The Lost Daughter: A Memoir

Paperback | March 25, 2014

byMary Williams

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“I always hoped [Mary Williams] would tell her incredible story. She's a writer of uncommon clarity and humor, and the arrival of her memoir is cause for celebration." —Dave Eggers, author of What is the What 

As she grew up in 1970s Oakland, California, role models for Mary Williams were few and far between: her father was often in prison, her older sister was a teenage prostitute, and her hot-tempered mother struggled to raise six children alone. For all Mary knew, she was heading down a similar path.

But her life changed when she met Jane Fonda at summer camp in 1978. Fonda grew attached to the bright girl and eventually invited her to become part of her family, becoming the mother Mary never had.  Mary’s life since has been one of adventure and opportunity—from hiking the Appalachian Trail solo, working with the Lost Boys of Sudan, and living in the frozen reaches of Antarctica. Her most courageous trip, though, involved returning to Oakland and reconnecting with her biological mother and family, many of whom she hadn’t seen since the day she left home. The Lost Daughter is a chronicle of her journey back in time, an exploration of fractured family bonds, and a moving epic of self-discovery.

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From the Publisher

“I always hoped [Mary Williams] would tell her incredible story. She's a writer of uncommon clarity and humor, and the arrival of her memoir is cause for celebration." —Dave Eggers, author of What is the What As she grew up in 1970s Oakland, California, role models for Mary Williams were few and far between: her father was often in pri...

Mary Williams is the author of the children’s book Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. She has also written for McSweeney’s and O, The Oprah Magazine.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.3 × 0.75 inPublished:March 25, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142180777

ISBN - 13:9780142180778

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For years I kept my family life a secret from Jane. She knew that I came from a Panther background , but she knew nothing of my mother’s drinking, my shrinking family. When I was thirteen that finally changed. The first person I told my full story to was one of my camp counselors. The camp counselor told Jane. Jane asked me if what she heard was true, and for the first time I opened up to her about everything that was going on back in Oakland.  Soon after telling her this, Jane invited me to come live with her year-round in Santa Monica. I did not ask my mom’s permission. I just left. It was a normal thing in my family to be here one day and gone the next. From my small, run-down house in Oakland, I moved to Jane’s hacienda surrounded by flower gardens and avocado trees. Landing on the moon would have been less disorienting. She sat me down soon after I arrived and said, “I see you as my daughter now. If you want, you can call me Mom.” I also had new siblings, a brother named Troy, and two sisters, Vanessa and Nathalie. Jane became my greatest friend, my cheerleader, and a dedicated mother. Despite being a busy actress and activist, Jane was home most nights and often cooked dinner for us. Everything was new. Even something as seemingly simple as dinnertime was fraught. I had to prepare myself each night for my confrontation with “white people food”—some of it good (baked Alaska), some not so good (artichokes). And I was shocked to learn that people could disagree or dislike one another and still be civil.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Lost Daughter  "The Lost Daughter is an extraordinary memoir. In fact, this is exactly the kind of story for which memoir was born. Mary Williams has lived more lives than a dozen other women combined. Some of those lives have been brutal and others have been blessed, but she regards every aspect of her remarkable journey with the same sense of clarity, honesty, compassion, and (in delightful outbursts) vivacious wit. I marvel at this book, at this life, at this unforgettable account of a mighty and uncrushable human being."—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed"I've known Mary Williams for almost ten years now, and I always hoped she would tell her incredible story. She's a writer of uncommon clarity and humor, and the arrival of her memoir is cause for celebration." —Dave Eggers, author of What is the What and A Hologram for the King“I love the way Mary Williams tells her story, The Lost Daughter, of living in and between two worlds—upheavals and miracles, deprivations, and opportunities. A world of mothers lost and found again. It is ultimately a story about acceptance and forgiveness and gratitude, told with the deepest compassion, honesty and, ultimately, love.”—Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues“A tender memoir of love and redemption. Born during the civil rights movement to Black Panther Party parents, Williams grew up in a tough neighborhood of Oakland, Calif., [until] actress and activist Jane Fonda stepped in and gave the bright 16-year-old girl a new life. And for 30 years, Williams avoided looking backward to her birth mother and rough beginnings....In heartwarming prose, the author explains how she eventually reunited with her siblings, their children and finally her birth mother. A compassionate tale of soul-searching and family love.”—Kirkus“William’s attempts to reconcile her two disparate families and lives form the heart of her conversational narrative of a life changed by what looks like chance....A fascinating picture of Jane Fonda in a maternal role emerges but equally intriguing is Williams’s description of life as a small child living in the close-knit Black Panther community. Williams will remind readers that tensions ran high in the 1970s and that sometimes the collateral damage was human life.”—Library Journal