For some reason, I was expecting greatness from this book. I think it must have been the subject matter that led me to want something confronting from this story… and I’m not sure that I was entirely disappointed. Certainly there were moments in this memoir which were fascinating – perhaps even intriguing. But there was something missing for me … I just couldn’t find this book captivating: it took me a month to read. And it’s not that long and I just found that I really didn’t care.
Scott Johnson’s life changes when at 14 his father confides in him, telling him that he is a spy. Naturally, this caused considerable trauma for Scott as he grew and developed and found himself constantly questioning his father’s integrity and the honesty of his ever changing identity. Scott spends his entire life trying to escape from his father’s espionage, only to find himself behaving exactly like his father, enacting his father’s behaviour through his work as a journalist in Iraq.
Scott is plagued by his complicity in his father’s espionage and by the way he becomes a part of his father’s shifting self. This is understandable, but Scott seems to blame his father excessively for this and rather than taking responsibility for his own life, he is incapable of moving beyond what he sees as his father’s betrayal. I think it was this that bothered me about this memoir – although, in truth, I understand how difficult it must be to write a memoir, let alone to confess what one perceives as the ‘sins of the father’. Nonetheless, I was frustrated by the way that the book unfolded as Scott’s repeated attempts to get his father to confess something that didn’t exist or hadn’t happened. This turned the book into a circular narrative, rather than an exposition, which is, I think, what I was looking for. I also wanted to hear more about the obscure places in which the family resided – Islamabad, Yugoslavia and so on.
I commend Johnson for writing this book but I have to confess that I am glad it’s finished and I don’t have to plug away at reading it any longer.