The Memory of All That

Katharine Weber
Photo by Marion Ettlinger

Having previously read Katharine Weber’s moving novel Triangle, I was thrilled to receive this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The Memory of All That is a memoir of Weber’s family. Or, to be specific, the family’s legacy of infidelities, many of which occurred on a grand scale.

Weber’s grandfather was James Warburg, of the ¬†international banking family. Her grandmother was Kay Swift, the talented composer, pianist and arranger. Swift worked with George Gershwin for many years, and was involved with him romantically for ten years, until his untimely death in 1937. Swift had divorced Warburg to be with Gershwin, and this involved leaving her three daughters in the care of their father. Swift and Warburg’s middle daughter, Andrea, was Weber’s mother.

Weber’s father was Sidney Kaufman. Sidney and Andrea married in 1948 when he was 38 and she was 26. They had two children; Weber’s brother was born in 1951 and she was born in 1955. Weber was named for her grandmother Kay, and they shared a special bond that lasted until Swift’s death in 1993.

Sidney Kaufman remained a mystery to his wife and children for most of their lives, and the Memory of All That delves into the mysteries and fabrications surrounding Kaufman. Kaufman was, peripherally, in the movie business. Although he had aspirations to be a producer, the only verifiable film work he actually did was to insure completion bonds.

Kaufman disappeared from his family’s home in Forest Hills, Queens for days, weeks, or months at a time. The family did not know know where he was, or when he would return. As it turns out, he was seriously involved with a number of other women throughout his marriage to Andrea. For her part, Andrea put up with this poor treatment. Although she herself was a talented photographer, and also had income from the Warburg family, she never considered leaving Sidney.

Being from New York, and being very close in age to Weber, I find her memories of her early years accurate and evocative of the place and time. Although the book is based on her own family, she has not relied so much on family stories and memories. She has done a tremendous amount of research into her own family history. Where the book falls short, in my opinion, is where Weber tries to give some explanation or motivation to someone’s actions. She clearly cannot know what was in someone’s mind at a certain point in time, and the conclusions feel contrived and condescending.

Overall, I do recommend this book. It is well researched, and well written. Weber’s family is interesting and intriguing. Much has been written about the Warburg family and of course about George Gershwin, but this is a new and interesting take on these grand personalities.

In USA:

Published in hardcover-Crown-2011
Softcover edition-Broadway Paperbacks-2012

The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family’s Legacy of Infidelities

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