Saturday, October 10, 2015

We Were Brothers: a memoir; Barry Moser

We Were Brothers; Barry Moser
Algonquin - 2015

Every now and then I crave a good memoir, not any memoir, but I generally look for one that I can relate to, one that is apt to stick with me for one reason or another.  We Were Brothers was just such a memoir. In many ways this story reminded me of the sometimes troubled relationship of my own two older brothers who grew up in the late 40's and 50's, both were about the same ages as author and his brother Tommy.

The author and his older brother Tommy were born and raised around Chattanooga, TN, and from an early age racism was ever present in their childhood town. The KKK was in full force and the divide between blacks and whites was present everywhere. Through no fault of their own each brother was raise to believe that white people were superior to black people. In many ways their childhood, minus the racism, was typical of many siblings -- sharing a room, riding bikes and trying to avoid bullies, especially since neither boy was athletic. Both were talented artists and each had childhood afflictions that in some ways made learning and success in school a challenge. Tommy had eye issues which kept him behind a few grades in school and may have attributed to his sometimes volatile personality.  Barry was dyslexic and more laid back and, despite the issues of both brothers they attended military school even though it was only Barry who graduated.

The older the brothers got the greater the divide between them became, because of their adult views on race. While Tommy remained in Tennessee, Barry moved to New England, embarrassed at times by his brother's actions. Although both brothers had families of their own and each experienced professional successes, their views about racism couldn't have been farther apart and, as a result, their relationship turned to ice for a good many years.  Fortunately, unlike many fractured relationships that stay that way to the grave, these brothers were able to eventually come to an understanding and make their peace before it is was too late.

This memoir was short, fewer than 200 pages, and very well written with several beautiful illustrations included. I enjoyed the story of these brothers and finished their story in one seating. I think this memoir will appeal to more mature readers, especially those who have experienced strained sibling relationships in their own families.

About the Author-----BARRY MOSER was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His work is represented in the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and other museums around the world. He has illustrated and/or designed over 350 books, including Moby-Dick, Frankenstein, The Divine Comedy, and the King James Bible. His edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland won a National Book Award. He is currently Irwin and Pauline Alper Glass Professor of Art and the printer to the college at Smith College.

4/5 stars


  1. That sounds like a great brotherly story.

  2. I love a good memoir so I'm adding this to my list.

  3. It was pretty great - even not so "brotherly" years.

  4. I love memoirs, and I love stories about family. I'm adding this to my tbr list.

  5. I heard him talk this afternoon at Southern Festival of Books. His story does sound really fascinating, especially to this native Tennessean.


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