Leonard Bernstein Through His Daughter’s Eyes
By David Denby - The New Yorker
June 25, 2018 Issue
On the centenary of his birth, a memoir captures what it’s like being raised by a man with mythic successes and long-held secrets.
What happens if you are Cinderella and the prince turns out to be your father? Jamie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein’s firstborn daughter, has written a memoir of her family, a family that her overwhelming dad—loving, inspired, and sometimes insufferable—dominated for decades. The author grew up wriggling inside a paradox, struggling to become a self when so much of her was defined by her brilliant parent. “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein” (HarperCollins) is unique among classical-music memoirs for its physical intimacy, its humor and tenderness, its ambivalence toward an irrepressible family genius. In the year of Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, with its worldwide celebrations, this book is a startling inside view—not a corrective, exactly (Jamie rarely thought her dad less than great), but a story of encompassing family love, Jewish-American style, with all its glories and corrosions. No one lives easily on the slopes of a volcano; Jamie Bernstein has been faithful to her unease. Truth-telling, rather than dignity, is her goal.