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I Had a Brother Once: A Poem, a Memoir

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A brilliant, genre-defying work--both memoir and epic poem--about the struggle for wisdom, grace, and ritual in the face of unspeakable loss "A bruised and brave love letter from a brother right here to a brother now gone . . . a soaring, unblinking gaze into the meaning of life itself."--Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf my father said david has taken his own l A brilliant, genre-defying work--both memoir and epic poem--about the struggle for wisdom, grace, and ritual in the face of unspeakable loss "A bruised and brave love letter from a brother right here to a brother now gone . . . a soaring, unblinking gaze into the meaning of life itself."--Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf my father said david has taken his own life Adam is in the middle of his own busy life, and approaching a career high in the form of a #1 New York Times bestselling book--when these words from his father open a chasm beneath his feet. I Had a Brother Once is the story of everything that comes after. In the shadow of David's inexplicable death, Adam is forced to re-remember a brother he thought he knew and to reckon with a ghost, confronting his unsettled family history, his distant relationship with tradition and faith, and his desperate need to understand an event that always slides just out of his grasp. This is an expansive and deeply thoughtful poetic meditation on loss and a raw, darkly funny, human story of trying to create a ritual--of remembrance, mourning, forgiveness, and acceptance--where once there was a life.


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A brilliant, genre-defying work--both memoir and epic poem--about the struggle for wisdom, grace, and ritual in the face of unspeakable loss "A bruised and brave love letter from a brother right here to a brother now gone . . . a soaring, unblinking gaze into the meaning of life itself."--Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf my father said david has taken his own l A brilliant, genre-defying work--both memoir and epic poem--about the struggle for wisdom, grace, and ritual in the face of unspeakable loss "A bruised and brave love letter from a brother right here to a brother now gone . . . a soaring, unblinking gaze into the meaning of life itself."--Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf my father said david has taken his own life Adam is in the middle of his own busy life, and approaching a career high in the form of a #1 New York Times bestselling book--when these words from his father open a chasm beneath his feet. I Had a Brother Once is the story of everything that comes after. In the shadow of David's inexplicable death, Adam is forced to re-remember a brother he thought he knew and to reckon with a ghost, confronting his unsettled family history, his distant relationship with tradition and faith, and his desperate need to understand an event that always slides just out of his grasp. This is an expansive and deeply thoughtful poetic meditation on loss and a raw, darkly funny, human story of trying to create a ritual--of remembrance, mourning, forgiveness, and acceptance--where once there was a life.

