Title: An Extraordinary Life
Author: Daniel Freeman
Genre: Memoir / Romance
This memoir provides a detailed view of the marriage and overseas career of P. Frank–the author’s father–an African-American man who was drafted during World War II and stationed in Europe during and after the war.
Just before the end of the war, P. Frank met Sophie, a beautiful, young French woman. She’s a dreamer, while P. Frank is far more practical, yet they are inexplicably drawn to each other and get married despite the fact that she can’t speak English and he can’t speak French.
What follows is a tumultuous account, featuring letters written by Sophie, P. Frank, their mothers, family, and friends as the couple tries to move past their cultural differences and make a success of their marriage. It seems Sophie and P. Frank rarely lived together, so the letters constituted their main method of communication and thus provide a unique view on their marriage.
There are reunions and improvements, especially after their son is born, but the differences seem to be insurmountable and they both end up seeking a divorce. The ensuing custody battle turns into an international attempt, especially on P. Frank’s side, to secure the future they both desire.
This work is very detailed, and the story it tells seems balanced, though one might wonder if the author has greater respect and understanding for his father, the man he grew up with, than his biological mother–someone he didn’t even know existed until after his first year in college.
P. Frank seems to have felt that, though he slapped Sophie at one point, her subsequent actions were “out of line” since he was trying so hard to provide such a good life for her. And the author doesn’t seem to contradict his father’s viewpoint or suggest that his mother might be justified in how she acted. While the book provides copious witnesses against his mother, there are few, if any, witnesses to her side of the story, and it’s not clear if this omission is due to the fact that she truly was in the wrong or because the author was primarily working from his father’s records.
The format could’ve helped this work become more readable. The letters frequently have no introduction, so readers are initially at a loss as to who is “speaking,” and there are times when large passages are repeated. Since some letters are already almost identical, this can add to the confusing and tedious nature of this work.
Most letters seem to be included in their entirety, whether the subject pertains to the story or not, and the translated letters can be difficult to read, as though the translator understood French better than English, but it’s possible the rendering, in this respect, is due to the nature of the letters themselves.
Deeply grounded in first-hand accounts, this work will appeal to anyone wanting a glimpse into a unique interracial relationship and custody battle after World War II. The story is vibrant, honest, and heart-felt, and readers will appreciate the author’s attempt to share what truly happened, as he seems to understand it, without embellishments or elaborations.
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