The Memory of All That

About the Book

The Memory of All That

The Memory of All That is Katharine Weber’s memoir of her extraordinary family. Her maternal grandmother, Kay Swift, was known both for her own music (she was the first woman to compose the score to a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy) and for her ten-year romance with George Gershwin. Their love affair began during Swift’s marriage to James Paul Warburg, the multitalented banker and economist who advised (and feuded with) FDR. Weber creates an intriguing and intimate group portrait of the renowned Warburg family, from her great-great-uncle, the eccentric art historian Aby Warburg, whose madness inspired modern theories of iconography, to her great-grandfather Paul M. Warburg, the architect of the Federal Reserve System whose unheeded warnings about the stock-market crash of 1929 made him “the Cassandra of Wall Street.”

As she throws new light on her beloved grandmother’s life and many amours, Weber also considers the role the psychoanalyst Gregory Zilboorg played in her family history, along with the ways the Warburg family has been as celebrated for its accomplishments as it has been vilified over the years by countless conspiracy theorists (from Henry Ford to Louis Farrakhan), who labeled Paul Warburg the ringleader of the so-called international Jewish banking conspiracy.

Her mother, Andrea Swift Warburg, married Sidney Kaufman, but their unlikely union, Weber believes, was a direct consequence of George Gershwin’s looming presence in the Warburg family. A notorious womanizer, Weber’s father was a peripatetic filmmaker who made propaganda and training films for the OSS during World War II before producing the first movie with smells, the regrettable flop that was Aromarama. He was as much an enigma to his daughter as he was to the FBI, which had him under surveillance for more than forty years, and even noted Katharine’s birth in a memo to J. Edgar Hoover.

Colorful, evocative, insightful, and very funny, The Memory of All That is an enthralling look at a tremendously influential—and highly eccentric—family, as well as a consideration of how their stories, with their myriad layers of truth and fiction, have both provoked and influenced one of our most prodigiously gifted writers.

“To be a writer born into an illustrious and complex family is both a burden and a gift. In THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT, Katharine Weber trains her novelist’s eye and penetrating intelligence upon what may be her greatest subject: her own family’s history as it stretches back, generation after fascinating generation. Her achievement here is a literary one, to be sure–but even more than the beautiful, elegant story contained in these pages, I am in awe of the strength, tenacity and courage it took to rise up out of this fabled cast of characters and write one of the most powerful memoirs about inheritance I have ever read.” — Dani Shapiro, author of Devotion

“The Memory of All That is an engaging family memoir that centers on the ardent extra-marital liaison between the author’s maternal grandmother, composer Kay Swift, and her eminent colleague George Gershwin…An entertaining, often poignant book.” — Francine du Plessix Gray, author of Them

“A deeply moving book that is resonant and richly rewarding. Katharine Weber’s loving and insightful look at her marquee worthy family fundamentally reminds us of our own in its strangeness and complexity. The deeply bonded relationship between her grandmother Kay Swift and lover George Gershwin is finally fully revealed with accuracy and aching poignancy. No one has ever properly told their story, and the combination of Weber’s inside family knowledge, assiduous research, and brilliant writing make this an unforgettable and essential read.” — Michael Feinstein

“I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever read a memoir so filled with anything like Weber’s own, fierce, detached grace. Her ability to evoke the most horrifying events while reducing the reader to helpless laughter is uncanny… An extraordinary achievement.” — Robb Forman Dew

C O N V E R S A T I O N S  A N D  C O M M E N T A R Y

BooksNewsHaven Q&A with Sandi Kahn Shelton

Interview with Writerscast host David Wilk

The Magazine of Yoga: On the Lit Mat with Katharine Weber

Questions for Katharine from novelist Robb Forman Dew

The Page 99 Test

Talking with Bethanne Patrick of Shelf Awareness

Talking with Carole Goldberg of the Hartford Courant

Bookballoon Conversation with Katharine Weber

Novelist Caroline Leavitt chats with Katharine about her writing process

Katharine Weber describes how she came to write The Memory Of All That at Read It Forward