30 review for I Had a Brother Once: A Poem, a Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    the things he gave me are totemic & devoid at once. a hand drum from ahmadabad, a costa rican hammock, a cuban baseball jersey, some low red candle holders from the crate & barrel outlet store, a ginger grater he swore by, a wooden molinillo that was a favor at his wedding, a yerba maté gourd & metal straw, a kurta pyjama. on his birthday & the anniversary of his death, i gather a few into a pile & think this, this is all i have left or tell myself i had a brother once. The subtitle says it all the things he gave me are totemic & devoid at once. a hand drum from ahmadabad, a costa rican hammock, a cuban baseball jersey, some low red candle holders from the crate & barrel outlet store, a ginger grater he swore by, a wooden molinillo that was a favor at his wedding, a yerba maté gourd & metal straw, a kurta pyjama. on his birthday & the anniversary of his death, i gather a few into a pile & think this, this is all i have left or tell myself i had a brother once. The subtitle says it all: I Had a Brother Once is both a poem and a memoir; a free form verse that tells the story of a life going on after another life ends. Other than the potty-mouthed picture books he’s famous for (Go the F**k to Sleep et al), I didn’t know of Adam Mansbach’s work (which I now understand to be wide-ranging and lauded), and without that knowledge, I thought this to be a strange left turn for (what I mistakenly considered) a humourist who got lucky. What this is is elegiac and expansive; a moving tribute to and a frank exploration of family and what remains when all seems lost. I’m giving this five stars: not because I think it’s the best thing I’ll ever read, but it did move me, and considering the engaging and appropriate format he chose, I can’t imagine how Mansbach could have done this better. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.) my father said david has taken his own life & i answered as if i didn’t understand or hadn’t heard. my reply was what? & he repeated it. there is plenty to regret & perhaps this is insignificant but i wish i had not made him say it to me twice. Mansbach’s brother killed himself just two weeks before Go the F**k to Sleep was officially released; a book that was, at the time, the fastest selling preorder in the world. Already booked on an extensive publicity tour, after David’s funeral, and while still unable to reconcile the brother in hidden pain with the bigger-than-life brother that he knew, Mansbach was forced to spend months appearing on morning television and radio talk shows, answering questions about his potty-mouthed picture book and dreading that someone would have learned about David’s suicide and ask him about that. How could the best and the worst thing to ever happen to you occur just two weeks apart? And how do you live with that? This slim volume seems the result of someone trying to work out an answer to such imponderables of life. I liked what appeared to be Mansbach’s self-awareness here: here begins a different kind of struggle, on this page, akin to keeping the steering wheel perfectly straight, a struggle not to crane out of this shot, not to add voiceover, not to do the one thing i am trained to, which is make things legible, impose structure & plot, motivation, a frame, a double helix of narrative to snake through the spine, to be the spine. here i am, here we are, not fifty feet from the news of my brother’s suicide & already i can feel a tug at the reins. Or while describing his brother’s “out of proportion” idiosyncrasies: in my fiction workshop they would have been derided as lazy, an end run around character development. Something in this poem form allows Mansbach to free himself from the "rules" of long-form prose (while acknowledging them) and also gave him just enough space to relate the highlights of his own life (who knew he was a hip-hop DJ, a Professor of Fiction at Rutgers, or a travelling tech for "the world's gretaest drummer", Elvin Ray Jones?) I also appreciated that being true to himself meant that Mansbach would turn to dark humour at times: on the curb, emery asked if he could pray for me & i said yes & meant it. he grabbed both my shoulders, bowed his head. it began heavenly father. i’d never heard anyone make up a prayer before; in judaism that is called forgetting the words. And he could also reach for the engaging literary metaphor: time is longer than rope but both can strangle you or knot themselves beneath your feet & implore you to climb. Touching and thought-provoking, I Had a Brother Once succeeds at what it is; I hope it offers healing for the author and others facing such inconceivable loss.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    In a stream of consciousness epic poem and memoir, Adam recalls when his father telephoned that his brother, David, committed suicide; the aftermath; their childhood; his struggles; the grief and anger; the depression; their Jewish ancestry; their grandfather; a book tour; and American jazz drummer Elvin Ray Jones. A life lost just before David turned 40. If only David, David’s wife, and their parents had disclosed David’s depression to him before he died maybe Adam thought he could have prevent In a stream of consciousness epic poem and memoir, Adam recalls when his father telephoned that his brother, David, committed suicide; the aftermath; their childhood; his struggles; the grief and anger; the depression; their Jewish ancestry; their grandfather; a book tour; and American jazz drummer Elvin Ray Jones. A life lost just before David turned 40. If only David, David’s wife, and their parents had disclosed David’s depression to him before he died maybe Adam thought he could have prevented his death. The book is powerful and moving, raw and expressive, sorrowful and heart wrenching.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    This book takes your breath away and is both deeply insightful and profoundly questioning. At times I had to step away, at times compulsively read, and in the end feel grateful the author shared such intense and intimate feelings about his brother.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jacopo Quercia

    As a survivor of suicide, I can say with clarity that this book could change and save your life. Beautifully written and heartbreakingly honest. I read it in one day, and so should you. 5 stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Earlier this year I lost my uncle. He died by suicide. He didn’t leave a note. Although I was not as close with my uncle as Adam Mansbach was with his brother, I found this book to be therapeutic. This work was haunting, touching, raw, beautiful...a glimpse into the author’s mind and his grief. I hope this was as therapeutic for Adam to write as it was for me to read. Thank you Adam Mansbach for sharing some of your most intimate thoughts with us to help us all heal. Thank you to Adam Mansbach, Earlier this year I lost my uncle. He died by suicide. He didn’t leave a note. Although I was not as close with my uncle as Adam Mansbach was with his brother, I found this book to be therapeutic. This work was haunting, touching, raw, beautiful...a glimpse into the author’s mind and his grief. I hope this was as therapeutic for Adam to write as it was for me to read. Thank you Adam Mansbach for sharing some of your most intimate thoughts with us to help us all heal. Thank you to Adam Mansbach, Random House Publishing Group, and #NetGallery for an eARC of #IHadaBrotherOnce in return for an honest review. Review will be posted on NetGallery, Goodreads, and Facebook.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I do not typically read poetry, but I was in the mood for something real, something different with meaning. This book was not beautiful, it wasn't meant to be. It was real, however, and powerful. It was an author's voice at a different volume. In a different tone and with a different purpose. It was Adam's voice trying to shed the machine that made him successful, and instead, produce I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I do not typically read poetry, but I was in the mood for something real, something different with meaning. This book was not beautiful, it wasn't meant to be. It was real, however, and powerful. It was an author's voice at a different volume. In a different tone and with a different purpose. It was Adam's voice trying to shed the machine that made him successful, and instead, produce a genuine, hand-made work that meant more, though it wasn't as pretty or as a mainstream. It was perfect. In the way something should never be perfect. It paves a road for grief, mourning, mental illness, and love. A path that we wish didn't need paved, but it does, and too many ignore it. It had to be done, and I'm honored to have read it. Don't see the word "poetry" and assume things will rhyme, or even had a satisfying rhythm...just know that it will express something meaningful in a new way, and it's worth reading.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lex

