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Not My Father's Son

A Family Memoir
Narrated by: Alan Cumming
Length: 6 hrs and 27 mins
Categories: Biographies & Memoirs
4.7 out of 5 stars (2,129 ratings)

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Editor reviews

Tremendously moving and eloquently written, Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son is a brutally honest memoir of the extraordinary life he has led. In this autobiography audiobook edition of his novel, Cumming narrates through the journey that has been his life - from a young boy with an abusive father to the icon he is today. Heartfelt, inspirational and awakening, Cumming’s story is one that stays with the listener long after the final word is spoken. This book is not just for fans of this incredible man but for anyone who is touched by the emancipation of a child from the grasps of a violent beginning. Available now from Audible.

Summary

Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alan's father, Alex Cumming.

Alex was the dark, enigmatic heart of Cumming family life. But he was not the only mystery. Alan's maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, had disappeared to the Far East after the Second World War. The last time Alan's mother saw her father she was eight years old. When she was 13, the family was informed that he had died in an accidental shooting.

Curious to explore this second mystery, Alan committed to filming an episode of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? Then out of the blue, his father, who Alan and his brother had not seen or spoken to for more than a decade, called. He had a secret he had to share, one that would shock his son to his very core and set in motion a journey that would change Alan's life forever.

At times suspenseful, at times deeply moving, but always brave and honest, Not My Father's Son is a powerful story about embracing the best aspects of the past and triumphantly pushing the darkness aside.

©2014 Alan Cumming (P)2014 Canongate Books Ltd

Critic reviews

"Equal parts memoir, whodunnit and manual for living, Not My Father's Son is a beautifully written, honest look at the forces of blood and bone that make us what we are, and how we make ourselves. I was completely sucked in." (Neil Gaiman)
"What a shattering, compelling and extraordinary story Alan Cumming has to tell. And he does so with such style and grace . . . Beautifully and cunningly structured, Not My Father's Son is one of the most memorable, heart-stopping autobiographies I have ever read." (Stephen Fry)
"Do you know the old line "I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me"? Alan Cumming's moving memoir Not My Father's Son is all that and more. This is a beautiful book-sad, funny, haunting, surprising, suspenseful, gut-wrenching, endearing. It will linger inside of you long after you turn the final page." (Harlan Coben, author of New York Times bestsellers Missing You and Six Years)
"In beautiful, honest, arresting prose, he offers a tale you'll never forget. A real diamond of a book." (Andrew O'Hagan)
"A clear-eyed, often moving account of both his terrifying childhood and his recent attempts to come to terms with his past [. . .] Not My Father's Son moves elegantly and with an occasional dash of humour between Cumming's childhood and the revelations of the more recent past [. . .] memorable." ( Chicago Tribune)
"One of the most fun people in show business" ( Time)
"Cumming's eccentric style and assured voice shine brightly on every page, while escorting readers and fans on a memorable journey that is simultaneously insightful, brave, moving, and witty." ( Book List)
"Equal parts memoir, whodunnit and manual for living, Not My Father's Son is a beautifully written, honest look at the forces of blood and bone that make us what we are, and how we make ourselves. I was completely sucked in." (Neil Gaiman)
"What a shattering, compelling and extraordinary story Alan Cumming has to tell. And he does so with such style and grace.... Beautifully and cunningly structured, Not My Father's Son is one of the most memorable, heart-stopping autobiographies I have ever read." (Stephen Fry)
"Do you know the old line 'I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me?' Alan Cumming's moving memoir Not My Father's Son is all that and more. This is a beautiful book-sad, funny, haunting, surprising, suspenseful, gut-wrenching, endearing. It will linger inside of you long after you turn the final page." (Harlan Coben, author of New York Times best sellers Missing You and Six Years)

What listeners say about Not My Father's Son

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An extraordinary memoir

Where does Not My Father's Son rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of the best ever.

What did you like best about this story?

This is no showbiz memoir, although the revelation that Patti Smith has a tendency to spit had me in stitches. It's a heart-wrenching story of Alan's painful childhood, his fraught relationship with his father, intertwined with the slow unfolding mystery of his grandfather's abandonment of his family after the Second World War and subsequent death in Malaysia. Above all, it's a powerful, honest story and a wholly intriguing yarn, more fascinating than fiction.

Which character – as performed by Alan Cumming – was your favourite?

Alan has a particular talent for bringing to life the women in his family: his mother, the formidable and clearly-adored Mary Darling, and his charming, wickedly funny granny. He has the most beautiful voice, too.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It's a deeply emotional story, and I laughed out loud and wept unashamedly in turns.

Any additional comments?

Quite the most astonishing audiobook (or indeed publication of any kind) I've heard in ages. More than anything, one comes out of the experience with deep respect for Alan Cumming as a human being, someone who refused to back down until he had found the truth he needed to begin healing.

