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Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Foundby Allegra Huston
Synopses & Reviews
When Allegra Huston was four years old, her mother was killed in a car crash. Soon afterward, she was introduced to an intimidating man wreathed in cigar smoke — the legendary film director John Huston — with the words, "This is your father."
So began an extraordinary odyssey: from the magical Huston estate in Ireland to the Long Island suburbs to a hidden paradise in Mexico — and, at the side of her older sister, Anjelica, into the hilltop retreats of Jack Nicholson, Ryan O'Neal, and Marlon Brando. Allegra's is the penetrating gaze of an outsider never quite sure if she belongs in this rarefied world and of a motherless child trying to make sense of her famous, fragmented family. Then, at the age of twelve, Allegra's precarious sense of self was shattered when she was, once more, introduced to her father — her real one this time, the British aristocrat and historian John Julius Norwich.
At the heart of Love Child is Allegra's search through the unreliable certainties of memory for the widely adored mother she never knew — the ghost who shadowed her childhood and left her in a web of awkward and unwelcome truths. With clear-eyed tenderness, Allegra tells of how she forged bonds with both her famous fathers, transforming her mother's difficult legacy into a hard-won blessing. Beautifully written and forensically honest, Love Child is a seductive insight into one of Hollywood's great dynasties and the story of how, in a family that defied convention, one woman found her balance on the shifting sands of conflicting loyalties.
"Huston's memoir begins when she is five years old, learning of her mother's death from her godfather. Although she is sent to live with her father, the film director John Huston, he is an intermittent presence in her life. Then, when she is 12, Allegra's stepmother informs her that her real father is the British historian John Julius Norwich. Huston, who spent several years as an editor in British publishing before creating a writers' workshop in New Mexico, skillfully integrates her childhood memories with revelations from her mother's correspondence, recounting her often-awkward encounters with 'my dad' (Huston) and 'my father' (Norwich) with great sensitivity. Although she spent part of her adolescence living with her older sister, Anjelica, there isn't much in the way of Hollywood gossip beyond fleeting scenes of Marlon Brando playing chess and verbal abuse from Ryan O'Neal. Instead, the emphasis lies in young Allegra's constant feelings of alienation and the subtle development of familial affections that culminate with Hustons and Norwichs coming together to witness the christening of her own son. Where many memoirists compete to see who's had the most outrageous life, this story stands out in its quiet poignancy. 16 pages of b&w photographs not seen by PW." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
When Allegra Huston was 4 years old and living in London, she remembers being called into a room, flanked by her brother and sister, Tony and Anjelica Huston, and told that her mother, the ballet dancer Ricki Soma, had died. Allegra screamed out "a banshee wail." What was to be done with the little girl? The man whom her mother had chosen to be her guardian kept her for about a year,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) then sent her to live with her father, the famous film director John Huston, who lived on an enormous, majestic spread in Ireland. It was a strange household. Allegra couldn't begin to comprehend where she'd landed. In London, she and her mother had lived in the heart of the city; in Ireland, nature reigned. In London, Allegra's closest companion had been a lady she called "Nurse"; it turns out Nurse had come from Ireland all along. Tony and Anjelica were already grown up and busy with their own projects; Allegra's playmates were a flock of little Irish kids. Her father, though kind enough, was remote. There was a Big House and a Little House on the estate. He lived in one, she and Nurse in the other. More ingredients get added to this family setup. A woman with a son named Danny comes to visit; Allegra learns that he's her brother, too. They're about the same age. She likes him. Then she's shipped off to spend the summer with her mother's parents in Long Island. Her grandfather — a restaurateur in New York — turns out to be a willful, narcissistic jerk. He thinks the world revolves around him, but the world really revolves around the man who lives in the Irish castle, whose word is law. It's a rich, grand life Allegra lives there, but she finds a dearth of love. Another woman shows up, Cici, who will become Huston's fifth wife. Allegra likes her, too. The years pass. The story here is buttressed by a series of flash-forwards: Allegra, as an adult, reading her mother's saved letters. She pieces together what her parents' earlier marriage must have been like. He, the famous director; she, the extremely young ballet dancer who was plucked by him from her promising career, impregnated twice in quick succession, then dumped in an isolated Malibu beach house while Huston carried on his own career and his numerous affairs. "Dad was a difficult person to be married to. ... He was unfaithful, egocentric, impatient, judgmental, cuttingly sarcastic, and a gambler," she writes. Allegra discovers that her mother had found a few boyfriends to address the lack of love in her own life. The life in Ireland begins to fall apart. Allegra finds herself living in the Pacific Palisades with Cici, the fifth wife. Cici is kind to her. Then that marriage falls apart as well. Huston runs off to Mexico with the Mexican maid. Cici, perhaps from a dubious motive, reveals to Allegra that — guess what? — John Huston isn't her father anyway. Her real father is John Julius Norwich, an English nobleman and historian who drops by the house and listens to her play the piano. That means that she, Anjelica and Tony are only half siblings; they share a common mother. She and Danny are also half siblings; they share a dad. John Julius Norwich can't exactly acknowledge Allegra because he already has a wife and children. Allegra is an afterthought; she doesn't "belong" anywhere. Even the "A," the monogram on her cherished childhood suitcase, stands for her sister, the actress Anjelica. At about this time, Anjelica takes her little sister under her wing. Allegra gets to hang out with her and Jack Nicholson, and, when that romance blows over, with the notoriously wiggy Ryan O'Neal, who has a terrible reputation as a doper, womanizer and all-around brute in Los Angeles but whom Allegra remembers as the man who gently and considerately taught her to play Frisbee on the beach. This is an authentic "poor little rich girl" story. Allegra (most of the time) grows up in the lap of luxury — except for when she's packed off to a dreadful apartment with Nurse and her father's personal assistant. Huston himself is rich until he isn't quite as much. Those wives must have been a large financial responsibility, except that responsibility doesn't seem to have been high on his list. The Huston dynasty — particularly Walter, John and Anjelica — was gifted with amazing talents, but life in that family appears precarious, slippery. I wish "Love Child" had spent more time on exactly how Allegra carved out a reputable adult identity for herself, found a place in publishing, become acknowledged by the Norwich family; how she became acquainted with the father of her son, a whitewater rafter in New Mexico; how she came to live in Taos. But the memoir jumps over most of that to her first child's christening, a deliciously hippy-dip ceremony at which the ladies dressed up in Arthurian costumes borrowed from one of Anjelica's movies and her brother Tony dressed up as John the Baptist. The Norwiches were there, too. Allegra has cast her nets high and wide and succeeded in creating a durable if somewhat overextended family. Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A deeply moving memoir, "Love Child" tells of Huston's famous and fragmented family--she is the third child from actor/director John Huston's fourth wife--and the extraordinary revelation that turned her world upside down. b&w photographs.
About the Author
Allegra Huston was born in London and raised in Ireland, Long Island, and Los Angeles. She has worked with ChattoandWindus publishers in London and WeidenfeldandNicolson, where she was Editorial Director from 1990 to 1994. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than ten years; her work has appeared in The Times, the Independent, the Tatler, and Harper's Bazaar (all in the UK), in French Vogue, and in the U.S. in People, the Santa Fean, and Mothering. She lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her six-year-old son, Rafa, and his father, Cisco Guevara.
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