost equals saying that someone’s life isn’t worth reading about. That’s really not how I mean it, though. Everyone feels drawn to different people, and for that reason I’m sure that some of you would love The Impostor’s Daughter.

As for me, I can’t quite say I didn’t like it – I can’t find flaws in the storytelling, except perhaps in the fact that some of the sections seemed to go by too fast. I read it in a single sitting, and I really liked the art. Also, I liked the fact that Laurie Sandell used the comics medium well – this isn't just prose with accompanying pictures. But all along, I felt disconnected from the story. I suspect that this has to do with the fact that I had some trouble relating to the impact her father’s lies had on her own sense of identity.

I always worry I’ll sound unsympathetic when I say these things. Some of you may remember I had a similar problem with The Forgotten Garden. I understand what it’s like to feel betrayed when someone you love is dishonest with you. But I don’t understand how someone else’s lies invalidate your own experiences. Laurie grew up with a larger-than-life man for a father. It turns out that his stories weren’t true, but to me that doesn’t make the impact these stories had on her any less real. Does this make sense? Anyway, sense of disconnection aside, I actually enjoyed reading about an emotional experience that is so different from my own. I want to understand why people feel the way they do about things.

There were other ways in which Laurie’s experiences felt alien to me: she finds a job interviewing celebrities for a renowned magazine, for example, and she talks about how great it felt to be sitting at a table with these people and feeling all eyes in the room on her; to feel that people envied her because she was the one sitting at their table talking to them. I never really got the whole celebrity cult thing, so that was a little strange to me. But again, this doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to read about.

This post is probably sounding more negative than I intended it to, so let me focus on some positive things: I like the fact that she approaches the question of writing her father’s story in the book. Before The Impostor’s Daughter, she wrote a piece for a magazine about her father’s lies, and the whole process is documented here, along with her family’s reaction to it. And I liked that there were moments of vulnerability, moments that moved me, as well as moments that made me laugh.

If you tend to like memoirs, you’ll probably enjoy The Impostor’s Daughter more than I did. As for me, I continue not to know how I feel about them. The ones I love I really love (hello Fun Home), so I’m not quite ready to swear them off. Do you read memoirs often? Do you like them? Why or why not?

A few samples of the art:

The Impostor's Daughter

The Impostor's Daughter

Other Opinions:
Bookfoolery and Babble (Thank you again for sending me this book, Nancy!)
Kiss a Cloud
Nonsuch Book
Bermudaonion’s Weblog
She Reads and Reads
At Home with Books
Graphic Novel Reporter
Trish's Reading Nook

(Please let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. Is it weird that I'm commenting on my own post? I just wanted to say that reading it one last time for typos (I bet there are still some I missed) I was reminded of Big Fish, something that didn't cross my mind either while reading the book or while writing this post. But I wonder if all along I was comparing them in my head without realizing it. The reason why I love Big Fish is exactly because it's about the question of whether something not being true invalidates your experiences with it. And the reason why I was let down with The Impostor's Daughter is probably because it doesn't raise that question at all. *points to Sandman quote in sidebar and runs off*

  2. It's always good to read a review that doesn't send me running to the bookstore. I usually won't read a memoir about someone I don't know anything about unless it comes highly recommended.

  3. I can't remember, have you read Oliver Sacks' memoir Uncle Tungsten yet? I'm a fan of some memoirs, and usually I like them more often than not, but I may just have been lucky (or picky) in my choices. But I suspect you would like Uncle Tungsten.

  4. Every time I see that title, I think it's one of those historican romance novels that are really excuses for some major sex scenes. I really can't stand those books, they irritate me. But then I click over to the post and see the picture and realize this isn't one of them, haha!

    This actually sounds like an interesting one for me. I'm not sure if I'd like it, but I become more and more intrigued every time I hear about it.

    Re: your comment - I've seen Big Fish but havne't yet read the book, is it good?

  5. Framed: I'm glad to have spared you a trip to the bookstore :P I'm the same, but I'm more lax when it comes to graphic memoirs. Maybe because they're such quick reads?

    Kiirstin: I haven't, but Oliver Sacks definitely falls under people I'm very interested in, so to the list it goes!