Paperback Row in New York Times Book Review, July 15, 2012

Ben Brantley in The New York Times

Levi Asher’s Litkicks considers all six Katharine Weber books in context

“Weber is an elegant writer, and she can be witheringly funny.” — Palm Beach Post

“In “The Memory of All That,” Weber takes advantage of her insider position to sort out lies and myths, and give readers the straight scoop on her celebrated kin. In doing so, and in using her novelist’s skills in the development of character, she also lets us see what it is really like to inherit the legacy of so many stars behaving with such astounding infidelity to the ideas of truth, marriage, and family….will leave readers shocked and yet awestruck at Weber’s ability to make art out of pain. Personalizing her acclaimed ancestors in ways that no outside biographer could manage, and revealing herself in the process, Weber has written a masterful memoir of the private world of a very public family.” — Floyd Skloot, The Boston Globe

“Old scandals. What fun…The core of her tale is that of elegant sin and betrayal.” — NY Daily News

“Katharine Weber is an accomplished novelist; she knows well how to manipulate fictional form, as any reading of her 2006 novel Triangle will readily illustrate. One may infer that the novelist Weber is drawing these two segments together so that they comment on and reverberate with each other…Weber mixes fearful memory with her need to uncover her father’s secrets—the files created by the FBI as it followed him in his nefarious “communist” machinations and his plentiful extramarital affairs…The Kay Swift-George Gershwin segment is a happier narrative….but equally strange because Kay Swift was married to James P. Warburg during much of her open affair with Gershwin…Weber’s eye for detail and for the right phrase is undiminished. No, no, they can’t take that away.” — Chicago Sun-Times

“Novelist Katharine Weber’s tough-minded memoir of her influential family makes us grateful for our own less-illustrious tribe. But then her wry account of the extraordinary Warburgs is not the usual family saga. Gracefully written, poignant and droll, The Memory of All That is a gifted author’s brave look back at her eccentric, lively forbears — their dealings, foibles and affairs.

We would have loved having merry, unconventional Kay Swift, the first wife of banker James Paul Warburg and the first woman to compose a hit Broadway show, as our grandmother. But we’re thankful that Sidney Kaufman, nomadic filmmaker, notorious womanizer and producer of Behind the Great Wall — the first movie with smells — was not our daddy…Perhaps growing up with a strange, philandering dad, who disappeared for months at a time, and a bright, quirky mother, who “feigned obliviousness,” primed Weber to write her provocative novels.

Last year’s True Confections, her fifth novel, is a witty tale of the American candy industry. Triangle is a haunting historical mystery about the deadly 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, and The Music Lesson is a clever psychological thriller set in a faraway Irish village. Others have written of Kay Swift, but Weber approaches the musical maternal grandmother she adored with an intimate knowledge of her years with Gershwin, her husbands, peccadilloes and sparkling love of life.

Brilliant and mad, honored and accomplished, debased by the Nazis and vilified by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, the Warburgs go back four centuries. For a detailed biography of the family, check out Ron Chernow’s scholarly tome The Warburgs (1993). But for an offbeat introduction to the powerful clan, read Katharine Weber, who wrote on her blog to an anxious family member: “Perhaps you wouldn’t lie awake nights wondering if my forthcoming family memoir has ‘all those bad things’ in it if you hadn’t done all those bad things in your long, long life.” — Dallas Morning News

“She writes in spare prose, to breathtaking effect.” — Jewish Woman Magazine

“Novelist Weber mines her rich family history, hitting the mother lode of pedigreed romances and remembrances… Grandmother Kay Swift, the first female Broadway composer and George Gershwin’s longtime lover; grandpa James Paul Warburg, FDR’s economic adviser, and daddy Sidney Kaufman, serial womanizer, unconventional filmmaker, and producer of the first feature film that literally smelled, thanks to a process called Aromarama, literally walk off the pages of this captivating multigenerational saga.” — Booklist

“A wry portrait of a powerful, talented, but troubled family.” — Publishers Weekly

“Novelist Weber tells the story of her colorful family and the scandalous—but monumentally transformative—love affair between her grandmother, Kay Swift and George Gershwin… Rich details of a dazzling but painful family past fraught with betrayals, infidelities and other assorted dysfunctions…illuminating.” — Kirkus Reviews

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