The nonfiction editors, Rappahannock Review: How did realizing that your father had been in the CIA shape how you viewed him?
Judy Bolton-Fasman: I suspected that my Dad was in the CIA since I was in my early 20s, He and I would actually joke about it, but he was silent whenever I asked him a direct question about his trips to Latin America in the 1950s. I learned that he was in the CIA after he died and the revelation reshaped the way I viewed my childhood. There is, in fact, a chapter in my unpublished memoir about how I share a name with another Judy Bolton—a fictional girl detective with her own series of books that was published in the 1940s. I play with that coincidence in the book, since I’m constantly sifting through clues to understand my life in general and my dad in particular.
RR: What advice would you give someone who is interested in researching her family or a family member?
JBF: Of course, it’s ideal if your subject is alive. I wish my father and I had talked more, but that was not his way. Since I embarked on this project after my dad died, I relied on interviews with friends and relatives. I also did some research at Yale, his alma mater, and went through the alumni magazine’s notes for his class. He wrote into class notes quite a bit and that turned out to be a critical source for me. Since this is a memoir, my impressions, my recollections and the conclusions I draw are carefully shaped to paint a portrait of the man not only as I remembered him, but also who he might have been apart from being my father.
RR: What was one of the most surprising things you learned when you were researching your father’s past?
JBF: That he was in the CIA was the biggest revelation, but the most surprising was that he was a stubborn young man dedicated to his ideals. When I pored over his naval records, I read about a very green officer who often questioned the authority of his superiors, which surprised me. My father loved the Navy and was very proud of his service during the Second World War. But he was often disciplined and reports on his performance from that time indicate that he was a very patriotic officer, but unwilling to try new things. That shocked me since he had always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. I was a nervous kid, and for better or worse, he always quoted that old chestnut that a coward dies a thousand deaths. If anything, my father was brave, if not a little brazen.
RR: You mentioned that “The Ninety Day Wonder” is part of a much larger project, your memoir. How would you say this piece fits in relation to the memoir as a whole?
JBF: This essay reveals a lot about my father’s character. There’s a lot of texture in this essay that’s important to the overall feel of my book. The essay also brings together information from different parts of the memoir to present a cohesive portrait of my father and highlights information that advances the story.
RR: How do you think your father would react to his portrayal in this essay?
JBF: That’s a question that has dogged me throughout this project. And I suppose it’s a larger question that all memoirists ask themselves—how will the people I portray react to their appearances in my book? I’d like to think that my father would be flattered to be the subject of an entire book. After all, everything he did in the CIA was from a deep and abiding love for his country. One can argue over the specifics of his role in Latin America. I admit, that his spy work made me uncomfortable. But his patriotism was unequivocal. Overall, I think he’d be amused that I captured his quirks, and honored that I appreciated his passions.
Judy Bolton-Fasman’s work in Issue 3.1: