MORGANTOWN — A West Virginia University law professor has released a book on his family history.
Michael Blumenthal initially published the book under a different publishing house, and West Virginia University Press reissued the book titled All My Mothers and Fathers. The book is a memoir that chronicles the complicated relationships and odd twists of fate that make up this educator's family history.
When Blumenthal was 10, his mother died of breast cancer and he discovered she was not his biological mother. His aunt and uncle, who raised chickens in New Jersey, were actually his real parents. That's not all. His adoptive father was a German Jewish refugee who was raised by a "loveless" and bitter stepmother after his real mother died during childbirth. The adoptive father then realized that he inflicted the same fate upon his adopted son.
Blumenthal's quest for answers about his identity would impact him throughout his life well into adulthood, and the chance to write this book opened his mind to new insights about his personal feelings and experiences of life. His reflections, he told The West Virginia Record, helped him explore these deep issues, come to terms with them and learn new things about himself that he would likely not have discovered, at least not as quickly, without writing the book.
Blumenthal said he was inspired to write the book due to constant prodding by colleagues and others who said his story was so interesting and profound.
"I had a very odd family story of being adopted by my aunt and uncle, and that my parents were actually my aunt and uncle or at least who I thought my aunt and uncle were," Blumenthal told The West Virginia Record in a telephone interview. "It was rather complicated. My birth parents were refugees from the Holocaust. They were all refugees.
"I was already a writer. People kept telling me to write a memoir. I wrote a fictional story that had elements of my real life. People kept telling me to write the memoir and so I did. I had an interesting story. I had an agent. My agent submitted it to various publishers back in 1999. Harper-Collins bought it the first time. The editor in chief died and he paid me a lot of money [but] it became an orphan because this editor died. It was published but not with any noise because there no one to make the noise. A couple years ago, I was talking to editor of the UVW Press. He said 'Why don't we republish it?' So that's what happened."
Other authors like Patricia Hampl, author of The Florist's Daughter, have given Blumenthal's work on this book positive reviews.
Blumenthal said he prefers to write solo.
"Nobody helped me write this book," Blumenthal said. "I do my writing by myself."
Identity seems to be the major theme in Blumenthal's book here. It has manifested itself in many ways throughout his life, including in his career. When he rattles off his list of occupations over the years, a reader might wonder if he was searching for what he wanted to be in addition to who he wanted to be.
"I had kind of an odd career," Blumenthal said. "It depends on how you look at it. Some people say, 'you look like you don't know what you want to do when you grow up. I've switched careers numerous times."
Blumenthal has been a journalist, speech writer, television producer, teacher of creative writing, law professor (current) and psychotherapist.
"Patients become the professionals," Blumenthal joked.
Blumenthal described the educational and therapeutic value of the journey of writing a book like this.
"I think you always find out things when you write," Blumenthal said. "As I was writing, I rediscovered and remembered certain things and about what they meant to me. It helped me to make sense out of my life a little bit."
The reissue was released in September.
Blumenthal is a visiting professor of law and the co-director of the Immigration Clinic at WVU College of Law. He is the former director of creative writing at Harvard University. He has also has written eight books of poetry.