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A Daughter’s Detective Story

A-AssemblingFatherAnna Cypra Oliver’s father shot himself when she was five years old. Growing up, she knew only that he had been involved with drugs; as an adult, she decided to find out more. Assembling My Father is the result of that decision. Mixing journal entries and letters with her own reflections, Oliver paints an increasingly detailed portrait of the man her father was. An addict and cocaine runner, he was nonetheless a powerful personality whom friends remember as a hero. As she reconstructs her father’s life, Oliver gains a better understanding of her family and herself.
Houghton Mifflin. 368 pages. $25.
ISBN: 0618341528

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]here are lacunas in the tale, gaps in her memory and research that imagination must fill. There are also occasions when [Oliver’s] language is not nearly as fresh as her conception." Daniel Dyer

Baltimore City Paper 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The story is meticulously put together and covers an astonishingly wide range of experiences. … Oliver’s enterprise compels, perhaps because it’s something few of us dare." Nicole Leistikow

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… an elegant, intelligent hodgepodge. … Oliver’s decision to make her quest the engine of her book was a wise one; it establishes in the reader a sense of investment." Kate Bolick

Santa Fe New Mexican 3 of 5 Stars
"Wanting to ‘get it all out,’ Oliver has put it all in, including imaginary conversations with her father, her father’s bad poetry and dreary journal entries …. Faults aside, and there are many of them, the book is a moving portrait of the 1970s in northern New Mexico." Jim Levy

Critical Summary

Assembling My Father is not a conventional memoir. Oliver tells her father’s story in bits and pieces, as widely varying as the possessions of his that she picks up during her quest. Some reviewers felt the work’s haphazard organization suited its subject matter; others craved more structure, or found some elements of the collection less engaging than others. All agreed, however, that Oliver rendered her search for her father’s identity with affection and bravery. The search for an absent parent is a well-worn topic, and Oliver deserves high praise for making it fresh.