March 20, 2011

From Abduction to Camelot and Beyond, Local Author Recounts American Story

2011 Anne John Eileen

Anne Dufur and Eileen Walpole congratulate author John Paul Godges at his book signing event at Pages bookstore in Manhattan Beach, California, on March 19, 2011.



IN AN INTERVIEW with Manhattan Beach reporter Bethany Eanes, local author John Paul Godges shared his biggest surprise in chronicling his family’s history in America in the 20th century and speculated that the core American experience will not change much in the next century. He also described the American and Californian experience at the time he was growing up in nearby Redondo Beach, California.

Highlights from the interview are as follows:

Manhattan Beach Patch: Was there anything you found that surprised you about your family’s past.

John Paul Godges: Yes. The most surprising thing was the fact that my dad, at the age of 11, had literally run away from home, and that’s how he immigrated to America. He got caught in between his father and his mother, and his father returned to Poland, and my father was abducted and never saw his mother again. This was something that my dad had never shared with anyone in our family, not even his own wife. And it was something that had been so painful that he had kept it inside. Because someone had finally asked him questions that went into detail about how he arrived in this country, he just honestly answered. I was trembling when he told me. It explained so much of his behavior throughout my family’s life. That experience taught me that so many stories are never shared simply because the questions are never asked.

MB Patch: What was the American experience and Californian experience at the time you were growing up in Redondo Beach?

Godges: My upbringing was very much characterized and influenced by the 1960s. I’m a Kennedy baby. I was reared with the boundless optimism of the early 60s and then, pretty quickly, witnessed the effects of the Vietnam War and Watergate. For me, the experience of America as a child was a place that had immense and endless opportunity for creating good in the world but also one that had become so divided internally because of mistakes and the clash of ideas and definitions of what America should be and because of the grieving that was going on in that period. It wasn’t just the boys coming home in body bags; it was the national heroes of a generation being blasted away. From John F. Kennedy to Martin Luther King Jr. to Robert F. Kennedy.

MB Patch: How does this play into your book?

Godges: All the immense and tremendous hopes of Camelot were being dramatically squashed, stamped out, and very quickly a lot of lingering questions arose that we all struggle with: what it means to be American, the tension between individual freedom and connecting with a larger community. That tension is the theme of the book. I try to portray the family as a metaphor for that tension. I think that echoes in a big family like mine that is kind of wacky and diverse.

My sister developed a mental illness in 1968, right in the midst of all of this national turmoil, and it made for a very riotous situation at home. The way we have come together over the ensuing decades to grapple with her mental illness is the heart and soul of the book. Having that common, formative experience of learning to love someone whom, at certain times, you understand the least has made us all better people. And there is something very powerful in that story that helps to explain how families, societies, and countries that champion the freedom of the individual can nonetheless rally together to support one another. In this case, we all learned so much from my sister Geri that all of us would agree she is the most important person in the family. Yet the irony is that people with mental illness are deemed by society to be the least important. In our case, she is the one who has kept our society intact as a family.

MB Patch: If, 100 years from now, someone were to sit down and write this story, how do you think it would take shape? What do you think are the formative societal roles and dilemmas we are facing today?

Godges: Actually, I think they would be very similar. One thing that struck me while writing the book was how the history I was writing about seemed to reflect current events. Stories of immigrant laborers risking everything to enter the country. People clawing their way out of poverty. Parents scrambling for health care for their kids. Communities quarreling over issues of ethnicity and religion. Military involvements bringing out the best and worst in people. Domestic battles erupting over matters of money and morality. And individuals fighting for their inalienable rights. A lot of that is starting all over again—or maybe continuing. Our core American experience, I would expect it to be playing out on the stage a century from now.


For the full interview on Manhattan Beach, click here:

Local Novelist Evaluates American Experience


2011 John Cheryl Sara

John Paul Godges basks in the glow of friends Cheryl Hanks-Opsata
and Sara Pritzkat at the book signing event at Pages bookstore.


2011 Cathy John Raven

Manhattan Beach locals Cathy Hough and Raven Case agree,
after some deliberation, that the author is welcome in their town after all.


2011 Creases

Count ’em: at least seven big, thick creases down the spine of Eileen Walpole’s book. Now that’s the way to really get into a good book and read it well!