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To his friends, Seymour Langer was one of the brightest kids to emerge from Chicago’s Depression-era Jewish West Side. To his family, he was a driven and dedicated physician, a devoted father and husband. But to his Adam, youngest son, Seymour was also an enigma: a somewhat distant figure to whom Adam could never quite measure up, a worldly man who never left the city of Chicago during the last third of his life, a would-be author who spoke for years of writing a history of the Bonus March of 1932, when twenty thousand World War I veterans descended on the nation’s capital to demand compensation.
Using this dramatic but overlooked event in U.S. history as a means of understanding his relationship with his father, Adam Langer sets out to uncover why the Bonus March intrigued Seymour Langer, whose personal history seemed to be artfully obscured by a mix of evasiveness and exaggeration. The author interweaves the story of the Bonus March and interviews with such individuals as history aficionado Senator John Kerry and the writer and critic Norman Podhoretz with his own reminiscences and those of his father’s relatives, colleagues, and contemporaries. In the process, he explores the nature of memory while creating a moving, multilayered portrait of both his father and his father’s generation.
Novelist Langer (Ellington Boulevard) remembers his late father, a disabled Chicago radiologist, as brilliant and driven, but also distant and contradictory. For more than 30 years, his father talked about writing a history of the Bonus March, which Langer describes as a pivotal but now mostly forgotten event, when some 20,000 WWI veterans marched on Washington for two months during the Depression, demanding advance payment of bonuses due in 1945, until a bloody confrontation with the U.S. cavalry left two protesters dead. The Bonus March comes to represent for Langer "a key to my dad's inner life," so he decides to research the event and his father's relationship to it, along the way pondering whether his grandfather, possibly a WWI vet, participated in the march and whether it had particular resonance for a man who had difficulty walking. Langer's interviews range from his father's old friends and relatives to notables like Norman Podhoretz and John Kerry, who modeled his Vietnam protests on the march. Unfortunately, this frustrating combination of personal memoir, biography and American history falls flat as Langer barely scratches the surface of the Bonus March, and his father remains inscrutable and lackluster to readers. (Oct. 20) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved