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Publisher's Summary

A brilliant, genre-defying work - both memoir and epic poem - about the struggle for wisdom, grace, and ritual in the face of unspeakable loss

“A bruised and brave love letter from a brother right here to a brother now gone...a soaring, unblinking gaze into the meaning of life itself.” (Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf)

my father said
david has taken his own life

Adam is in the middle of his own busy life, and approaching a career high in the form of a number-one New York Times best-selling book - when these words from his father open a chasm beneath his feet. I Had a Brother Once is the story of everything that comes after. In the shadow of David’s inexplicable death, Adam is forced to re-remember a brother he thought he knew and to reckon with a ghost, confronting his unsettled family history, his distant relationship with tradition and faith, and his desperate need to understand an event that always slides just out of his grasp. This is an expansive and deeply thoughtful poetic meditation on loss and a raw, darkly funny, human story of trying to create a ritual - of remembrance, mourning, forgiveness, and acceptance - where once there was a life.

©2021 Adam Mansbach (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Poetry has always been the perfect vehicle for the unwieldy, intractable narrative - the pulsing injustice that refuses to dim, the love that swells unchecked, the numbing tragedy that bleeds past its borders. In I Had a Brother Once - Adam Mansbach’s penetrative chronicle of his younger brother’s suicide - there is an almost unbearable tension between an unrelenting poetic structure that just barely the contains the unthinkable and the exhaustive emotional range of the poem itself. I remember Adam around the time of his brother’s death - if there’s a top of the world, he was on top of that - and it’s sobering to now realize the grief he was shouldering, how vehemently that perfect world had shifted. I Had a Brother Once humbly touts itself as ‘A Poem', but it is so, so much more than that. It is a love story, an unbridled wail, an effectual and resounding clash of heartache and art.” (Patricia Smith, author of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist Incendiary Art)

“In this heartbreaking, brutally candid memoir, Mansbach employs long stanzas of free verse to recount events surrounding his brother's death, struggling through anger, sorrow, and confusion. Poetic conventions allow him to retreat into form, to distill the endless refrains of condolence in a way that re-creates the time grief occupies in tragedy’s immediate aftermath.... For an author who has written everything from screenplays to middle-grade novels to wildly popular picture books, this courageous and devastating memoir in verse stands out.” (Booklist, starred review) 

“This is a devastating, brilliant book. Somehow, in its completely authentic pain, it manages also to be full of life, at times even sweetly funny, maybe because we see struggles we recognize: of distance, of authenticity, of parenting, of performance, of love. This book feels deeply necessary, not just for the writer, but for all of us.” (Matthew Zapruder, author of Why Poetry and Father’s Day)

What listeners say about I Had a Brother Once

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Beautiful and Creative Memoir

Beautiful, jarring, deeply poetic, the painting of the pictures.

It’s so many one liners to name. It’s a re read for sure. I love the length. The music got in the way of the narration sometimes but it also somehow went with it.

Beautiful work.