Not My Father's Son: A Memoir (Hardcover)

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I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too--oh, great, another celebrity memoir, I remember thinking; I love the guy, I hope this isn’t another rambling, self-indulgent actor book. Alan Cumming has never yet disappointed me with his work, and I’m happy to say that his streak continues unbroken: this memoir is not only a suspenseful and deeply emotional unraveling of a family mystery, but a beautiful, gripping tale of survival in the face of shattering abuse. Cumming uses his appearance on British genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? to frame his story, as he signs on to explore the mystery of his maternal grandfather Tommy Darling, a WWII courier whose disappearance and subsequent death (in a “gun accident” in Malaysia) left his family with scores of unanswered questions. His probe into the past, however, prompts a call from his estranged father Alex Cumming--a tyrannical abuser who held Alan’s family hostage to his shifting moods, and whose psychological terrorism and explosive violence made Alan’s childhood a nightmare. Alex drops an emotional bombshell of nuclear equivalent into Alan’s world, and it’s Alan’s search for the truth of his father’s words that drives this unflinchingly honest memoir.

These twin mysteries give the story a shape, keeping it from veering off-course into disconnected reminiscing, while giving Cumming plenty of opportunities for illustrative scenes of his childhood or early career, when his father’s abuse was at its worst (or when his repressed memories of the worst were wreaking their subtle, awful effect on him). Every flashback or family story serves a purpose, and all of them take a brave and clear-eyed look at the elder Cumming’s abuse and Alan’s recovery from it. Cumming’s voice is just as you’d expect: funny, straightforward, and delightfully off-color at times, and it’s that sense of humor that keeps a sense of hope and lightness, even when he’s telling you about his very worst memories. Joy abounds in Cumming’s escape from his father’s reign of terror and his finding a way forward from his past. As he untangles the threads of his family mysteries, you’ll feel the same powerful catharsis Cumming does, and like the man himself, you’ll emerge lighter and freer at the end.

— Liz

November 2014 Indie Next List

“Every so often reading a memoir feels like a conversation rather than a strict narrative or -- the death knell for memoir -- a self-indulgent romp down memory lane. Cumming's memoir is a gorgeous, intimate conversation and it reads beautifully. The pace is perfect, the presentation truly lovely, and I felt like a close friend rather than an impersonal audience. Cumming's early life was a struggle and he hardly shies from relating details, but the driving force behind this book is the demonstration of the many ways one can bring oneself to peace after hardship. I enjoyed it immensely.”
— Demi Marshall, Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC



In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.

A beloved star of stage, television, and film--"one of the most fun people in show business" (Time magazine)--Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father--a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father's Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062225061
ISBN-10: 0062225065
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Publication Date: October 7th, 2014
Pages: 294
Language: English