    I was expecting this to break me, and it did not disappoint. Mansbach writes a story that is equally well-crafted and personal. Though the medium of poetry, he shows the reader who his brother David was before, during, and after his death, as well as how he affected those who were left behind. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide can relate to the honesty and reality that Mansbach writes. The only criticism I had against the book is that the chapter breaks were kind of w I was expecting this to break me, and it did not disappoint. Mansbach writes a story that is equally well-crafted and personal. Though the medium of poetry, he shows the reader who his brother David was before, during, and after his death, as well as how he affected those who were left behind. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide can relate to the honesty and reality that Mansbach writes. The only criticism I had against the book is that the chapter breaks were kind of weird. Some would carry on to an entirely new part of the story and others continued where the last chapter left off. It seemed as though they were only there to break up the long poetry, but I think I would have preferred it as one large piece. Overall, I recommend this to anyone who has felt the pain of losing a loved one to suicide or just wants to read a personal account from someone who has. Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Grant

    This long-form poem feels like a coping process, a kind of grieving, a figuring out how to live with loss. Something we all need to do, sooner or later, yet it is also amusing in parts. Mansbach carries a certain light quality throughout parts of the poem; a "comedic relief," could say. And why not... that is perhaps the best way to deal with loss, after all. To learn to laugh at it, and at the absurdity of life in general. I wouldn't necessarily call him a great poetic stylist, Mansbach, but th This long-form poem feels like a coping process, a kind of grieving, a figuring out how to live with loss. Something we all need to do, sooner or later, yet it is also amusing in parts. Mansbach carries a certain light quality throughout parts of the poem; a "comedic relief," could say. And why not... that is perhaps the best way to deal with loss, after all. To learn to laugh at it, and at the absurdity of life in general. I wouldn't necessarily call him a great poetic stylist, Mansbach, but there is heart to this.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Susan Tunis

    Mercifully short and utterly heartbreaking. Listening to the audiobook, I listened to the author's voice literally and figuratively as he processed his grief over his brother's shocking suicide. I would hope (and I believe) that I would have the humanity to empathize with anyone experiencing this kind of pain. But honestly, his expression of his Judaism also spoke to me. Faith or no faith, it is the core of who we are. And at death we seek comfort in ritual. Mr. Mansbach, I am deeply sorry for y Mercifully short and utterly heartbreaking. Listening to the audiobook, I listened to the author's voice literally and figuratively as he processed his grief over his brother's shocking suicide. I would hope (and I believe) that I would have the humanity to empathize with anyone experiencing this kind of pain. But honestly, his expression of his Judaism also spoke to me. Faith or no faith, it is the core of who we are. And at death we seek comfort in ritual. Mr. Mansbach, I am deeply sorry for your loss. I will keep you and your brother in my thoughts.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andres Eguiguren

    The subtitle calls this book a poem and a memoir, but it is not quite either. Rather it is a mourner's kaddish for Mansbach's younger brother, David, who took his own life two weeks before the publication of Go the F**k to Sleep. It can be read in an hour, but it took the author a decade to be able to write this book. It is a moving examination/portrayal of his brother and how he processed his death, but it remains something that I cannot truly imagine or comprehend. The subtitle calls this book a poem and a memoir, but it is not quite either. Rather it is a mourner's kaddish for Mansbach's younger brother, David, who took his own life two weeks before the publication of Go the F**k to Sleep. It can be read in an hour, but it took the author a decade to be able to write this book. It is a moving examination/portrayal of his brother and how he processed his death, but it remains something that I cannot truly imagine or comprehend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emily Stone

    So powerful. The first book I’ve ever wanted to keep to read again.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melanie McFarlane

