October 29th, Michigan League – Standing in front of a room of family members and students at the University of Michigan on Thursday evening, renowned American journalist Jay Nordlinger introduced his new book Children of Monsters with the famous Jersey Boys tagline, “Everyone remembers it how they need to.”
An editor of The National Review and a critic for the literary magazine and artistic journal, New Criterion, Nordlinger is a versatile and talented writer. He also maintains a column, “Impromptus,” on the National Review Online. Nordlinger covers significant matters ranging from human rights and freedom to democracy in China. His first book, “Peace, They Say”, analyzes the establishment and prevalence of the Nobel Peace Prize and debates on how deserving the recipients of the accolade were.
The dimly lit Kalamazoo Room initially felt like a family reunion. I was in the midst of Nordlinger’s parents, daughter, relatives, close friends and teachers. As the night wore on, however, the crowd grew leaving students with standing room only. Nordlinger delved into the synopsis of his latest book, Children of Monsters. As the name indicates the book focuses on the lives and perspectives of the children of dictators, fascists, autocrats and other “monsters.” A series of life sketches of the children of these dictators takes the reader from Syria to the Soviet Union to China and spans recent history.
Nordlinger explained that his research left him with a magnanimous array of expected and unexpected conclusions. Some of the children, such as the son and grandson of Kim-Sung II, love to be associated to their father and his dictatorial modus operandi. Others, such as Stalin’s daughter, absolutely refused to acknowledge the existence of a relationship with their fathers. The son of the tsar colloquially known as Ivan the Terrible, did not have a choice as he died at the hands of his father ‘in a fit of rage.’ Pol Pot’s daughter shared a very special bond with their father but remembers him solely as a loyal father not as a ruthless dictator. Like these legitimate children, Nordlinger pointed out that the illegitimate children of dictators also had different ways of reconciling their parental past.
All of these children have one thing in common: they are all marked by the past of their fathers. Some of them consider their family name to be a draw and others consider it to be a repellent. As they moved through life, one thing became certain to all of them said Nordlinger, sometimes, loyalty demands too much, and none of their fathers could give it to them. His extensive research and subsequent conclusions have granted Nordlinger a voice in the global debate on nature vs. nurture. Despite having been brought up in similar conditions from the Equator to Greenwich, each child turned out differently.
This detailed analysis of the synopsis concluded leaving several questions prodding the audience’s minds. Nordlinger’s history teacher questioned him about what kindled his interest in this topic. In response he joked, “You always liked to ask difficult questions, didn’t you?” Then Nordlinger explained, “I had this and a couple of other ideas that I had been sitting on for quite a few years. When my publisher, after the publication of his first book, asked me if I had any ideas. I gave him the list, and almost instantly, he picked this one. From there, one thing led to another, and now here we are, and here is the book!”
After a few more questions and a book signing, the night concluded and Nordlinger’s choice of the Jersey Boys’ quote made sense.