Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: A Secret Gift

A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness - And A Trove of Letters - Revealed The Hidden History Of The Great Depression by Ted Gup

Publication Date: October 2010
Publisher: Penguin Group
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 9781594202704
ISBN: 1594202702

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Borders, IndieBound

(Received for review from TLC Book Tours)


Synopsis (Book Blurb):

An inspiring account of Almeria at its worst - and Americans at their best - woven form the stories of Depression -era families who were helped by gifts from the author's generous and secretive grandfather.

Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered cash gifts to seventy-five families in distress. Readers were asked to send letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author's grandfather Sam Stone was inspired to place this ad and help his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas most of them would ever endure.

Moved by the stories of suffering and hope in the letters, which he discovered in as suit-case seventy-five years later, Ted Gup first set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country to flesh out the family saga hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has re-created the impact that B. Virdot's gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal , or other necessities, but others received money from B. Virdot for more fanciful items, a doll, say, or a toy horse. As Gup's investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn people's lives around - even to save them.

But as he uncovers the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that Same Stone was far more complex than the lovable, retiree persona he'd always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about Sam's life - from his impoverished abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from U.S. officials - that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need. Drawing on his unique find and his award-winning reportorial gifts, Ted Gup solves a singular family mystery even as he pulls away the veil of eight decades that separate us from the hardships that united America during the Depression.


Author Ted Gup once found an old suit-case belonging to his grandfather, Sam Stone that contained letter after letter addressed to someone named Mr. B. Virdot. Gup came to learn that Mr. B. Virdot was in fact his grandfather and theses letters were written in response to an ad he has placed in a Canton, Ohio newspaper in 1933. This book is a real treasure trove of information about what residents in Canton, Ohio were facing during The Great Depression.

Gup tells the story of families who wrote to B. Virdot in hopes of receiving 'gifts' to help them get through Christmas during a devastating year. With great clarity and authenticity Gup tells the heartbreaking stories of how these determined people survived. He also tells the story of young Romanian Jew, named Samuel Finkelstein and how he changed his name to hide an abusive past and became a prominent Canton, Ohio businessman named Sam Stone, the author's grandfather.

Gup began researching the families in the letters and finding relatives and how the gifts they received that Christmas changed their lives. He also learned more and more about the man who was his grandfather and finds out things he never knew about why his grandfather would decide to offer such a generous gift to Canton residents.

The research that had to have gone into a novel of this magnitude is amazing to me. Gup researched the families from the letters, tracked down relatives and even personally interviewed them. Several of the letters are reprinted in A Secret Gift and we get to find out what happened to these impoverished people. Canton, Ohio was once a thriving industrial town but the stock market crash of 1929 had totally devastated the town and led to over 50% unemployment, when the ad was placed in the paper by Sam Stone.

I loved finding out more and more about about Gup's grandfather. He appears to have been a man who suffered a great deal in his lifetime and knew first hand what these people were struggling with. It's wonderful to see how much one person can change the world. By helping over seventy-five families with small monetary gifts, one man was able to touch the lives of countless people. This is a great book and I couldn't recommend it more. Readers who enjoy history will love it, as well as readers who love memoirs and more true to life stories.

A Secret Gift is available NOW from your favorite booksellers.

(Due to recent events in book retail, I urge you to consider carefully where you buy your books and what companies you support.)

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag! This is a book about determination and about the power of generosity...

Ted Gup is the author of the bestseller, The Book of Honor, winner of the Investigative Reporters and Editor's Book-of-the-Year Award and Nation of Secrets, winner of the Shorenstein Book Prize. He is a professor at and the chair of the Journalism Department at Emerson College. A former investigative reporter for The Washington Post and Time magazine, he taught at Case Western Reserve University, Georgetown, John Hopkins, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijeung as a Fulbright Scholar.


Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

Oh this sounds like such a wonderful book! A combination of family history, inspiring stories, and historical events? EXACTLY the kind of book I'd love to read.

Thanks for being a part of this tour - I'm so glad you enjoyed the book!

Mystica said...

Sounds a real saga.