    A poem and memoir in one, I Had a Brother Once had me in tears on more than one occasion. Well written and touching.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarina Bosco

    I picked up this book after seeing it on a review list that has recommended other great books, and as I've experienced close-to-home suicide myself, it drew my attention. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed and wondering halfway through why this seems to be so highly rated. Pros: There are definitely moments of truth and heartache here, but they are mostly little tidbits that you have to dig through the rest for. Cons: Two things really threw me off about this memoir. 1. Why did the autho I picked up this book after seeing it on a review list that has recommended other great books, and as I've experienced close-to-home suicide myself, it drew my attention. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed and wondering halfway through why this seems to be so highly rated. Pros: There are definitely moments of truth and heartache here, but they are mostly little tidbits that you have to dig through the rest for. Cons: Two things really threw me off about this memoir. 1. Why did the author choose to write this as poetry? I love poetry and experimenting with narrative through poetry, but genuinely don't think the form lends anything at all to the story. I would have loved to see this written as short prose pieces instead, since they already appear as sections. But the line breaks interrupted me a lot when they ended oddly and there just doesn't seem to be enough substance compared to what is on the page and how it is on the page. 2. Nothing really pulled me through this memoir. I found myself bored often and considering putting the book down, which also made me feel guilty since this is someone's very personal story of loss. But aside from a few sentences here or there, I found my attention wavering and/or found myself wondering why the author included certain scenes/events when they added nothing - not even the feeling of the "mundane" world continuing on that can come with profound loss.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Beauregard

    This book was a very unique and devastating experience. Written in longform verse, Mansbach takes us through several stages of his grieving process: the night before he learned of his brothers death, the intense numb grief immediately following, the disbelief, the how you try to continue on with your life and not get sunk, the scrabbling to answers, the long years that his brother will never experience. I felt that the long sentence and poetic format worked especially well in the first section o This book was a very unique and devastating experience. Written in longform verse, Mansbach takes us through several stages of his grieving process: the night before he learned of his brothers death, the intense numb grief immediately following, the disbelief, the how you try to continue on with your life and not get sunk, the scrabbling to answers, the long years that his brother will never experience. I felt that the long sentence and poetic format worked especially well in the first section of the story, where everything runs together but is so distinct and memorable. If you have ever lost a loved one to suicide, this book will hit especially hard. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is a raw, honest, brave, intensely personal and unflinching memoir/memorial/poem written by the author to/about his brother who took his own life. Suicide is one of the cruelest deaths because the survivors are left to deal with not only their loss, but the immense questions of why? and could anything have been done to prevent this? This is a remarkable read in that the author, while writing of his own reactions, memories, and attempts to make sense of his brother's decision, captures so cle This is a raw, honest, brave, intensely personal and unflinching memoir/memorial/poem written by the author to/about his brother who took his own life. Suicide is one of the cruelest deaths because the survivors are left to deal with not only their loss, but the immense questions of why? and could anything have been done to prevent this? This is a remarkable read in that the author, while writing of his own reactions, memories, and attempts to make sense of his brother's decision, captures so clearly the essence of his love, anger, and confusion that so many others also face. To the author, I am so sorry for your loss! Thank-you for giving voice to your experience. I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House One World. All opinions expressed here are my own.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marie Polega

    On the recommendation of a friend, I listened to this. I also followed along with a printed version, to see the words as I listened. I definitely think listening to the author read his own words had a greater impact on me. Sometimes I was really struck by how the author was able to say so much in so few words, and at times, I had to stop the audio so I could re-read a few lines.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anna Stump