27 people found this helpful

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A heartbreaking, and yet heartwarming story...

This really is an extraordinary book. I should probably start by saying that, if you’re looking for a ‘My Fabulous Life’ type of biography packed with anecdotes of famous chums and exotic locations then keep moving; this is not one of those books. Instead Alan Cumming has taken two key events from his life and, via a series of ‘Then and Now’ sections, begins to see links and parallels between them.

Alan Cumming is asked if he wants to be the subject of one of the BBCs ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ TV shows, in which the BBC delve through a celebrities family history to see if there are any skeletons in cupboards. As it happens Cummings is interested in his maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, who disappeared after WWII and never came home again, and so he agrees.

But thinking about what the show may discover Cummings is reminded (as if he needs to be) of his traumatic childhood where he lived under the threat of his bullying fathers explosive temper, enduring a constant stream of criticism and sarcasm that nearly always erupted into violent beatings. Try as he does to please his father nothing he does is good enough, and Alan and his brother Tom are constantly reminded of how worthless their father considers them both to be. And so, as the BBC filming progresses and the story of grandfather Tommy Darling unravels, Alan often travels back to his childhood and the key events that help forge the man he is today.

As a parent I found some of these passages very difficult to listen to, especially when the father seems to take pleasure in preventing his sons pursuing any interests they may have. But the worst for me was when Alan retells the story of a particularly savage beating he endured over some minor chore not carried out to his father’s satisfaction. The anger and sadness that wells up when you listen to this story is palpable.

An amazing book, and one that leaves the listener speechless afterward.

Very well done Mr Cumming, dreams can indeed come true…

23 people found this helpful

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A very fitting memoir

Alan Cummings does not spare us any details of his father's cruelty and vindictiveness but this is a tale of triumph and so is ultimately uplifting. In addition there is the fascinating unravelling of the mystery of what happened to Alan's maternal grandfather. People who have viewed Alan's episode of the genealogy programme 'Who Do You Think You Are' will be familiar with the factual backdrop. This book extends this by detailing the emotional impact on Alan and his family as Tommy's tale is revealed.

I like to think that Alan's story this gives proof to the belief that love will always prevail, but whether or not this is true, it certainly shows that it is well worth investing in.

11 people found this helpful

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So Very Very Good

Would you consider the audio edition of Not My Father's Son to be better than the print version?

I don't know. I never read the print version.

Who was your favorite character and why?

It was written and narrated by Alan Cumming and is a book I was really glad I listened too.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I suppose - I don't want to spoil it because if I said which scene it would spoil it.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The same scene. It was quite amazing and so glad it happened the way it did.

Any additional comments?

What an extraordinary man. He holds nothing back and this isn't a usual celebrity kind of autobiography because he hardly mentions any celebs but it was truly riveting and I have to admit that I heard it in one sitting and started it at around 11.00 pm intending to listen to an hour of it and stayed up all night listening. What a man is all I can say.

8 people found this helpful

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A must read! It explains so much

Would you consider the audio edition of Not My Father's Son to be better than the print version?

I haven't read the print version, but I think I will now

What did you like best about this story?

How Alan has come out the man he is. How all that he went though hasn't damaged him as much as maybe it should have, if you get what I mean!!!! If this hadn't happened I wonder where he would be. if his father didn't abuse him but loved and nurtured him as a father should have.

What about Alan Cumming’s performance did you like?

No other narrator could have done justice to this book!!!!!

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I cried, swore, sorry!!! I wished his mum had done something, but violence within a home paralyses everyone.

Any additional comments?

I don't normally read biographies. They are normally self serving but this one isn't.

8 people found this helpful

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A truly wonderful piece of work

If you could sum up Not My Father's Son in three words, what would they be?

Brave, witty, moving

What was one of the most memorable moments of Not My Father's Son?

Hearing the author read his own work is an intimate experience that makes the work immediately accessible, vital and very moving

Which character – as performed by Alan Cumming – was your favourite?

He performs himself so...?

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Alan remembering his reaction to the news of his Grandfathers death and his constant concern for his mothet

Any additional comments?

There have been many (too many) books about rotten childhoods but this is different, this is a book about an adult experiencing the revelations of his pass and refusing to go under, and finding a way through it...the link he makes between PTSD and abusive childhoods is more ground breaking than Alan realises...despite the subject matter this is a funny, warm and ultimatly triumphant and honest book...I'm sure it will dazzle and help many...so much more than a poor me book. I'd like to shake the authors hand.

8 people found this helpful

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Great story but let down by the structure

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes I would recommend this memoir as it is fascinating and moving. The author tells his story in an open and direct way, and this provides a real insight into his childhood and how past events shape our future. I hadn't seen the 'Who Do You Think You Are' programme so all of the revelations were new.

