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Discovering My True Feelings

Michael Wohl Author Interview

In Herschel’s Wake, is the story of you and your siblings traveling to bury your father and, in the process, coming to understand each other better. Why was this an important book for you to write?

When I returned from the island, after the incredible events in the story, every single person I told urged me to share the story. It was just so unbelievable and hilarious, while simultaneously being heartfelt and wrenching. But In Herschel’s Wake is ultimately a book about forgiveness. It’s a story about finding compassion, and I think it holds an (entertaining) lesson for so many people who struggle, not just with challenging parents, or complicated sibling relationships, but it also speaks to our political divisions. No one can find peace or happiness if they’re wrapped up holding anger or resentment or a grudge towards someone. The story is intensely intimate and personal, yet the themes are incredibly universal and relatable.

I appreciated the candid nature with which you told your story. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

Discovering my true feelings about my father’s transgressions, as well as the grief I felt (despite thinking I had written him off years before his death) was all very complicated for me. In fact it took several revisions of the book before the experiences I was writing about and my true feelings about them really came into focus. Excavating that emotion, committing to the vulnerability of sharing the story, and trying to do all that while still creating a piece of work that was accessible, engaging, and fun to read was a great challenge.

What were some ideas that were important for you to share in this book?

It’s very uncomfortable to sit in uncertainty; where your feelings are not clear and easy to understand. This book is about my experience confronting that discomfort, and coming out on the other side having learned/earned a profound wisdom that enabled me to change my life and find peace after decades of living with unbearable ambivalence that all but paralyzed me from living my life fully.  Despite common usage, the word ambivalence doesn’t mean feeling wishy-washy or not having a strong feeling about something. It actually means having strong feelings that are contradictory or on both sides of an issue. The thing is that many (most?) real situations and dilemmas warrant such ambivalent feelings, but too often we bury some of our feelings to help us maintain a narrative that “makes sense” even when it often is untrue, and even may be destructive    to our relationships and to our own emotional selves. 

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your story?

Struggling with ambiguity and the hard feelings our family relationships generate takes patience, endurance and courage. This is my story of finding that courage and how it changed my life in a profound and beautiful way. I can only hope that it will inspire others to take a similar path.

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Like father like son… Like it or not!

HERSCHEL WOHL WAS MANY THINGS: twice-divorced astrologer, pharmacology professor, failed novelist, on-the-lam drug-runner, manual typewriter thief, Aikido white belt, possible communist, and temporary resident of the little-known island of Statia. He was also a father.

When Herschel dies unexpectedly just before his 71st birthday, his adult son Michael has to travel four thousand miles and overcome four decades of filial resentment to pick up Herschel’s pieces. Along the way Michael must reconnect with a forgotten half-brother, reconcile with an overeducated, underachieving sister, and reckon with his ambivalence about religion.

With no modern funerary services available on the tiny island, the three estranged siblings are left to bury their enigmatic patriarch by themselves, and by hand. As one day stretches into three and they wonder if they’ll ever get the bastard in the ground, they are forced to confront their complicated relationships, not only with their charismatic but irresponsible father, but also—and perhaps more importantly—with each other.

In Herschel’s Wake is a darkly funny examination of faith, funerals, family, and f*cked up fathers, but most of all, it’s about forgiveness.

In Herschel’s Wake

In Herschel’s Wake by Michael Wohl is a memoir that recounts the author’s journey to his father’s burial. He is accompanied by his siblings on this trip. The style is very intimate, and the subjects are delicate as it deals with death, complicated father-son relationships, grief, and forgiveness. The author’s realization of who his father was might remind the reader of The Stranger by Camus, in which the main character only comes to understand his mother when approaching his own death. This memoir belongs to a larger group of works wherein complex parent-child relationships are only understood when it is too late. It also explores dynamics between siblings which can be tough to navigate as well.

The strength of this book is how honest it is and raw. The reader will feel as though they are reading the author’s personal diary, which might be uncomfortable but also makes it even more beautiful and easy to read. It is truly a page-turner. Although the subjects that are tackled may seem heavy, the tone is humorous at times and make it easier to read. This is an emotional and profound memoir; any reader will find elements that will resonate with them and that they might relate to.

In Herschel’s Wake is an eye-opening memoir about family and relationships. It should be noted that it might need a trigger warning for people with a challenging relationship with their own family that they have not resolved. However, it is definitely a book I would recommend to someone who has gone through grief and has come to terms with it.

Pages: 258 | ASIN : B0B8PCKNZG

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