    Raw. Powerful emotive. I too Had a Brother Once. ❤

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michelle McGrane

    “my father said 𝘥𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 & I answered as if I didn’t understand or hadn’t heard. my reply was 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵? & he repeated it. there is plenty to regret & perhaps this is insignificant but I wish I had not made him say it twice.” On 28 May 2011, two weeks before the release of Adam Mansbach’s bestseller, ‘Go the F**k to Sleep’, his younger brother, David, took his own life. The author, booked on an extensive publicity tour, promoted his children’s book all the while privately grieving this inc “my father said 𝘥𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘥 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 & I answered as if I didn’t understand or hadn’t heard. my reply was 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵? & he repeated it. there is plenty to regret & perhaps this is insignificant but I wish I had not made him say it twice.” On 28 May 2011, two weeks before the release of Adam Mansbach’s bestseller, ‘Go the F**k to Sleep’, his younger brother, David, took his own life. The author, booked on an extensive publicity tour, promoted his children’s book all the while privately grieving this inconceivable loss. In an IGTV interview with Kate Schatz, Mansbach says: “It me three weeks to write this book, but it also took me nine years and three weeks to write this book ... I think the larger fact is that I wasn’t really ready emotionally to take this on and I don’t know what changed to allow that, I mean in a way that allowed the form to unlock the emotional ability ...” A memoir in verse, ‘I Had a Brother Once’ is composed of long stanzas of free verse. The writing is uncapitalised, an easy way to read the lines without breaks in flow or loss of concentration. Again, the author comments: “A lot of the book is me grappling with, on one hand, my desire to craft a narrative ... and my impulse to resist crafting a narrative, because I know that I don’t have answers, I don’t have the truth about what my brother went through and what he did and in a way it feels like the more you repeat one narrative, the more it congeals and coalesces into a singular truth.” ‘I Had a Brother Once’ is striking in its vulnerability, in how Mansbach is so willing to write about his experiences while not having answers. How do you celebrate the life of somebody who chose to end their life? How do you mourn a person who decided not to be here anymore? How to you learn to live with it? A huge thank you to @NetGalley and @OneWorldBooks for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Becky Hillary

    Described as a poem and a memoir, this quick read describes the raw emotions of the author when he loses his brother to suicide. As a reader, I have the impression that this book has stored lots of emotions as it sat written but unpublished for the last decade. I imagine its publication has helped release the torrent of emotions described in its pages. The style is poetic and the words are introspective, both written in a way that allows me to imagine how the author was processing the emotion, h Described as a poem and a memoir, this quick read describes the raw emotions of the author when he loses his brother to suicide. As a reader, I have the impression that this book has stored lots of emotions as it sat written but unpublished for the last decade. I imagine its publication has helped release the torrent of emotions described in its pages. The style is poetic and the words are introspective, both written in a way that allows me to imagine how the author was processing the emotion, his cerebral pondering. He dissects his brother's short suicide note, sharing two short sentences. During that process, he says he is imposing "dei ex machina", and describes dumping out the sack of his narrative on the floor, examining what happened from the perspective of someone who wants to be alive. He asks, how can you mourn someone who claims they never wanted life and he grapples with guilt that is common of those left behind in a suicide. He talks about over the decade since his brother's death, "he hovers in the periphery, the space between words, the rush to fill silences". The book ends with heartfelt words shared to his lost brother. Overall a beautiful book. It is ironic that it is such a quick read considering the emotional effort to publish it took a decade.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Wright

    I was in the library the other day picking up a hold and decided to detour past the new books shelf. Usually I read every title on the shelf before making a selection but this day I looked and this was the very first title I saw and checked it out without looking for something better. It is a short book and I read it in one sitting. Memoir about the author's younger brother that took his own life. I felt some of the same angst as the author so glad to have read it. 3.5 stars I was in the library the other day picking up a hold and decided to detour past the new books shelf. Usually I read every title on the shelf before making a selection but this day I looked and this was the very first title I saw and checked it out without looking for something better. It is a short book and I read it in one sitting. Memoir about the author's younger brother that took his own life. I felt some of the same angst as the author so glad to have read it. 3.5 stars

  21. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Murphy

    I read this concurrently with another Memoir-in-Poems, Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes. It was really compelling to see how each author managed trauma, and how narrative and verse interacted.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    This book was so phenomenal and so, so affecting. Read my full review of it here: https://hanherself.medium.com/review-... Thank you NetGalley for my copy of this book. This book was so phenomenal and so, so affecting. Read my full review of it here: https://hanherself.medium.com/review-... Thank you NetGalley for my copy of this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dora Yang

    This book is a very intimate look at what could be going on behind a person who is going through both a career high and an unspeakably painful personal loss. I want to applaud the author for being so brave and sharing this very vulnerable and personal experience with the readers.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Idris

    A very brave, mature, reflective and lyrical read! An essential and necessary addition to the canon of non fiction, memoir, and verse.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Breathtaking. Exquisite. Haunting.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Ignasiak

    This far exceeded all expectations I had, and the expectations started pretty high. As someone with anxiety/depression, it feels good to see hard into an outsider’s/loving family viewpoint.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Leonard

    I liked the way ths was written but it seemed overly long and might have had more impact if shorter.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Derrick

    Sad, but essential reading about loss and grief.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Susan Hyde

    Poignant memoir of a brother’s suicide.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mr. Armstrong

    I feel so sad.

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