August 25, 1986 12:00 PM

by Adam Hochschild

TV miniseries often seem to strive mightily to deliver the insight this fascinating nonfiction book offers in abundance. It is a primer on the upper class and on class itself, a series of meditations on the burden of wealth on the liberal consciousness and even a commentary on what it means to be a Jew in America. It is also Adam Hochschild’s troubled but ultimately triumphant memoir of his relationship with his father. As the chief of a multinational corporation that owned mines all over southern Africa, Harold Hochschild was one of the richest men in the U.S. He was a man of wit and learning and integrity, who in his spare time wrote a prizewinning book on his beloved Adirondack Mountains. He seemed an ideal father. At one point in Half the Way Home, a friend remonstrates with Adam for ever doubting it: “How lucky you must have been to have him as a father! And besides, Adam, you had everything: houses, chauffeurs, maids, money—the whole world was yours.” Adam did have everything—everything, that is, but his father’s love. Spindly, timid, phobic, Adam was Harold’s polar opposite and a source of great disappointment and constant disapproval. “Most often of all,” says Adam, “my crime would be that of taking too much space, of talking too much: at the table, in a carload of family and guests en route to Eagle Nest [the family’s idyllic retreat in Upstate New York], anywhere he and I were together with other people.” Adam lived in dread of his father, experiencing attacks of nausea when left alone with him. Eventually that visceral upset led Adam to question the underpinnings of Harold’s life, to recognize that the family fortune was derived from the virtual slave labor of black men in a land where apartheid was taken for granted. Adam became a civil rights worker in Mississippi, a writer for Ramparts and a founding editor of the muckraking Mother Jones. In later years he struggled to try to understand the fear that ruled his father: the fear of being discovered to be a Jew—and not just a Jew, but a sort of caricature of a Jew, a loud, grasping, unrefined brute of a man. Thus Harold’s clamping down on Adam during childhood, thus his tight hold on his own appetites and passions, thus, well, a lot of things. This is a fine and moving book. (Viking, $15.95)

You May Like