Book Review: A Letter to My Father
Book Reviewed by Linda Watkins
I had high expectations of debut autobiography, A Letter to My Father, by John
W. Griffin, mainly because of my love for autobiographies and also due to the
fact that I know a little of Mr. Griffins current circumstance. A quick skim of
the contents intrigued me even more when I noticed Griffin had formatted his
story in the same manner as Jean Toomers' Cane. The placement of beautifully
written poems preceding each chapter offered warmth, compassion and insight into
the life of this mysterious man. Unfortunately, the content of the chapters did
not live up to my initial promising impression and turned into 500 pages of
A Letter to My Father is an eye-popping personal reflection of a son who desperately needs to deeply purge himself of misconceptions about our society and our justice system. He seeks inner peace by penning a letter to his deceased father, detailing what happened after his death.
Griffin begins his memoirs by speaking directly to his dead father while visualizing his father's strong hands holding his own as a child. This supplied a nice beginning. I could feel Griffin's emotions of caring and needing a bond with his father. However, from here the book spiraled downhill with Griffin rattling on and on about every aspect of his childhood, including his brother James and his mother Carrie. It became difficult to understand whom the story was really about for a minute. The point of view was further distorted by the constant intrusion of too much-telling and not enough showing. The story flowed consistently in relating events in a logical manner, but I just wish Griffin had presented the action in a more imaginative way. This would have made reading A Letter to My Father more captivating and less of a labor.
A Letter to My Father is full of information on historical events and is very opinionated. I actually appreciated some of what Griffin offered in regards to understanding the teachings of the Nation of Islam and a few tidbits of African-American history and on the struggle for racial equality in the 1960's. But, Griffin's abuse of this usage of disseminating knowledge throughout drained the story's momentum. In fact, there were spots in, A Letter to My Father, where I was not sure if Griffin was talking to his father or teaching history class.
The most interesting facet of A Letter to My Father is that it is a true story and Griffin's overkill added to the realism. It was written by a man in pain . . . a man in need of getting it all out on the table . . . and a man who wanted someone to hear his cries of injustice. For this alone, I applaud Griffin. He took a chance on telling his story. I found it easy to understand his numerous mistakes and see the total context of his life in the raw.
I do not recommend, A Letter to My Father, for picky, critical, or entertainment-seeking readers, as it would not be their cup of tea. But, for compassionate, patient and information craving individuals it is a long-slow-sometimes-confusing read well worth spending the time to dissect.
I have a great admiration for Griffin for attempting to write a tell-all novel of his life experience from behind walls of despair. The patience required to pen such a lengthy autobiography while incarcerated and untrained in the fundamentals of writing displays a great desire to be heard. It will be interesting to watch Mr. Griffins' ascend of the writer's ladder. I look forward to reading his next novel. Hopefully, it will be slimmed down, professionally edited, smoother, and he can concentrate more on showing than venting.