A SECRET GIFT by Ted Gup (Book Review) (© Ted Gup 2010; The Penguin Press 2010)

Ted Gup is not only the author of A Secret Gift but also the grandson of the main character and a former investigative journalist for The Washington Post and Time magazine.  The story is true and much research went into the Depression era in which the story is set.  We have all read history previously about this disastrous time in our country’s life but never from the perspective offered in A Secret Gift.

When Gup’s grandfather Sam Stone died, he left behind a suitcase stuffed with letters received from 75 families living in extreme poverty and distress near Christmas 1933.  The letters were in response to an ad placed in the Canton, Ohio newspaper and others in the form of thank you’s written back to B. Virdot, an anonymous identity assumed by Stone.  Readers were asked to write letters detailing their hardships and needs.  Stone had made a decision to help his fellow Cantonians during this season of the year which should be joyous but which in all likelihood would be the most difficult ever lived through by these people.

Gup set out to search records in libraries and seeking relatives of these people in hopes of learning more about the family saga referred to in the letter sent to B. Virdot.  Sometimes the greatest need was for food for a family which could consist of a husband, wife, sometimes four or more children, and maybe even grandparents.  Hungry, cold, without shoes, hoping to give a child a surprise at Christmas — these were the kinds of things they were hoping to use the money to make a difference in their lives. 

What Gup didn’t expect to uncover was the complex, mysterious man Sam Stone actually was.  Gup uncovers details about his grandfather that reveal reasons and conditions in Stone’s life that have created in him such a strong affinity for helping strangers in need.

Not only does Gup discover and reveal the unique man his grandfather really was, he also pulls back the haze that has covered and separated us for eight decades from the true hardships faced by so many Americans during the Depression.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Gup’s work.  It is a classic family tale of secrets and a review of a decade of American history that touches on the reality of the common man during the Depression.  I found this to be a unique compilation of not only a family history but also the lives and histories of some of B. Virdot’s recipients that Christmas in 1933.

*****

This review was not requested by either the author or the publisher.  My random opinions and thoughts regarding books that had an impact on me are set down here simply because I wanted to record my feelings about great reads and share them with you.

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