What does Alan Cumming bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

I love audio books read by the author. It feels like the person is in your living room telling you their story. As a narrator, his voice is clear, precise and of course there are no nasty mis-pronunciations that you get with narrators who read other people's work. Alan makes the story very personal.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The novel is split into 'then' and 'now' alternating chapters between past and present. At first I found the past sections very powerful, but as the story progressed the current story of Alan and his brother trying to connect to their past became emotional. Several times during the book I was moved to tears. My only criticism is the structure of very short and alternating chapters snatched emotion from me. So there was a powerful revelation but before I had time to take it in, the story switched to the present sitting in a cafe or driving a car. It felt like watching two episodes of the same TV programme simultaneously through channel hopping. As soon as there was an emotional point the channel was abruptly changed. Pity as I feel focussing for a longer period on each segment would have made it fantastic instead of just great.

Any additional comments?

I had never heard of this guy - he's an actor - but purchased this on recommendation. It's a memoir of Alan's childhood experiences and specifically the relationship with his abusive father. Counter to this is a present day narrative about Alan's investigation into his family tree for a popular TV programme. As noted above, the alternating short chapters (some only 2 or 3 minutes in length) took away some of the emotional impact for me. Overall a good story and fascinating listen.

6 people found this helpful

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A must read

Inspiring, moving and in parts a familiar story of children suffering at the hands of someone who should be a loving protector.

5 people found this helpful

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Alan's pain

I loved Alan's passion and honesty in his book. Painful though it must have been for him I am just so glad he is now free of pain. His life can go on. He being the brilliant actor he is. I had the great pleasure of seeing his one man performance of MacBeth and Cabaret in New York in 2014 not knowing this book existed. If I had I would have waited at the stage door to meet him personally. He is wonderful. Good luck to him in all he does in his life.

5 people found this helpful

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Inspiring!

Where does Not My Father's Son rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

At number 1!

What other book might you compare Not My Father's Son to, and why?

This book is unlike other celebrity autobiographies. The writing is fantastic, the story touching! And the performance brilliant!

Which character – as performed by Alan Cumming – was your favourite?

Alan of course!

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Honesty Pays!

Any additional comments?

A very touching story, told brilliantly by the man himself! This book will have you laughing, crying, and taking a step back to look at life properly. A story of: hope, pain, joy, and inspiration.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 27-08-17

This book is honest and touching

This books explains abuse and the effects of abuse in the most honest way. It sheds light on the dark places. It exposes and reveal the unspoken in the most beautiful and strangely caring way. The scariest thing about abuse is the silence that follows. It's the silence that makes it commonplace and acceptable. Allan Cumming is a courageous man

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  • Sally
  • 12-02-17

Wonderful

A wonderful moving book that navigates the pain of abuse and the joy of love, life and family. I have loved Alan Cumming as a character actor I now love him as a person. A beautiful book.

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  • Quang
  • 17-07-16

A really great book, from start to finish

What a heartfelt story. Mary Darling - such a beautiful beautiful name. Thank you Alan.

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  • Robyn
  • 14-12-15

Something in this book for everyone

This is a book for anyone who has grown up with an abusive parent, anyone who loves a mystery, all those researching their family history, and everyone who has despaired and found the way back or is still looking for the way back. And for anyone who just likes a well-written entertaining read, with tears and laughter along the way. Congratulations to Alan Cumming for so openly documenting the milestones in his life, from his harrowing childhood to his eventual discovery of what is best left in his past and what he can take into the future. The story is beautifully told, the ‘then’ and ‘now’ format perfect for unfolding the inevitably converging dramas, introducing new facts as they come to light in the ‘now’ chapters, all the while maintaining the tension in the build up to the denouement. The book is all the better for being narrated by the author who conveys all the emotions associated with the story, and his soft Scots accent is delightful. Thanks, Alan, I suspect a lot of readers will be inspired by your story.

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  • Libby
  • 17-09-15

Enjoyable

I really enjoyed this book. Alan's voice is very easy to listen to and as I didn't know much about his life, I was surprised at each new chapter. I only really knew him from The Good Wife

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  • ML
  • 03-07-15

Very inspiring and moving

This book is brave, difficult and inspiring. The difficulty lies in the experiences described and the powerlessness experienced. The bravery and inspiration arises from Alan Cummings responses in coming to terms with this trauma. This is a book worth reading.

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  • Jessie E Taylor
  • 04-06-15

Loved it

Fantastic story, beautifully written and read by the man himself. Only criticism I would make is that it feels a bit like a narration of an episode of who do you think you are but of course there are added dimensions. Really enjoyed this book and the insight into such an interesting person.