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June 24, 1996 12:00 PM

by Mary Gordon

When she was 10 years old, novelist Gordon, author of five books, including Final Payments, attempted her first biography of her father, who had died when she was 7. “My father,” she began, “is the greatest man I have ever known.” As a grown-up she learned otherwise. By combing immigration records and talking to relatives, Gordon, now 46, discovered that the man “who opened the door of reading and writing for me,” the sometime magazine writer she knew had converted from Judaism to Catholicism, was also a vicious anti-Semite who lied about his immigrant origins. The truth devastated her. “If he’s not a person I can recognize,” Gordon writes, “I can no longer recognize myself.”

Gordon’s quest is thoughtfully recounted, but the intensity of her obsession makes relating to it difficult. Ultimately accepting her father’s flaws, she moves his remains from the plot of her Catholic mother’s family, who never liked him, to one in Queens, N.Y. “You always had wacky ideas,” her mother tells her. Many readers will agree. (Random House, $24)

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