    Amanda: lol! The title does make it sound different than it is. As for Big Fish: YES YES YES read it Daniel Wallace is brilliant READ ALL HIS BOOKS!!1@ Now for the non fangirlish answer :P I loved the book, but it actually took me a second read to appreciate it, because the first time I was just looking for the story I had seen in the movie. That story is not there - the book has the same sort of mood, but it's very short, so not half as many things happen. The themes are the same, though, and the writing is absolutely gorgeous. I also highly recommend The Watermelon King and Mr Sebastian and the Negro Magician. He's one of my favourite authors <3

  6. I have a feeling this book would make me sad - although I've been eyeing it at the bookshop for a while. I like it much better when the better story is the one the characters go with, rather than the simply true one. (Hahaha, hope I never have to testify in court or anything...)

  7. I have heard some mixed reviews on this one and I think that's good. At least that way I don't go in with too high expectations :)

    I was lucky to win this one so I'm waiting for it to arrive. Let's see how it goes!

  8. You just painted a big mystical Things Mean A Lot experience for me, Ana where your whole blog came together, lol. With your Sandman quote, this review and Big Fish. And I agree with you. I haven't read this book, but I agree with the point that you make here. It sounds like when Laurie Sandell wrote this book, she might have still been dealing with the initial anger and feelings of betrayal of learning that her fathers stories weren't true? That he wasn't the man she always thought he was? I can see how that would upset her and how she would feel betrayed. I would think she'd have to work through that before she could see how he still had a positive impact on her life.

    I think I still really want to read this one though!! I'm actually opposite of you when it comes to memoirs. I love reading them! And I'll read just about anyone's memoir :p Maybe I'm nosy, I don't know, lol...I just love reading about people's lives...I find people's life experiences so interesting. And in graphic novel format is even better!! The art looks fantastic too! This really was a great review Ana :)

  9. I totally get why you didn't like this as much! You obviously know I loved it, but I admit I found Laurie very unlikeable. However, I was SO fascinated by her father. I know one con-artist personally, who was very close to our family, and it was years (over 15 years, I believe) before we even found out he was lying to us!!! It was quite a shock and I think I was able to relate to this book in that way.

  10. I've read a few memoirs that I really loved but they aren't something I pick up very often. This doesn't really sound like something I would like but I have to give the unique format points.

  11. LOL! I just popped into say, "reminds me of Big Fish" which I also love (though I love the movie more) and then saw your comment.

    Too bad this one didn't deliver for you, though.

  12. Memoirs are very hit and miss with me too, so don't feel bad!

  13. To be honest, I have seen this book around quite a bit and it hasn't really appealed to me. We can't love them all.

  14. I love memoirs, and even though I did enjoy the books, I have to agree with Claire's comment about not liking the main character very much.

  15. Thanks for the link to my review. I really enjoyed this book, but then, I'm a memoir junkie. It doesn't matter if I know who the author is or not.

  16. Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician is one I have on my Fill in the Gaps list. It sounds fascinating.

  17. I like the comic part. That seems really creative.

    But I understand how you feel about the memoir genre. I have a hard time getting into memoirs as well.

  18. I won this book in a contest a couple of months ago, but have not yet read it. I do tend to like memoirs because they give me a peek other lives and circumstances and most I really find interesting. I can understand your problems with this book though, from the way you describe it the protagonist doesn't sound very sympathetic or like someone that can be really related to easily. I will have to let you know what I thought when I do finally read this book. Great review, I liked your candor.

  19. "For me to find them interesting, I have to be very interested in the person of whose life I’m getting a glimpse."

    That's exactly how I feel about memoirs. I normally don't like them, just because I don't care about the people...not to say they aren't nice, just not a story I care about so much.

    But I do like the art sample you shared! I think I'm more forgiving if a memoir tells a good story, especially if it's not all "feel sorry for me."

  20. This has nothing to do with your post, but I just wanted to let you know that I started reading Affinity on my way back from India and it's so good! So CREEPY. I don't usually go for that, but I'm so drawn in. Thanks so much for nudging me to read that one!

  21. A appreciated your honest and thoughtful review. I think a person's response to a memoir is a very personal thing.

  22. I really really want to read this book. It's been on my radar for a while.

    Too bad time has just slipped by this month. I don't feel like I'm ever going to have time to read again! Argh :))

    Oh and BTW, you're pics were just too cute, Ana!

  23. I loved Fun Home too and do find myself drawn to this style of memoir. But like you's all about that connection and sometimes it is there and sometimes it's not. This does however look like one that I would want to read.

  24. I really don't read that many memoirs, but I have to say that I have actually enjoyed the few I've read. The couple that pop to mind were "set" in cultures very different from mine, and I think that the learning about the cultures probably hooked me more than the actual personal story. Not sure if I'd enjoy this one or not...but you've definitely reminded me that I need to read Fun Home!!!

