Reading a celebrity’s memoir isn’t usually my sort of thing. But this book actually has very little to do with being a celebrity. Alan Cumming’s extraordinarily complex and difficult family story is reason enough to read this memoir without the need for salacious Hollywood gossip (of which there is very little in this book). “Not My Father’s Son” is primarily about Cumming’s incredibly problematic relationship with his estranged father and overcoming the horrendous abuse he and his brother experienced as children. However, it is because of his fame that he was able to participate in the program Who do you think you are? where celebrities get to trace their heritage and uncover hidden facts about their family. In this book we’re given his personal take on discovering more information about his mysterious maternal grandfather who was a war hero and whose life came to a shocking end. What was going on between his immediate family while this was being filmed is even more extraordinary than what happened in this television program. There are events and revelations in Cumming’s life happening simultaneously while the show is made with bizarre connections linking the past and present.
This memoir turns into a kind of thriller as it progresses because of the anticipation of what family details will be revealed. It moves back and forth in time from Cumming’s childhood and budding acting career to the time of filming the TV show. Interspersed are family photographs which become particularly poignant as more of the story is revealed. Cumming’s complex story naturally raises questions about the meaning of family and how much genetics determines who we are. It also meaningfully conveys strategies for dealing with the aftermath of abuse. I found the story in “Not My Father’s Son” extremely moving. It’s about survival, identity and what really makes people family.