“Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein’ by Jamie Bernstein— An Intimate Look

Bernstein, Jamie. “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein”, Harper, 2018.

An Intimate Look at Bernstein

Amos Lassen

Jamie Bernstein is the oldest daughter of composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein and she shares with us offers a rare and intimate look at her father on what would have been his 100th birthday. Bernstein was “chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic, a television star, a humanitarian, a friend of the powerful and influential, and the life of every party.” Leonard Bernstein was an enormous celebrity during one of the headiest periods of American cultural life. To Jamie, he was the man in the scratchy brown bathrobe who smelled of cigarettes; a jokester and compulsive teacher who enthused about Beethoven and the Beatles; the insomniac whose 4 a.m. composing breaks involved feeding the baby. He taught his daughter to love the world in all its beauty and complexity.

As we enter Bernstein’s life, we meet a fantastic set of characters: the Kennedys, Mike Nichols, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Betty (Lauren) Bacall.

This is an intimate meditation on a complex and sometimes troubled man, the family he raised, and the music he composed. This is both a moving and often hilarious read. It is also a great American story about one of the greatest Americans of the modern age. Jamie Bernstein gives us a picture of the Bernstein family, especially her parents, Lenny and the much-loved Felicia and at the same time she writes about growing up as the child of a legend “—or, for that matter, as anybody’s child.” Her childhood was as fraught as it was charmed and her book is “beautifully written and unflinchingly courageous… expression of love, exasperation, amazement and forgiveness.” Bernstein brought the same magic that he brought to music to his family.

Before you sit down to red, make sure you clear the day because once you begin this book, I doubt you will be taking time to do anything else.

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