  25. LOVE that you comment on your own post - there's a term for it: autocommentarianism - and great post. I love our thoughtfulness, or is it 'THINKINGFULNESS'? yes, that's it.

  26. Jenny: It might make you sad, yes. Things end more or less well, but at a cost.

    Iliana, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Chris: lol a mystical things mean a lot experience :P You know that post Amy wrote the other day about bloggers and their themes? This is definitely mine :P And yes, there's definitely some hurt that is very visible in the book. You're not nosy! I understand why memoirs are so popular, I really do. And it makes me happy that so many people are reading graphic ones these days.

    Claire: I'm so glad I wasn't the only one to find her unlikeable! And wow, I can imagine how knowing an actual con-artist made this an even more interesting read!

    Ladytink: The format was the main reason why I wanted to read it :P

    Amy: Big Fish is one of those rare cases in which I love the movie just as much as the book! At first I liked the movie better too, though. It took a second read for me to fall in love with the book.

    Eva: I'm glad I'm not alone!

    Vivienne: Exactly!

    Alyce: Like I was telling Claire, I'm glad I'm not alone!

    Kathy, you're most welcome! I can definitely see why memoir fans would love this one.

    Amanda, I can't wait to hear what you think!

    Through the Reading Glass: She used the medium very well!

    Zibilee: I can't wait to hear your thoughts! She was...not the sort of person I tend to want to be friends with, if you know what I mean :P But she told her story well.

    Rebecca: This one definitely wasn't a pity party. But still, I wish I had managed to care about the story a bit more.

    Aarti: I'm SO glad to hear you're enjoying it!!

    Laughing Stars: Agreed!

    Christina: Sorry you're having such a busy month! Having no reading time always makes me so sad.

    Staci: Yes, and when it's not there there isn't much that can "save" the book for me. Still, I'm glad I read this. The art alone made it worth it.

    Debi: I tend to like the ones set in different cultures too, like Isabel Allende's. That one was great. And Debi, I had completely forgotten you hadn't read Fun Home yet! What are you waiting for?! I think you should start it today :P

  27. Care: lol! "Autocommentarianism" - I'm going to try to use that in a sentence today :P

  28. I LOVE memoirs may be because mostly it means its real adn someone has actually lived it. But considering the kind of memoirs that are dished up lately, that too left right and center, I fear I might not be interested anymore. I miss reading memoirs like The Glass Castle, Not without my daughter. I like reading about places or people who I only might have imagined.

    Fiction gives me that, yes, but I always have the thought at the back of my mind that it's not real.

  29. A sense of disconnect is definitely not a good thing! Though I would have once sworn I never read memoirs, I know now that's not true -- I actually read quite a few of them! I don't gravitate to them, though, but they seem to find me.

    The only other memoir I've read in comic format is Maus I, which is fantastic, but I'm definitely willing to try another some day. Fun Home intrigues me, too. Maybe I'll grab another soon! :)

  30. I read this one a few weeks ago and haven't reviewed it yet because I just don't know what to say about it. I felt much the same way you did--very detatched. It's the first comic I've read so far that I didn't fall completely in love with. :-/ Still don't have anything to say!

  31. Violet: I actually never have that problem with fiction..I get so wrapped on in the stories, I always forgot it's not true. But I really understand why people enjoy memoirs so much :)

    Meg: I wholeheartedly recommend Fun Home! But then again, there have been people who reacted to it pretty much the same way I reacted to this :P And yes, I loved Maus too. You must read the second part if you haven't yet!

    Trish: I'm very glad I'm not alone! I guess comics are like anything...can't love them all :P

  32. I won a copy of this in a giveaway recently and am looking forward to reading it. I'm sorry this didn't quite live up to your expectations, Nymeth. I do like memoirs now and then, but I can be picky about them. I've read a few in graphic novel form and it always amazes me how much someone can say about themselves that way. It shouldn't, I know, but it does.

  33. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy this book as much as I did! The question you raise, about how someone else's lies can invalidate one's own experiences, is an interesting one. I guess it's about betrayal, ultimately (for me at least). One trusts one's parents to tell the truth about themselves and the world, and when they don't, well, somehow it changes everything. It feels like everything is put into question. Does that make any sense?

    I'm interested to hear that you loved Big Fish. I disliked the movie (I'm presuming this is the same Big Fish) because it felt like the women weren't real: they seemed like ideas (or maybe ideals) rather than real people.

    How do you put boxes around your comments, by the way?

    Thanks for linking to my review; I've linked to yours as well.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.