ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Dutton Books, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Novelist and journalist. Has worked as a tour guide for American schoolchildren in Europe, a holiday representative in Turkey, and a guidebook writer in Prague, Lebanon, and the former Soviet Union; Daily Telegraph, London, England, travel writer.
Contributor to travel magazines.
SIDELIGHTS: Long known as a travel writer in Great Britain, Carole Cadwalladr turned her attention to fiction with her debut novel The Family Tree. While her own life and career have taken her to foreign lands, Cadwalladr's novel looks inward, to the strange ways that memory works. As she put it in an autobiographical profile for Powells.com, "The question of memory and how you mould the facts of your past to fit the facts of your present is a game that all the characters play." The main character, Rebecca Monroe, and her sister, Tiffany, remember the same incidents from childhood very differently, and these differing memories serve to shape their characters. At the same time, their grandmother is struggling with Alzheimer's and a loss of identity compounded by her habit of telling stories to herself that have become substitutes for actual memories. Throughout the story, the characters try to fit their memories into a seamless narrative that leads logically to the present, a process that Rebecca's biologist husband calls "retrofitting." Rebecca herself is writing a doctoral thesis on popular culture, and she sees the same phenomenon in celebrity biographies, which seem to embrace the idea that success was inevitable, given the talent and perseverance of their subjects, despite the many examples to the contrary.
The novel itself evolved in a somewhat haphazard way, as Cadwalladr explained in an interview with the BookBrowse Web site: "I wish I could say that I had some grand design for the novel, but I'd be lying. And the structure, the multiple plot lines, was something that evolved along the way." The story begins with Rebecca's attempts to discover the truth about her grandparents' relationship through interviews with relatives, and develops along three lines, set in the 1940s, the 1970s, and the present. As reviewer Susanne Bardelson noted in the School Library Journal, "The author makes sense of the tangled ties among the generations and navigates them with humor and compassion." Along the way, she confronts racism, mental illness, and the realities of marriage, as well as the larger questions of nature versus nurture in the ways we develop and the curious interplay between our experiences and our attitudes.
Much of The Family Tree involves Rebecca's relationship with her manic-depressive mother, Doreen, a relationship that overshadows her own marriage to a scientist "whose questions about whether we're doomed to repeat our parents' mistakes are the book's subtle framework," according to People contributor Judith Newman. Similarly, Entertainment Weekly reviewer Jennifer Reese noted that "Cadwalladr raises a host of questions about the interaction of the generations (to what extent do the misadventures of our ancestors affect our own lives? Or is it all genetic?) but to her credit never forces answers." In addition, a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the author's "mastery of time and place, wry humor and sporadic bouts of self-doubt will endear her to readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 2004, Misha Stone, review of The Family Tree, p. 634.
Boston Globe, February 3, 2005, Karen Campbell, "A Lot Is Buried under This 'Family Tree.'"
Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 2004, Jennifer Reese, review of The Family Tree, p. 72.
Guardian (London, England), March 6, 2005, Flora Hood, review of The Family Tree.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2004, review of The Family Tree, p. 881.
Library Journal, October 1, 2004, Barbara Love, review of The Family Tree, p. 66.
New York Times, January 23, 2005, Patricia T. O'Conner, "Genealogy Is Destiny."
People, February 14, 2005, Judith Newman, review of The Family Tree, p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, November 8, 2004, review of The Family Tree, p. 33.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 2005, Summer Block, "Fruit of Love Doesn't Fall Far from The Tree," p. E2.
School Library Journal, June, 2005, Susanne Bardelson, review of The Family Tree, p. 188.
Telegraph (London, England), June 3, 2005, Julia Flynn, review of The Family Tree.
BookBrowse, http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (September 15, 2005), interview with Carole Cadwalladr.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 15, 2005), Emily Zibart, review of The Family Tree.
Carole Cadwalladr Home Page, http://www.cadwalladr.com (September 15, 2005).
New York Daily News Online, http://www.nydailynews.com/ (September 15, 2005), Sherryl Connelly, review of The Family Tree.
Powells.com, http://www.powells.com/ (September 15, 2005), autobiographical sketch.