Before reading Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself all I knew of the Rockefeller’s, or any members of the American ‘aristocracy’ for that matter, was from Thoroughly Modern Millie (one of my favourite films.) There is a scene in the second half of the film where the protagonist, Millie, is paying a taxi driver on behalf of the clueless Miss Dorothy, as she carefully counts her change – not leaving a tip – the cab driver retorts sarcastically, “well it’s not everyday you meet a Rockefeller and a Vanderbilt.” I should have realised then, if you are mentioned in popular culture, you’re big.
Eileen sounds like someone I would enjoy chatting to, she may have family wealth, where I do not, however, due to the values she was instilled with as a child money was never treated as a privilege. In addition, Eileen has a well-developed intrapersonal skills, giving her interesting analytical insight into her emotionally suppressed childhood. This understanding was the aspect of the book which took it from a dynasty memoir to a relatable life story of a fascinating woman – her sense of empathy radiates.
Rockefeller writes beautifully; I felt as if I were revisiting her life with her, experiencing her highs and lows. Like many Americans, she is more sentimental and positive than I am culturally – and personally – used to. This gives the book a warm glow, welcoming readers who have little knowledge of her family’s origins into the fold. I do not care much for the British aristocracy; however, there is something fascinating about the history of a self-made family that impresses in a way that inherited titles do not.
I found similarities in her relationship with her parents and siblings with my own and while on occasion she seemed self-pitying, this was always countered with the knowledge that she had been so. Eileen shows not only in her actions, but also in her writing, that she is able to connect with a variety of people no matter what their background. She was taught from childhood that she must not think herself better than others, and if her parent have succeeded at anything it is that.
I have a feeling Eileen must be the friend that everyone confides in; even I wanted to climb into the book and spill out my anxieties, not hoping to advice, but an understanding of its origins. I imagine this must have been a therapeutic memoir, verbalising and immortalising her place in the world – I cannot recommend it enough.
Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself is published by Blue Rider Press in the US on September 12th 2013.
Thank you to the publishers, who let me receive this copy via Netgalley.