Circling My Mother by Mary Gordon
A Memoir

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In this triumphant return to nonfiction after two critically acclaimed works of fiction, Mary Gordon gives us a rich, bittersweet memoir about her mother, their relationship and her role as daughter.

Anna Gagliano Gordon, who died in 2002 at the age of 94, lived a life colored by large forces: immigration, world war, the Great Depression, and physical affliction--she contracted Polio at the age of 3 and experienced the ravages of both alcoholism and dementia. A hard-working single mother--Gordon’s father died when she was still a girl--Anna was the personification of the culture of the mid-century American Catholic working class. Yet, even in the face of these setbacks, she managed hold down a job, to dress smartly and raise her daughter on her own, and though she was never a fan of the arts which so attracted Mary, she worshiped the beauty in life in her own way, with a surprising joie de vivre and a beautiful singing voice.

Gordon writes about Anna in all of her roles: sister, breadwinner, woman of faith and single mother. We discover Anna’s wry and often biting humor, her appreciation of life’s simple pleasures, her courage in breaking out of the narrow confines of her birth. Toward the end of Anna’s life, we watch the author take on all the burdens and blessings of caring for her mother in old age, beginning even then to reclaim from memory the vivid woman who helped her sail forth into her own life.

Bringing her exceptional talent for detail, character, and scene to bear on the life of her mother, Gordon gives us a deeply felt and powerfully moving book.

About Mary Gordon

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Mary Gordon is the author of six novels, two short-story collections, and a memoir about her father, The Shadow Man. She has received the Story Prize, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, and a 1997 O. Henry Award for best story. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.
Published August 14, 2007 by Pantheon. 272 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Fiction writer Gordon (Pearl, 2005, etc.) grapples with the legacy of her complex, troubled mother.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Circling My Mother: A Memoir

Book Reporter

So Gordon tells us of the moments in her mother's life and of times.

Dec 27 2010 | Read Full Review of Circling My Mother: A Memoir

Entertainment Weekly

In the preface to this tribute, Mary Gordon admits, ''I came to realize that I couldn't see my mother properly by standing in one place, by standing still.'' Instead, she ponders her mother Anna's life from multiple perspectives, dividing it neatly into chapters such as ''My Mother and Her Bosses...

Aug 06 2007 | Read Full Review of Circling My Mother: A Memoir

San Francisco Chronicle

Indeed, Gordon goes further, harping on her mother's crippled, misshapen (because of childhood polio) body and giving undue attention to rotting teeth and feet and the "residual smell of her incontinence [...] unpleasant even in children but in the old [...] not only a bad smell but a sign of sha...

Aug 10 2007 | Read Full Review of Circling My Mother: A Memoir

Deseret News

The title of Gordon's latest memoir, "Circling My Mother," refers to the fact that — even as well as she knew her mother, and even as well as she writes — Gordon didn't trust herself to write too directly about the woman who gave her life.

Dec 09 2007 | Read Full Review of Circling My Mother: A Memoir

Bookmarks Magazine

Circling My Mother presents Anna Gagliano Gordon (1908–2002) in the context of her relationships with her husband, her bosses, her cruel sisters, her Catholic priests, the war, the Great Depression, and the polio that left her physically maimed.

Oct 05 2007 | Read Full Review of Circling My Mother: A Memoir


Displaying the same hash-settling depth that Gordon's great Catholic literary forebear, Mary McCarthy, showcased in Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, the author explains that writing this homage to her mother is also another way of honoring a promise she made herself long ago.

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