Monday, December 2, 2019

A Good American Family

Last week I finished David Maraniss's latest book, A Good American Family. It is about his father, mother and family who were damaged by McCarthyism.

I'm very glad that I read the book but not sure I can recommend it.  It is, or was for me, tough sledding at times and there was a good deal of detail that seemed peripheral to the essence of the book.  It was informative to read about the Spanish Civil War and important for the book to include it but the detail seemed excessive.  There were other parts which I felt were also a slog to get through.

However, the point of the book is very important and I am not sure one can write about the McCarthy era more powerfully.  Maraniss's father and mother and their children were terribly affected by accusations challenging their loyalty to America.  Dad lost his job a number of times. The family was forced to move frequently.

The elder Maraniss and his mother did indeed attend meetings of Communists and were supporters for a spell. It was myopic, as they subsequently agreed.  Communism as the author points out is an ideology that does not see the world as it is.  Yet those in the Maranisses' circle were good people who were not unAmerican in any way. They believed strongly in democracy, despised fascism, and worked hard to rid the world of dictatorships.  They raised their kids to honor American values and be good citizens.

The irony is that the people who questioned Maraniss and made political hay out of disparaging and persecuting his family were Un American hiding behind a cloak of Americanism.  One of the members was as Un American as one can be unless believing in race superiority is an American value. This House representative was involved, at least peripherally, in the Leo Frank lynching.  Others too who spewed rhetoric suggesting that Maraniss had undermined American values, undermined American values on a daily basis.  One suggested that it was startling that there were Communists even those from "good American families."  Well, the author describes his mom, dad, and their siblings warts and all, and yet--it is clear that they were fundamentally good people who may have temporarily supported an illogical political philosophy.  They were a good American family. And the people who persecuted them were, despite their duds, corrosive to our society.

Like all schoolkids of the 50s and 60s, I knew about McCarthyism, but the presentation here of the author's family--a people who were concerned for the rights of others and were willing to work to preserve freedoms--juxtaposed with the persecutors drew the picture more clearly than I had previously seen it.

I keep a list of the books I have read. I do it both to give myself credit for not being a slug and watching forty football games a week but also so that subsequently I can remember what I read. In the document I have a second section which includes books I especially liked. Despite the detail I mention early in this review, I included A Good American Family.  Subtly powerful. An odd juxtaposition, but that is how I have reacted to the book.

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